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The High Cost of Politics
By TALCOTT WILLIAMS
HE public condemnation of the Great posters on bill-boards and
party expenditure of $10,358,- buildings are the costliest form of pub509 in the last Presidential licity. In 1916 it did the work. "He election is just, though igno- has kept us out of war” turned the
rant. The average man looks tide. Six or eight weeks before Noon this expenditure as corrupt. He vember, 1916, Judge Charles E. believes that this flood of money is ex- Hughes, now secretary of state, then pended in buying voters at the polls the Republican candidate for Presior in securing nominations to various dent, seemed certain to be elected. offices from delegates to party conven- He was defeated, to the lifelong credit tions. He is aware that in a campaign of Mr. Vance McCormick, chairman thousands of meetings are held, and of the Democratic National Committhat these call for speakers, halls, tee. Mr. McCormick had the inspiraand advertising. He has never asked tion, the courage, the resource, when or thought of asking who pays for the committee was heavily in debt and them.
adverse odds made raising money more A flood of "literature" pours in on difficult every day, to create this the voter as election draws near. He “slogan,” to “tell it” in pictures, and finds advertisements in the newspaper. to pour out from a quarter to half a He receives a stream of appeals, of million in “putting it over” on the announcements of meetings, of argu- American people. The voters chose ment, of contrasted copies of plat- Woodrow Wilson for President. There forms, of utterances of the Presidential were many factors,—the split in Calicandidates. Their pictures are on the fornia in the Republican party; the boardings, great placards are seen on astute and energetic management of innumerable advertising spaces. All Hiram W. Johnson in rallying the last these cost. Who pays for them? If he few hundred obscure voters that gave remembers the election of 1916, the California to the Democrats; the "hyvoter has in his memory the appearance phenated" vote; the errors of the Reof a big four-sheet colored poster of a publican candidate in going just far happy home in peace and the legend, enough on the war issue to estrange "He has kept us out of war." He rec- votes and not far enough to arouse ollects that there was no fence or wall enthusiasm; and a score more of lesser so high priced and no highway or rail- acts, utterances, and issues,-but the road so sequestered that he did not election turned on putting before all somewhere see a pictorial reminder of the country, "He has kept us out of this declaration, true in October, 1916, the war.” wholly untrue six months later. Some This was publicity of the very first one paid for it. Who? Where did it order. But publicity costs. Without come from?
it elections cannot be won.
did not take the trouble to qualify to $ 2
vote. When the vote in American elections This broad gap between the vote widened from a high-property quali- cast and the possible vote is the fication to a mere poll-tax, and, later, despair of professional politicians. A to white male suffrage, all who urged certain number will vote, anyway. the stupendous step believed that a Others can be brought to the polls by vote was so precious an exercise of the party organization whose watchers, power that every one qualified would workers, and election-division "capvote. This was all wrong. When the tains" know those who generally vote. first step to general male suffrage came There is another vote which an "active in this State, only half the voters campaign" brings out; for every one is voted. Big as was the total national aware that there is a wide margin of vote last November (26,469,268), fully votes which can be swept into the one third of the voters stayed at home. ballot-boxes by great tides of emotion. In Boston, where, thanks to a capable If this can be stimulated, set in motion,
, statistician, Dr. E. M. Hartwell, the and kept in motion by skilful appeals, record of votes cast has been accurately then a new margin is reached, and you presented, the ballots in the box equal have a "tidal wave." only half the voters. In most Southern States from only about a quarter
$ 3 to a third of the voters go to the official a
