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Context of 'December 5, 1905: Roosevelt: Corporations Should Not Be Allowed to Contribute to Political Campaigns, Federal Elections Should Be Publicly Financed'

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A 1902 portrait of President Roosevelt.A 1902 portrait of President Roosevelt. [Source: Library of Congress]In a speech given to an audience in Providence, Rhode Island, later entitled “The Control of Corporations,” President Theodore Roosevelt gives a passionate warning about the dangers of the nation’s prosperity being concentrated in the hands of the few, and particularly under the control of a few large corporations. Roosevelt says: “One of the features of the tremendous industrial development of the last generation has been the very great increase in private, and especially in corporate, fortunes.… Where men are gathered together in great masses it inevitably results that they must work far more largely through combinations than where they live scattered and remote from one another.… It is not true that the poor have grown poorer; but some of the rich have grown so very much richer that, where multitudes of men are herded together in a limited space, the contrast strikes the onlooker as more violent than formerly. On the whole, our people earn more and live better than ever before, and the progress of which we are so proud could not have taken place had it not been for the up building of industrial centers, such as this in which I am speaking. But together with the good there has come a measure of evil.… Under present-day conditions it is as necessary to have corporations in the business world as it is to have organizations, unions, among wage-workers. We have a right to ask in each case only this: that good, and not harm, shall follow. Exactly as labor organizations, when managed intelligently and in a spirit of justice and fair play, are of very great service not only to the wage-workers, but to the whole community, as has been shown again and again in the history of many such organizations; so wealth, not merely individual, but corporate, when used aright is not merely beneficial to the community as a whole, but is absolutely essential to the upbuilding of such a series of communities as those whose citizens I am now addressing.… The great corporations which we have grown to speak of rather loosely as trusts are the creatures of the state [the federal government], and the state not only has the right to control them, but it is in duty bound to control them wherever the need of such control is shown. There is clearly need of supervision—need to possess the power of regulation of these great corporations through the representatives of the public wherever, as in our own country at the present time, business corporations become so very powerful alike for beneficent work and for work that is not always beneficent. It is idle to say that there is no need for such supervision. There is, and a sufficient warrant for it is to be found in any one of the admitted evils appertaining to them.” Such government controls are rightfully difficult to put in place, Roosevelt says, because of the constitutional guarantees afforded both individuals and corporate entities, and because of the disparity of laws enacted in the various states. However, “I believe that the nation must assume this power of control by legislation; if necessary by constitutional amendment,” he says. “The immediate necessity in dealing with trusts is to place them under the real, not the nominal, control of some sovereign to which, as its creatures, the trusts shall owe allegiance, and in whose courts the sovereign’s orders may be enforced.” Such government regulation and oversight must be enforced with caution and restraint, he warns, but nevertheless, it must be enacted. [Theodore Roosevelt (.com), 8/23/1902; ed., 2003, pp. 20-21] Roosevelt’s position is ironic considering the vast corporate contributions he will accept to win the presidency in 1904 (he ascended to the presidency in 1901 after President William McKinley was assassinated). Roosevelt will accept large donations from railroad and insurance interests, and will make a personal appeal to steel baron Henry Clay Frick and other industrialists. Frick will later recall: “He got down on his knees to us. We bought the son of a b_tch and then he did not stay bought.” During his second term, Roosevelt will strive to pass significant campaign finance reform legislation that would ban some of the techniques he will use to regain office. [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]

Entity Tags: Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Clay Frick, William McKinley

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, in a speech given to the US Congress, proposes that corporations be expressly forbidden by law from contributing money “to any political committee or for any political purpose.” Neither should corporate directors be permitted to use stockholders’ money for political purposes. Roosevelt does not say that corporate owners should be so restricted. Roosevelt also says federal campaigns should be publicly financed via their political parties. Roosevelt’s proposal is made in part because he was accused of improperly accepting corporate donations for his 1904 presidential campaign. [Miller Center, 12/5/1905; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] Roosevelt, who has made similar statements in the past (see August 23, 1902), will echo these proposals in additional speeches. [Connecticut Network, 2006 pdf file] Two years later, Roosevelt will sign into law a bill proscribing such donations (see 1907).

