The True Senate Female Firsts: Hattie Caraway, Margaret Chase Smith, and Maurine Neuberger

I have previously written about the actual first female senator, Rebecca Latimer Felton, but her appointment was symbolic and nothing more. While there were more women who served in the Senate in these early years, these women were placeholders for either their late husbands or senators who had died. When Hubert Humphrey died in office in 1978, for instance, his widow Muriel briefly succeeded him until succeeded by a replacement in a special election. There are in truth, three women of the early days of Senate that stood on their own: Hattie Caraway, Margaret Chase Smith, and Maurine Neuberger.

On November 6, 1931, Senator Thaddeus Caraway of Arkansas passed away. He had been a staunch economic and to a certain extent social progressive. Caraway voted for women’s suffrage as a representative in 1919 but he was also staunchly and actively racist. He had proposed legislation that outright prohibited blacks from joining the army and navy and introduced legislation outright mandating residential segregation in Washington D.C. His wife, Hattie (1878-1950), who was politically savvy herself, was appointed to the seat by Governor Harvey Parnell. Caraway managed to find herself a valuable ally in Senator Huey Long, who campaigned in Arkansas for her election to a full term, which she won in 1932.

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Caraway was a quiet figure in the Senate who was a supporter of Huey Long and mostly of the New Deal. Her modesty was like that of her late husband, Thaddeus.  In 1943, Caraway became the first woman to ever preside over a session of the Senate. However, although her status as a first was impressive for Arkansans, another impressive Arkansan was waiting in the wings: J. William Fulbright, a Rhodes scholar and former dean of the University of Arkansas who had proposed the resolution endorsing the creation of the United Nations…in his first term! The young Fulbright (39 years old) was also at this point a positive contrast to the much older Caraway (66 years old), whose lack of presence may have contributed to her defeat. The Senate would have to wait four years before they had their next female member…Margaret Chase Smith.

Margaret Chase Smith

Margaret Chase Smith - Wikipedia

In 1936, Clyde Smith, a conservative Republican who had opposed the pro-KKK wing of the state GOP in the 1920s, toppled Democratic incumbent Edward Moran in Maine’s 2nd district, one of the few bright spots for the GOP that year. However, Smith had been quite a ladies man in his day and his health was crashing and burning due to his undiagnosed syphilis. He had suffered a heart attack in his first term and ultimately his wife, Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1995), assumed more and more of his duties as his paid secretary. By 1940, it was clear he was dying. Smith died of a heart attack on April 8th of that year at the age of 63, but not before issuing a public statement the day before endorsing his wife should he die in office. She won the election to succeed him, and the newspapers of the time ran with the headline, “Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington”.

Many wives upon succeeding their husbands were expected to serve the remainder of the term and then leave the work to another man. Not so for Margaret Chase Smith, who had begun a long career in national politics. She established herself as a moderate but her foreign policy, although internationalist, was also very strongly anti-communist. In 1948, Smith easily won election to the Senate, making her the only woman in the chamber throughout her entire career. Unlike Caraway, Smith was outspoken and in 1950 she condemned the tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy on the Senate floor in her “Declaration of Conscience” without naming him per Senate rules. She refused to limit herself to women’s issues and specialized on military affairs. Nonetheless, Smith repeatedly supported the Equal Rights Amendment and had sponsored the 1945 proposal and strongly supported pay equality for women. In 1963, she was one of nineteen senators to vote against the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, a position normally held by people significantly to her right, such as Barry Goldwater. This resulted in speculation of a “Goldwater-Maggie” ticket in 1964, but she had presidential aspirations of her own. In 1964, Smith became the first woman to run for the nomination for president in one of the two major parties, and at the Republican National Convention she finished second. However, the state was growing more Democratic as the 1960s wore on. In 1960, the state had voted for Richard Nixon, but in 1968 the state voted for Hubert Humphrey, possibly due to the presence of popular Democratic Senator Edmund Muskie on the VP slot. The difference can also be seen in the Congressional delegations. The 1960 election elected three Republicans to the House and Senator Muskie was the only Democrat, but by 1968 the situation had reversed: Senator Smith was the only Republican representing Maine. In 1972, popular Congressman William Hathaway, a liberal Democrat, challenged her for reelection. Despite the landslide for Richard Nixon that year, he didn’t seem to have coattails for several Republican senators and the GOP lost a net of two seats in the chamber that year. Gordon Allott of Colorado lost his bid for a fourth term, Cale Boggs of Delaware lost his bid for a third term to the man who is now running for president, Jack Miller of Iowa lost his bid for a third term, and Margaret Chase Smith lost her bid for a fifth term by over 6 points.

