United States Senate Lobby Investigation Committee

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The Senate Lobby Investigation Committee is a now defunct special committee that once operated within the United States Senate during the 1930s and 1940s with the purpose of investigating lobbyist activities. The committee was chaired by Hugo Black, and upon his appointment to the United States Supreme Court, it was chaired by Sherman Minton.

According to professor of political science Linda C. Gugin, a Minton biographer, in practice the committee's investigations were politically motivated and directed against groups that were challenging New Deal legislation.[1]

Black chairmanship[edit]

The committee's investigations made national news headlines several times, the first in mid-1935, as the committee launched a major probe into utility companies. These corporations were funding opposition to the Wheeler-Rayburn Act, a utility regulation bill pending before Congress. The committee alleged that the nation's major utility companies were conspiring to defeat the bill, and ordered Western Union to turn over all telegrams sent on behalf of the company for the committee to investigate.[2] After weeks of wrangling, which included the issuance of subpoenas and court injunctions, the committee obtained the telegrams and discovered that the utilities had spent over one million dollars to lobby for the bill's defeat. They also found money had been spent to send over five million fake letters and telegrams to senators, supposedly from concerned citizens, opposing the bill.[3] The Wheeler-Rayburn bill passed shortly after the debacle, which quickly led to the collapse and breakup of the nation's three largest utility companies.[4]

In 1936, the committee went a step further to prove that the same companies had improperly influenced Republicans in Congress. The committee subpoenaed telegrams sent by political opponents and their operatives, including the major Chicago law firm Winston, Straw, & Shaw. The firm launched legal action against the committee, claiming their Fourth Amendment Rights had been violated. They won their case in court and ended the committee's ability to issue mass subpoenas.[5] William Randolph Hearst, a prominent and wealthy media magnate, began attacking the committee though his newspapers because of what he called their "reckless attacks on freedom".[6] Minton led the effort to silence Hearst and delivered a speech attacking him for his support of the Republican Party.

The committee also uncovered previously unrevealed links between the Farmers Independence Council of America, a group believed to be a nonpartisan opponent of President Roosevelt's efforts to reform agriculture, and the American Liberty League, which strongly opposed the New Deal.[7]

Minton chairmanship[edit]

In 1937, Senator Black was appointed to the Supreme Court and left the Senate, and Minton secured his post as chair of the committee. He immediately began a full-scale investigation of the media conglomerate controlled by Frank E. Gannett.[6] Minton accused Gannett of publishing Republican Party propaganda. For several weeks, Minton delivered speeches attacking Gannett in the Senate, and Gannett would respond in his newspapers. When Gannett accused Minton of creating a dictatorship and attempting to control the press, Minton responded by introducing legislation that would make it "illegal to publish information known to be false."[8] Gannett, and a large number of allies, immediately began to attack Minton and the Democratic Party in newspapers and on radio, claiming he was attacking the freedom of the press. Minton's allies in Congress asked him to withdraw the bill because of its political implications, leading him to drop the matter.[9]

With no chance that his bill would pass, Minton returned to his goal of exposing what he believed to be Republican control of the media. He led the committee to target a newspaper with national circulation, Rural Progress. The paper published anti-New Deal articles and had been operating at a financial loss for several years. Minton accused the publishers of improperly accepting large sums of money from corporations to influence its editors. The owner of the paper, Maurive V. Renolds, was summoned before the committee for a hearing, where Minton demanded to know why he was accepting money from corporations. Renolds had little day-to-day interaction with the paper and was unable to answer the committee's questions.[10] When Renolds asked his manager, Dr. Glen Frank, who was also president of the University of Wisconsin, to help him answer the questions, Minton and his fellow Democratic Senators began to shout him down. As Frank began to explain that the money from the corporations was for advertising in the magazine, Minton beat his gavel and yelled, "This committee doesn't intend to permit you to use this as a forum to air your Republican views."[11]

Minton did not realize that Frank was president of the University of Wisconsin, and soon suffered retaliation as a result of his mistreatment of Frank. Frank went on NBC radio stations around the country and granted interviews to papers, in which he lambasted Minton for his rudeness. He made lengthy arguments accusing Minton of attempting to violate the Bill of Rights. Minton was outraged by the attacks, which were beginning to have an effect among voters in Indiana. In 1938, he sought funding to launch a massive nationwide investigation of media conglomerates for proof of Republican interference in the press. Democratic Senator Edward R. Burke led an effort to defeat the measure and privately attacked Minton, accusing him of damaging the Democrats' cause, which led Minton to leave the Lobby Investigation Committee.[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Gugin (1997), p. 91
  2. ^ Gugin (1997), p. 92
  3. ^ Radcliff, p. 49
  4. ^ Gugin. p. 93
  5. ^ Gugin (1997), p. 94
  6. ^ a b Gugin (1997), p. 95
  7. ^ Special to the New York Times. "Anti-New Dealers backed farm group", The New York Times. April 14, 1936. Page 1.
  8. ^ Gugin (1997), p. 96
  9. ^ Gugin (1997), p. 97
  10. ^ Gugin (1997), p. 100
  11. ^ Gugin (1997), p. 101
  12. ^ Gugin (1997), p. 102
  • Gugin, Linda & St. Clair, James E. (1997). Sherman Minton: New Deal Senator, Cold War Justice. Indiana Historical Society. ISBN 0-87195-116-9. 
  • Radcliff, William Franklin (1996). Sherman Minton: Indiana's Supreme Court Justice. Indianapolis: Guild Press of Indiana. ISBN 1-878208-81-0.