Entity Tags: Theodore Roosevelt

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Senator Benjamin Tillman, an ardent segregationist who once said, ‘My Democracy means white supremacy.’ Senator Benjamin Tillman, an ardent segregationist who once said, ‘My Democracy means white supremacy.’ [Source: Black Americans in Congress]President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt signs the Tillman Act into law. The Act prohibits monetary contributions to national political campaigns by corporations and national banks. Roosevelt, dogged by allegations that he had accepted improper donations during his 1904 presidential campaign, has pushed for such restrictions since he took office (see August 23, 1902 and December 5, 1905). [Federal Elections Commission, 1998; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] Senator Benjamin Tillman (D-SC), later described by National Public Radio as a “populist and virulent racist,” sponsored the bill. [National Public Radio, 2012] In 1900, Tillman was quoted as saying about black voters: “We have done our level best. We have scratched our heads to find out how we could eliminate every last one of them. We stuffed ballot boxes. We shot them. We are not ashamed of it.” [Atlas, 2010, pp. 205] Unfortunately, the law is easily circumvented. Businesses and corporations give employees large “bonuses” with the understanding that the employee then gives the bonus to a candidate “endorsed” by the firm. Not only do the corporations find and exploit this loophole, they receive an additional tax deduction for “employee benefits.” The law will be amended to cover primary elections in 1911 (see 1911). [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999]

Entity Tags: Benjamin Tillman, Theodore Roosevelt, Tillman Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA) tells MSNBC reporter Chuck Todd that wealthy donors should be able to give unlimited amounts directly to candidates in lieu of donating to “independent” organizations such as super PACs (see March 26, 2010, June 23, 2011, and November 23, 2011). The US history of campaign finance law (see 1883, 1896, December 5, 1905, 1907, June 25, 1910, 1925, 1935, 1940, February 7, 1972, 1974, May 11, 1976, January 30, 1976, January 8, 1980, March 27, 1990, March 27, 2002, and December 10, 2003), including the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), has always put stringent limitations on what donors can contribute directly to candidates. Asked if he thinks the Citizens United decision was a poor one, Romney responds: “Well, I think the Supreme Court decision was following their interpretation of the campaign finance laws that were written by Congress. My own view is now we tried a lot of efforts to try and restrict what can be given to campaigns, we’d be a lot wiser to say you can give what you’d like to a campaign. They must report it immediately and the creation of these independent expenditure committees that have to be separate from the candidate, that’s just a bad idea.” Ian Millhiser, a senior legal analyst for the liberal news Web site Think Progress, responds: “It’s not entirely clear from this interview that Romney understands what happened in Citizens United. That decision emphatically did not follow any ‘interpretation of campaign finance laws that were written by Congress.’ Rather, Citizens United threw out a 63-year-old federal ban on corporate money in politics.… [I]t was not a case of judges following the law. More importantly, however, Romney’s proposal to allow wealthy donors to give candidates whatever they’d ‘like to a campaign’ is simply an invitation to corruption (see October 17, 2011). Under Romney’s proposed rule, there is nothing preventing a single billionaire from bankrolling a candidate’s entire campaign—and then expecting that candidate to do whatever the wealthy donor wants once the candidate is elected to office. Romney’s unlimited donations proposal would be a bonanza for Romney himself and the army of Wall Street bankers and billionaire donors who support him, but it is very difficult to distinguish it from legalized bribery.” Millhiser notes that Romney had a different view on the subject in 1994, saying then that when you allow special interest groups to buy and sell candidates, “that kind of relationship has an influence on the way that [those candidates are] going to vote.” [Think Progress, 12/21/2011]