What happened here? Well, Smith, as I wrote, was staunchly anti-communist on foreign policy and this made her a hawk on the Vietnam War. She backed President Nixon’s bombing of Laos and Cambodia in 1970 and denounced anti-war protestors, calling for them to be drafted. Smith made an appearance before a group of students that year in the wake of the killings of four students by the National Guard at the Kent State University protests that went disastrously as she seemed to require extensive notes to answer questions and then either lied or was misinformed about the presence of US troops in Laos (I find the latter more likely). This was embarrassing for the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and she beat a hasty retreat from a booing audience. Maine had changed from when she delivered her “Declaration of Conscience” in 1950, when she was the most liberal member of the state’s all-Republican delegation. In twenty years, she had become its most conservative member, being the sole Republican in a Democratic delegation. However, this would not be the end of the Republican Party’s influence in Maine politics, and indeed most subsequent Republican officeholders nationally have been politically similar to Smith.

Maurine Neuberger

In 1960, Senator Richard Neuberger of Oregon was terminally ill with brain cancer, and before his death he had voiced his wish that his wife, Maurine (1907-2000), succeed him. This wish was not just based on her being his wife: she was a politician herself and had made a name for herself in the Oregon state legislature for her successful push to repeal the ban on colored margarine, contrary to the wishes of the state’s dairy industry. Neuberger had even appeared, at the age of 51, at a Democratic dinner in a swimsuit next to a donkey. Although Governor Mark Hatfield, a liberal Republican, was urged to appoint her, he declined and instead picked Democrat Hall S. Lusk as a placeholder, insisting on not giving any candidate the next election the advantage of incumbency.

That year she won a full term to succeed her husband, and Neuberger proved a firm supporter of 1960s liberalism. She backed the New Frontier, civil rights, and the Great Society. Although expected to run for reelection in 1966, she declined, opting to retire from politics and subsequently taught American government at multiple universities, including Oregon’s own Reed College.

NEUBERGER, Maurine Brown | US House of Representatives: History, Art &  Archives

In the early days of women in the Senate, they were quite the rare exception: Caraway was the only woman in the chamber throughout her whole time in the Senate and Smith was for most of her time the only one. Today, 26 women serve in the Senate.

References

Fitzpatrick, E. (2016, February 6). The Unfavored Daughter: When Margaret Chase Smith Ran in the New Hampshire Primary. The New Yorker.

Retrieved from

https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-unfavored-daughter-when-margaret-chase-smith-ran-in-the-new-hampshire-primary

Monthey, T. (2017, January 8). Oregon Trailblazer. PSU History Department.

Retrieved from

Oregon Trailblazer | Maurine Neuberger

Slade, R. The Moment That Presaged a Maine Senator’s Downfall. DownEast.

Retrieved from

The Moment That Presaged a Maine Senator’s Downfall

Judicial Disappointments: When Justices Acted Out of Accord to The Wishes of Their Party

John Paul Stevens, SCOTUS photo portrait.jpg
John Paul Stevens, possibly the most disappointing justice for Republicans.

The notion of the judicial disappointment is rather recent given the increasingly ideological nature of the Supreme Court. Although there were certain differences that manifested themselves throughout US history, it hasn’t been as pronounced as now. Thus, most of what I write will be about relatively recent justices.

Felix Frankfurter

Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965) was one of FDR’s New Dealers and had been a prominent defender of Sacco and Vanzetti, so it was thought that when Frankfurter was nominated and confirmed to the court in 1939 he would rule in a manner fitting the man he supported. This was true in his upholding of commerce clause powers, but it became apparent over the years that while he had been a political liberal, he was the leading judicial conservative on the court. Frankfurter notably thought that the Supreme Court should stay out of the political thicket, and held that legislative reapportionment was strictly a political question…a precedent that would be undone by the Warren Court and the decisions that Chief Justice Earl Warren himself would consider the most important accomplishments of his court. Frankfurter thought of Warren’s work as “dishonest nonsense” (Hirsch, 13).

