The Progressive Democracy of James M. Cox
Chapter Eight - Fighting "Slush Funds"
FIGHTING "SLUSH FUNDS"
Developments of the present campaign have given a peculiar interest to past history with respect to the record of Governor Cox in dealing with campaign expenditures. The Governor's reports, which have been filed under the Ohio Corrupt Practice law, show that he has never been an extravagant spender in campaigns. In his various races for the Governor's office in Ohio one of the points which he has claimed is the redemption of pledges made to the people. Under one of these pledges he advocated and secured the enactment of an anti-lobby law, designed to reduce the evils attendant upon the presence of a legislative lobby. He found upon the statute books of Ohio a corrupt practice act and this was strengthened by laws passed during his term. In taking hold as Governor in 1913, he demanded and secured a rigid lobby law. Of this he said:
"Conditions not only justify but demand drastic anti-lobby law. Any person interesting himself in legislation will not, if his motive and cause be just, object to registering his name, residence and the matters he is espousing, with the secretary of state, or some other authority designated by your body. If his activities be of such nature that he does not care to reveal them in the manner indicated, then the public interest is obviously endangered. It is no more than a prudent safeguard to have it known what influences are at work with respect to legislation. There ought to be no temporizing with this situation."
In the first year of his administration he combated an attempt to annul the workmen's compensation law by an improper referendum and vigorously cleaned up the situation by causing the arrest of those who had conspired to falsify names to petitions. The Governor followed up his activity for clean administration of the referendum system by comprehensive laws in 1914, since when no abuses have been discovered. What he said to the General Assembly gave a further indication of his policy in this respect. He said:
"The underlying spirit of the corrupt practice laws in the state and nation is the ascertainment of the influences behind candidates or measures. We can with profit compel a sworn itemized statement when the petition is filed showing all money or things of value paid, given or promised for circulating such petitions."
In the campaign of 1916, in which Governor Cox was re-elected, assertions were made of large improper expenditure of money in defiance of the law. In the following January at the regular session of the General Assembly, the Governor indicated his position by calling for a special legislative inquiry. The statements he made furnish an interesting background for the developments of the year. At that time he said:
"Let me lay particular emphasis on the necessity of safeguarding the suffrage thought of the state from the dangers of corrupt influences. The sums of money expended for so-called political purposes are assuming such magnitude as to cause seemingly well-founded alarm, if not to justify the belief that the legitimate purpose of campaigning is being exceeded. Unfettered by law, this tendency might result in the waters of our free institutions being poisoned at their very base. Reduced to simple terms, the object of a campaign is to inform the voters on every subject that legitimately and germanely joins to the issues and the candidates. Any step beyond this, and any project opposed to it in motive, cannot but be regarded as dangerous. Human frailties should not be played upon by vast treasures of money advanced by men or movements whose huge disbursements can hardly be looked upon as of patriotic inspiration. It is not necessary to expend large amounts of money for the promotion of a worthy cause, and, inversely, any cause or candidacy having behind it unprecedented financial support is likely to be regarded with suspicion. It may, through legislation, be necessary to restrain irresponsible organizations whose existence and activities are born of a hidden design, conceived by some interest afraid to operate in the open. I recommend that a legislative committee of investigation be appointed with the power to employ counsel, and the authority to summon persons and papers and to swear witnesses in order that it might be known just what organizations have been entering into campaign activities, and how much money they expended and collected—also the names of the contributors. This should extend also to candidates. The facts as adduced will then be a safe guide as to the necessity of strengthening the corrupt practices act, or more rigorously enforcing existing law, or both."
The legislative session had hardly concluded before the war with Germany broke out and it was deemed unwise at that time to proceed to any agitation on the subject. The functions of the committee were, accordingly never fulfilled. Early in the year of 1920, the Governor gave warning of the report that huge funds were to be raised in this year for election purposes. At the very outset of his campaign in addressing the members of Democratic National Committee at Columbus, the Governor said:
"I hope I do violence to no member of this committee when I submit to you this proposal: That we purpose not only to deal with eminent good faith with the electorate of this nation in November with reference to platform pledges, but we mean to let every man and woman understand where every dollar comes from, and for what purpose it is spent. We not only urge that as a matter of high principle, but in order to guarantee the triumph of our cause which deserves to triumph. We do not want the publication of expenditures after the election. There is no point in advising the voters what has been done. We want them to be fully advised of every circumstance with reference to the collection and the disbursement of funds in order that from the circumstances they can gain a correct index, and understand that when the Democracy is continued in power in Washington, it assumes its responsibility without a single obligation except to the conscience that God has given us.
"Therefore, gentlemen, let us make up a budget which will carry the full details and information--recounting the legitimate expenses of this campaign, render an accounting daily or weekly, and the source from which it came. And more than that, we shall insist upon the senatorial investigating committee continuing in session until the ballot has been closed in November. You know full well that a campaign fund sufficient in size to stagger the sensibilities of the nation is now being procured by our opponents. If they believe that is correct in principle, God speed them in the enterprise, It will be one of our chief assets in this campaign."
This, then is the record.
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