Entity Tags: Willard Mitt Romney, Charles David (“Chuck”) Todd, Ian Millhiser

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

The Republican National Committee (RNC) files a court brief calling the federal ban on direct corporate donations to candidates unconstitutional, and demanding it be overturned. Such direct donations are one of the few restrictions remaining on wealthy candidates wishing to influence elections after the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010). The brief is in essence an appeal of a 2011 decision refusing to allow such direct donations (see May 26, 2011 and After). The RNC case echoes a request from Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) that he be allowed to form and direct his own super PAC (see November 23, 2011), and recent remarks by Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA) calling for donors to be allowed to contribute unlimited amounts to candidates (see December 21, 2011). The RNC brief claims: “Most corporations are not large entities waiting to flood the political system with contributions to curry influence. Most corporations are small businesses. As the Court noted in Citizens United, ‘more than 75 percent of corporations whose income is taxed under federal law have less than $1 million in receipts per year,’ while ‘96 percent of the 3 million businesses that belong to the US Chamber of Commerce have fewer than 100 employees.’ While the concept of corporate contributions evokes images of organizations like Exxon or Halliburton, with large numbers of shareholders and large corporate treasuries, the reality is that most corporations in the United States are small businesses more akin to a neighborhood store. Yet § 441b does not distinguish between these different types of entities; under § 441b, a corporation is a corporation. As such, it is over-inclusive.” Think Progress legal analyst Ian Millhiser says the RNC is attempting to refocus the discussion about corporate contributions onto “mom and pop stores” and away from large, wealthy corporations willing to donate millions to candidates’ campaigns. If the court finds in favor of the RNC, Millhiser writes: “it will effectively destroy any limits on the amount of money wealthy individuals or corporation[s] can give to candidates. In most states, all that is necessary to form a new corporation is to file the right paperwork in the appropriate government office. Moreover, nothing prevents one corporation from owning another corporation. For this reason, a Wall Street tycoon who wanted to give as much as a billion dollars to fund a campaign could do so simply by creating a series of shell corporations that exist for the sole purpose of evading the ban on massive dollar donations to candidates” (see October 30, 2011). [United States of America v. Danielcytk and Biagi, 1/10/2012 pdf file; Think Progress, 1/11/2012] The RNC made a similar attempt in 2010, in the aftermath of Citizens United; the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of its rejection. [New York Times, 5/3/2010; Tom Goldstein, 5/14/2012] Over 100 years of US jurisprudence and legislation has consistently barred corporations from making such unlimited donations (see 1883, 1896, December 5, 1905, 1907, June 25, 1910, 1925, 1935, 1940, March 11, 1957, February 7, 1972, 1974, May 11, 1976, January 30, 1976, January 8, 1980, March 27, 1990, March 27, 2002, and December 10, 2003). Shortly after the Citizens United ruling, RNC lawyer James Bopp Jr. confirmed that this case, like the Citizens United case and others (see Mid-2004 and After), was part of a long-term strategy to completely dismantle campaign finance law (see January 25, 2010).

Entity Tags: Republican National Committee, Halliburton, Inc., ExxonMobil, Ian Millhiser, Michael Shumway (“Mike”) Lee, Willard Mitt Romney, US Supreme Court, US Chamber of Commerce, James Bopp, Jr

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) lambasts the campaign finance system being used by presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA). McCain has been quite visible in supporting Romney, but he is not a supporter of Romney’s super PAC, Restore Our Future. McCain points out that one of Romney’s most prominent and generous supporters, billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson (see June 13, 2012 and Mid-June, 2012), makes much of his money from a casino in Macau, and thusly may be using foreign money to help Romney. McCain says to PBS reporter Judy Woodruff: “Mr. Adelson, who gave large amounts of money to the Gingrich campaign (see January 6, 2012, January 23, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, March 26, 2012, and May 2, 2012) and much of Mr. Adelson’s casino profits, that go to him, come from this casino in Macau. [That says] obviously, maybe in a roundabout way, foreign money is coming into an American campaign, political campaigns.… [T]hat is a great deal of money. And, again, we need a level playing field and we need to go back to the realization that Teddy Roosevelt had that we have to have a limit on the flow of money and that corporations are not people (see August 23, 1902 and December 5, 1905). That’s why we have different laws that govern corporations than govern individual citizens. And so to say that corporations are people (see August 11, 2011), again, flies in the face of all the traditional Supreme Court decisions that we have made—that have been made in the past.” Josh Israel of the liberal news Web site Think Progress notes, “Though it is illegal for non-citizens to spend any money to influence US elections directly, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010) left the door wide open for the American employees of American subsidiaries of foreign owned corporations—and even sovereign wealth funds—to spend millions or billions from their corporate treasuries on ‘independent’ expenditures.” [Think Progress, 6/15/2012]

Entity Tags: Josh Israel, John McCain, Sheldon Adelson, Willard Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future, Judy Woodruff

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections


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