Byron R. White

Byron White (1917-2002) stands as the last disappointment for liberals on the court, as White was nominated by Kennedy yet he repeatedly voted in favor of the police in criminal defendant rights cases, voted against Roe v. Wade and would continue to oppose it throughout his time on the court. However, White was liberal on some other issues, such as school prayer and reapportionment. Nonetheless, White’s views went the opposite direction of what liberals wanted, such as opposing the “Miranda warning” in Miranda v. Arizona (1966), opposing abortion legalization in Roe v. Wade (1973), upholding the Hatch Act in United States Civil Service Commission v. National Association for Letter Carriers (1973), and upholding laws against sodomy in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986).

Harry Blackmun

Although how conservatives feel about Warren Burger and Lewis Powell and whether they can be considered disappointments is disputable, Harry A. Blackmun (1908-1999) is without doubt the most disappointing of Nixon’s picks and the one I would consider a complete disappointment for Republicans. For his first five years, he voted as a conservative, but his most famous decision, the one that ultimately defined his career, Roe v. Wade (1973), was a prelude of things to come. Although on criminal justice he seldom voted to expand the scope of criminal defendant rights, he proved quite socially liberal in many areas such as the notion of the “right to privacy”, school prayer, and affirmative action. He even later changed his mind from support to opposition to the death penalty. By the time of his retirement from the court in 1994, he was far more on the side of the William J. Brennan, the intellectual leader of the court’s liberal wing, than his old friend Warren E. Burger, who had only grown more conservative over time.

John Paul Stevens

Gerald Ford’s one and only pick for the Supreme Court had beforehand had a career as a brilliant anti-trust lawyer. John Paul Stevens’ (1920-2019) work earned him great renown and lead to President Nixon nominating him as a judge for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. As a judge, Stevens proved moderately conservative. Perhaps a warning as to his future orientation would be that he was recommended by his former classmate, Senator Charles Percy, a liberal Illinois Republican. Initially, his orientation extended to his time on the Supreme Court: in the late 1970s he voted against affirmative action and for reinstatement of the death penalty, but would reverse course on the former and regarded his decision in Gregg v. Georgia (1976) as his only regret. Stevens ultimately would become, according to a 2003 statistical analysis of the Supreme Court, the most liberal justice in that court. He maintained, despite this and always ruling for the federal government on interstate commerce clause cases, that he was a “judicial conservative”. In 2008, Stevens wrote the dissent for District of Columbia v. Heller, which ruled for an individual right to bear arms. In 2010, Stevens wrote the dissent for the Citizens United decision and ultimately decided to retire, at the age of 90.

Although he was often in agreement with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and many Republicans regarded him negatively, Gerald Ford’s high opinion of Stevens never changed, and wrote favorably of him in the year before his death.

David Souter

George H.W. Bush’s first pick for the Supreme Court, David Souter, was a bit of an unknown save for his record on the state Supreme Court as a “tough on crime” judge. Indeed, his political record suggested conservatism as he had been a supporter of the staunchly conservative Governor Meldrim Thomson Jr. in the 1970s. Senator Warren B. Rudman, a moderate conservative, vouched for him to President Bush. Bush had another option in Edith Jones of the Fifth Circuit, who was known as a staunch conservative. Perhaps being afraid of selecting a justice who would get “borked”, he chose what seemed like a safe option. However, after Souter’s first three years he started to prove himself a moderate liberal in his rulings, including on civil rights issues, abortion, and on interstate commerce cases. Fortunately for conservatives, they would not be disappointed with Bush’s second pick, Clarence Thomas.

References

Cruz, T. (2020, September 29). How George H.W. Bush’s Supreme Court Nomination Cowardice Affected America. The Federalist.

Hirsch, H.N. (1981). The enigma of Felix Frankfurter. New York, NY: Basic Books.

The Biden Record: 1973-2009

Joe Biden when first elected to the Senate, 1973. He is 30 years old in this picture.