What is true of the regular election polls. The "white primary,” which is still truer of the party primaries. comes before the regular election, is Taking the States as a whole, not over decisive. The negro vote is sup- a tenth of the total vote of each party pressed by a combination of law, vio- reaches the primary that decides party lence, and the passive political inertia nominations in many States. I doubt of the ignorant. Even the white vote that, on the average, in the party prithat comes to the “white primary,” maries held about thirty years ago the real election, is far below the total before laws were passed for uniform number of votes that would be cast if primaries, over a twentieth of the all the white voters chose to exercise voters went to the party caucus or the right of suffrage. Taking the primary at all. Uniform primary figures of 1910 and allowing for growth, laws have enormously increased the in 1916 there were, in the whole coun- number of voters who at least try to try, 52,000,000 possible voters. Yet name the party candidates for whom of this vast number only 26,469,268 they vote. In New York City, in the came to the polls, or about one half. four elections between 1873 and 1876, Of the other half, some were ill, some when I was a reporter, the voters who were absent, some had moved between went to the Republican and Demoregistration and election, some were cratic primaries, held without law, rule, excluded as insane, as convicts, as or regulation, were ridiculously few in paupers, some by special laws like number, particularly among Repubthose aimed at negroes in Southern licans. A few active party men ran States; but the overwhelming share of the whole thing; the rest stayed away. absentees did not vote because they If they went, and interfered with the machine and its work, a fight was It is a hopeful proof of the advance certain, and an occasional homicide in public opinion that the heavy expossible. For the thirty years in penditure at the Republican primaries which I was in close touch with local killed the candidates responsible for politics in Philadelphia the attendance spending $2,653,303 in them. A reunder the old plan was even smaller. turn to the old system will be a flagrant In both New York and Philadelphia, return to corruption, bargains, comuntil reform began in the eighties, for binations, and control by the few. the thirty years from 1850 to 1880 one What is needed is more public educaelection murder at least was expected, tion and experience for the voters, imand due provision was made for the mediate publicity for all contributions, reporter who was to be ready to look and a strict limit on the expenditure after the predictable homicide. per voter. This has proved effective
Earlier in American government in parliamentary elections in the there was no pretense of providing for United Kingdom, because the candiaction by the general body of voters in date is disqualified if he or his friends many States. Senator Simon Cam- exceed the limit imposed by law. eron was fond of telling young journalists, full of the new wine of primary
$ 4 and election reform, that the delega- Only men practically at work in tion from Pennsylvania to the Demo- elections realize that no effort gets out cratic National Convention in 1844, all the people that could vote, or which nominated James K. Polk, was understand better that the voters who named by himself and two other state do vote are got out only by an expendileaders, who met at a Philadelphia ture of ten or twenty millions for the tavern, and had difficulty in finding whole country. men who would take the trip to Balti- Of this vast sum a part is spent by more. The old primary was run by central national committees, a part by ward and township leaders. The state committees, and a part by local state and national conventions were committees. The election divisions in corrupt. They were chosen by the the United States number from thirty general body of voters.
thousand to forty thousand. Each Like the vote at regular elections, has two and often three party comthe “uniform primary" begins with a mittees, or at all events two or three small number, which steadily grows. “division captains.” No one knows The education of the voter is more how much is spent in these divisions. difficult because the responsibility is No division captain ever does his job less immediate. Education and train- without spending some of his own ing for the use of the ballot-box has
These men are the non-comgone on for 150 years; for the "uniform batants of the political army. Withprimary" fewer than thirty years. out them party government would In 1891 only twenty-six States had stop, and self-government would be laws on uniform primaries. The Re- impossible. Some hold office; the publican vote at the Presidential pri- overwhelming majority do not. They maries last year was 2,477,859, the get their reward in doing a man's job largest yet cast.
in a man's way. They love to feel
that they are a governing force in were sent to that State in the election their county, State, and nation. as the market quotation for a vote.