In 1972, moderate Republican J. Caleb Boggs was running for reelection, albeit reluctantly. He was 63 years old and felt done with politics. Running up against him was a 29-year old who wasn’t given much of a chance: Joe Biden. Initially, Biden was 30 points underwater but with his hard work, enthusiasm, and ability to connect with voters, on election day he narrowly upset Boggs. He had in truth been ready to retire. Upon taking office, by which time he had turned the constitutionally required age of 30, he was the sixth youngest senator in American history. Biden established himself as a liberal Democrat and for the most part he was. However, in a few ways he was different, and most notable, as I have written about before, was his turn against busing as a means for desegregation. Many of Delaware’s voters disapproved of it as did a substantial minority of Democratic senators, and Biden ultimately tacked enough to the center to win reelection by 16 points in 1978. Aside from the busing issue, Biden was a vote for expanding the federal role in civil rights. He progressively did better and better on his reelections until 2002, when he won by 18 points and for the first time since 1972 lost one of Delaware’s three counties. In 1987, as head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he played a leading role in sinking the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court and did so for ideological reasons. In 1988, Biden made his first run for president, but he ran into trouble after plagiarizing a speech from a British Labor politician that recounted his childhood. On the Supreme Court, Biden has been a regular partisan…if the vote on a Supreme Court justice from Republicans has been controversial, Biden has been a vote against it: he voted against Rehnquist in 1986 and Roberts in 2005. Perhaps from a progressive standpoint this offsets his vote for the second Iraq War in 2002, as his opposition to the troop surge in 2007. Speaking of, Biden voted against the first one in 1991. In 2008, he made another bid for the presidency, but he was easily outdone in support by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

On abortion, Biden’s record historically is more mixed than you might think. In 1976, he voted for the Hyde Amendment, which he only recently disavowed. Biden also on other occasions voted against federal abortion funding. During the second Bush Administration, Biden voted for the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act but against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. Although historically he was a bit pro-life, he is the headliner of an overwhelmingly pro-choice party and will act accordingly should he be elected. Biden is a living example of how the Democratic Party has changed on the issue overtime.

A point of contention against Biden’s record, which from many quarters is in truth disingenuous, was his sponsorship of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which played a minor role in increased incarceration throughout the United States. Conservative Republicans opposed the bill for its ten-year ban on 19 types of “assault weapons” as well as what they called “unnecessary social programs” that inflated the measure’s cost. The “tough on crime” aspects were not the reasons for Republicans to oppose the bill, and those among them who turn around and say that’s a disqualifier for Biden are being disingenuous if they know the history. The truth is that both parties wished to be “tough on crime” back in 1994 and Republican disagreement was on gun policy and too much focus on social programs. Part of the crime bill was the Violence Against Women Act, which provides federal grants to states for domestic violence prevention, which Biden specifically sponsored as well.

Per the MC-Index, in the 100th and 110th Congresses, Biden scored his lowest at a zero. These were the last two years of the Reagan and Bush II Administrations respectively, in which Democratic scores tended to be lower than usual on the scale. His highest scores were during the Carter Administration, scoring a 34% in the 95th Congress and a 24% in the 96th Congress. Biden’s life score is overall an 11%. This means he has been a solid liberal in his career overall, although not as radical as some of the younger Democrats wish he was.

File:Joe Biden official portrait 2013 cropped.jpg
Vice President Joe Biden, 2013. He is 70 years old in this picture.

My view on Biden is that as a presidential candidate, he is second-rate, and that in any other year he would be treated as such as he was in 1988 (he lost the nomination to another second-rater) and 2008. The vice presidency was basically a reward for his long years of service, and he himself is a living example of the Democratic Party’s change over the years. However, our current president has lowered standards to the point that Biden, now in his late seventies and more gaffe-prone than ever, is viable. Make of that what you will.

References

Cooper, K.J. (1994, August 14). GOP’s Beef with Beleaguered Crime Bill Shifts to Pork. The Washington Post.

Retrieved from

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1994/08/14/gops-beef-with-beleaguered-crime-bill-shifts-to-pork/69f000cf-a246-4766-9306-baf6be7e6a7c/

Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell: Nixon’s Failed Nominees

Yep, this is yet another post regarding the Supreme Court. For how controversial the Supreme Court is now, it may surprise people to know that few people in history have actually been rejected for the Supreme Court by a vote of the Senate: only eleven have lost a confirmation vote, and Nixon had the misfortune of nominating two of them.

In 1968, in one of his moves to appeal to the South, Richard Nixon promised that if elected he would get a Southerner on the Supreme Court and promised to pick “strict constructionist” judges. To fulfill his campaign promise, on August 21, 1969, Nixon nominated Clement Haynsworth Jr. of South Carolina, chief justice of the Fourth Circuit Court. He was to succeed Abe Fortas, who had resigned over accepting a retainer from financier Louis Wolfson, who was under investigation for securities fraud (for which he was convicted) and had only returned it after Wolfson had been indicted twice. Fortas had only a year ago been nominated as chief justice by Lyndon B. Johnson, but Republicans and Southern Democrats had blocked the nomination, and the case against him was based largely on ethics as well as his liberal attitude towards the regulation of pornography.

Clement Haynsworth

Democrats, smarting over Fortas not only being rejected for chief justice but also being forced to resign, chose to play hardball with Nixon and the Republicans. Northern Democrats, led by Phil Hart of Michigan, attacked Haynsworth’s judicial record as anti-civil rights and anti-labor. This alone wouldn’t have sunk the nomination, but when they hit upon conflict of interest issues with Clement Haynsworth, they struck gold. Democrats alleged that Haynsworth had voted in decisions that involved his financial interests. Republicans had based their case against Fortas on conflict of interest. Moderate Republican Senator Marlow Cook of Kentucky defended Haynsworth, stating that he was being subject to a unjustified campaign of character assassination, and the conflict of interest charges were never proven.

The death blow for Haynsworth came when the “Conscience of the Senate”, Republican John J. Williams of Delaware, found himself unable to support him. While he didn’t think Haynsworth did anything illegal, he viewed Haynsworth as having a consistently lax attitude on ethics. Williams was respected on both sides of the aisle and was part of the GOP’s conservative wing, thus this gave more liberal Republicans room to oppose him. Robert Griffin, the Michigan Republican who led the charge against Fortas on ethics grounds, also announced that he could not support Haynsworth. The nomination failed 45-55, with 17 Republicans defecting. Nixon didn’t give up easily, and sought a justice who was more conservative and more to the South.

Nixon’s Second Try: G. Harrold Carswell

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/43/G._Harrold_Carswell.jpg

The following year, Nixon tried again with Florida’s G. Harrold Carswell, who served on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and who had no apparent ethics issues surrounding him. His Attorney General, John Mitchell, proclaimed him “too good to be true”. Mitchell had no idea how correct he would turn out to be. However, Carswell had a past as a politician in Georgia, and in 1948 he ran for the state legislature and had delivered a speech in which he endorsed Jim Crow and “white supremacy”. While in 1948, every elected Georgian official was expected to support Jim Crow, his statements by 1970 had aged very badly, and he renounced them. Carswell was also involved in the turning of a public golf course into a private club with segregation, and had prolonged a desegregation case in the 1960s. In truth, his judicial record on civil rights was mixed. He ruled against his own barber when the NAACP brought suit for him refusing to serve black customers and he had been credited with freeing the University of Florida Law School of discrimination. He was also accused of mediocrity, as 58% of his decisions had been overturned by higher courts. Carswell was not helped by his allies either, with Senator Roman Hruska (R-Neb.) stating, “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters, and Cardozos” (The Downfall Dictionary). Unfortunately and unfairly for Hruska, this quote would be the most famous thing about his over twenty year career in the Senate. Democrat Russell Long of Louisiana compounded the damage with his quote, “Would it not appear that it might be well to take a B or a C student who was able to think straight, compared to one of those A students who are capable of the kind of thinking that winds up getting us a 100 percent increase in crime in this country?” (The Downfall Dictionary) Carswell met Williams’ standards of ethics and won Griffin’s approval, he curiously did not meet with Marlow Cook’s approval. Cook was a liberal on civil rights and was sufficiently disturbed to vote against. Although he fared better than Haynsworth in the vote, 13 Republicans still defected and Carswell was defeated on a 45-51 vote. At this point, Nixon was incensed and blamed an anti-South prejudice on the part of the Senate. He even considered nominating Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who would have provided a huge dilemma for Democrats, as Byrd was a leading Democrat but had also opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Although Richard Nixon liked the notion of firsts for political purposes, had Carswell been confirmed, he may have achieved a first Nixon didn’t care for: in 1976 he was arrested for propositioning an undercover police officer in a men’s restroom. Three years later, he was beaten in a hotel room by a man he had invited in. Carswell would have quite possibly been the first gay or bisexual Supreme Court justice had he been confirmed. Ultimately, Nixon proved one of the more prolific nominators of Supreme Court justices among presidents, having got four justices in, and in the end he did get a Southerner that the Senate couldn’t refuse: Lewis F. Powell Jr. of Virginia, a former president of the American Bar Association. Only the staunchly liberal Democrat Fred Harris of Oklahoma voted against.