The visible expenditure of a Presi- By 1880 the New York "World" dential election goes through the na- charged that a million dollars had been
a tional organizations. This outlay was expended by the National Republican small down to the Civil War. Lincoln Committee of which Senator Quay was used a fee of a thousand dollars in pay- chairman. This was an underestiing the expenses of his debate with mate. Of the sum four hundred Douglas, but no one would venture to thousand dollars was raised in Pennstage such a debate between two men sylvania; the actual outlay ran closer as conspicuous to-day for less than to two millions. The expenditure of ten thousand, while most men would Presidential campaigns began to shift want fifteen thousand to do it. States from the direct or indirect purchase of could be contested in 1860 for twenty- votes to organization and publicity. five hundred dollars for Maine and By 1896 the expenditure of the Repubtwelve thousand for Pennsylvania lican National Committee reached
. At least that is what James G. Blaine $7,500,000, a point it has never equaled and A. K. McClure, who did it, told since. Of this sum $2,500,000 was me they disbursed. By 1872 ex- raised in Pennsylvania, about a thoupenses became large. From 1840 to sand men and corporations contribut1860 our city elections were brutal, ing. Three savings-banks gave $25,000 violent, and openly corrupt, as those apiece on the ground that the deposits of England once were. The purchase they held in trust would lose half their of votes from 1868 to 1880 was far worth if silver came in as the standard more familiar than it is to-day, and of value. Many state banks, under our legislatures from 1800 to 1880 were political control, gave because they far more corrupt. This always comes held state deposits. The life insurin the early use of liberty. The Long ance companies gave for the same reaParliament, which beheaded Charles as the savings-banks. Finally I, reeked with corruption. Royal federal and state laws were passed pro, charters were bought. Alexander Ham- hibiting corporations from making ilton saw no wrong in giving legis- gifts to election funds. A disgraceful lators shares in a bank for whose char- and perilous practice ceased. ter they voted. Our railroad system Voting is a plant of slow growth. was floated in our corruption. So It has taken a century and a half to get were the street-car lines of New York to the polls half of the total number of and Philadelphia Down to 1905 our voters who can cast their ballots if they life insurance companies spent millions choose. New York having been close for corrupt ends. There was a direct for a century, its voting vote runs up
a purchase of votes. No Vice-President to four fifths or even more. The possito-day or for twenty years past would bility of success brings out the vote of dare to jest, as did Chester A. Arthur both parties. Pennsylvania, being after the campaign of 1880, about one-sided, with a heavy Republican using sugar in Indiana to buy votes or majority, does not often vote half its to boast of their purchase in “blocks possible voters. This is the proporof five." Bundles of two-dollar bills tion of most European countries.
Only half the voters go to the polls in tion, and that the men who pay for France, Spain, and Italy. Germany publicity will ask too much in return. does better. The voting English vote The cure for this is publicity. The was once not over half of those who accounts of all political organizations could vote. This has improved. The should be in prescribed forms. All vote there actually cast now approaches gifts should be sent to the newspapers our proportion in closely contested as they come in. A bi-partizan board States.
should examine the books of every The South is solid. Excepting West organization, big and little, and there Virginia and Tennessee, no Southern should be public records, open to any State has cast an honest electoral vote one during the campaign, and filed for a Republican candidate since 1872, with some public officer at the close. forty-eight years ago. In the North Any changes in such records should be there are only half a dozen States adjudged forgery of one degree or which have not voted for a Demo- another. cratic Presidential candidate in recent Until every one of us is ready to years, and nine States—Connecticut, contribute to election expenses, the New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, rich man will keep his pull, because we, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and the great we in voting, the small we in California-are fighting-ground every giving, are not willing to do our duty. year. These alone are enough any Big gifts will have big weight. All of year to decide the result. They cast us who do not give are responsible 7,161,000 votes last year, nearly a for these evils attendant upon large third of the total vote.
contributions. In the doubtful States and in the Once tickets, watchers, and, in some country at large the problem of “bring- States, election officers and pollinging out the vote” is essentially a places were paid for by private contri"publicity problem.” A "slogan” is butions. These are now a public needed, arguments that will tell on charge. An appropriation of thirty the vast mass, some graphic utterance million dollars a year from the Federal or picture, and these will round up the treasury, and the criminal prohibition uncertain vote; but no “publicity” can of all private gifts to politics by candipossibly win for any article unless the dates or their backers, would reduce thing itself is worth having on its own the evil to small dimensions. The account. Advertizing cannot sell a polls are far purer since taxation paid poor thing, but a good thing cannot their cost. The campaign would imsell without "publicity" and without prove in the same way through the publicity of the right sort.
same remedy. This sounds radical,
but I can remember when the Aus§ 5
tralian ballot, printed at the public exFor two parties working over fifty- pense, was radical. No self-respecting two million possible voters to spend body of voters ought to be willing to on this task $7,500,000 will not seem get its political education, information, extravagant to any reader who knows and emotional awakening at elections “publicity" and its cost. The peril out of the gifts of rich men alone. is that “publicity” will become corrup- All should assist.