References

G. Harrold Carswell: representing the mediocre. (2014, November 23). The Downfall Dictionary.

Retrieved from

http://downfalldictionary.blogspot.com/2014/11/g-harrold-carswell-representing-mediocre.html

Hoffecker, C.E. (2000). Honest John Williams: U.S. senator from Delaware. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press.

Retrieved from

The Oil Depletion Allowance: The Largest Tax Loophole in American History

The tax code has numerous loopholes in it that reduce tax burdens, as many Americans discovered upon the New York Times report of President Trump’s taxes, which told a tale of tax avoidance. There are, however, not as many as there used to be and the most substantial one was the oil depletion allowance.

In 1913, as the oil industry was starting to grow in the United States, Congress passed as part of the Underwood Tariff a modest oil depletion allowance that permitted a reduction of up to 5% of gross taxable income from an oil well, and this was only based upon the initial value of the property. However, this was expanded in 1926 with a whopping 27.5% reduction of taxable income. This provided a huge incentive for people to buy oil wells, as at most a bust would lose you 10 cents on the dollar if you were in the top 90% in income. Politicians from oil rich states, particularly Louisiana and Texas, were the greatest guardians of this provision, which constituted a massive windfall for oil producers and thus quite a chunk out of potential revenue. Its proponents justified it as being good for the economic growth of the United States as well as important for its defense. Opponents thought the allowance too high and a waste of money at 27.5%. Author Robert Bryce wrote the following about how the allowance operated in practice: “An oilman drills a well that costs $100,000. He finds a reservoir containing $10,000,000 worth of oil. The well produces $1 million worth of oil per year for ten years. In the very first year, thanks to the depletion allowance, the oilman could deduct 27.5 per cent, or $275,000, of that $1 million in income from his taxable income. Thus, in just one year, he’s deducted nearly three times his initial investment. But the depletion allowance continues to pay off. For each of the next nine years, he gets to continue taking the $275,000 depletion deduction. By the end of the tenth year, the oilman has deducted $2.75 million from his taxable income, even though his initial investment was only $100,000” (Spartacus Educational).

The era of Democratic legislative dominance began after the 1930 midterms, and Texas Democrats came to occupy many powerful positions: John Nance Garner was House speaker and then vice president, Sam Rayburn was chair of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee before becoming House speaker for all but four years from 1941 to 1961, Rep. Hatton Sumners chaired the Judiciary Committee until 1947, Rep. Joseph Mansfield chaired the Rivers and Harbors Committee until 1947, Reps. Marvin Jones and later W.R. “Bob” Poage chaired the Agriculture Committee, and Rep. George Mahon would chair Appropriations from 1964 to 1979. Furthermore, Senator Tom Connally was a key ally of President Roosevelt, and in the 1950s, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson was key in preventing any reduction of the Oil Depletion Allowance. Senator Russell B. Long (D-La.), as a member of and from 1966 to 1981 chair of the Senate Finance Committee, was also a key defender. Taking on this giant of a tax break was, as one might gather, a formidable task.

This allowance was frequently capitalized on by wealthy people including Hollywood figures, who may not otherwise have been interested in purchasing oil wells or shares in oil wells. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby had particular success here as “They each paid $40,000 to Monty Moncrief (a successful Texas oilman as well as their golfing partner) for a 25% share in a West Texas venture. For this particular venture, both stars earned $5,000,000 each on their initial $40,000 investment. When the depletion allowance was taken into account, $1,375,000 of the $5,000,000 was tax-free. Other Hollywood stars who experienced similar successes in the oil business included Jimmy Stewart, Gene Autry, Don Ameche and Frank Sinatra, who fittingly titled his first oil well ‘Crooner No. 1.’ ” (Nocera). The oil depletion allowance made oil a practically irresistible investment, as the dividends paid were high and the risk was low as you could deduct losses on the investment from your taxes.

This generous tax break didn’t go unchallenged: Senators Paul Howard Douglas (D-Ill.), William Proxmire (D-Wis.) and John J. Williams (R-Del.) regularly tried to reduce the oil depletion allowance, but were stymied by the political leaders of the day, including President Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn. Although John F. Kennedy had as a senator voted to reduce the allowance, Texas was one of the key states to his victory in 1960, so he needed to tread lightly on the issue. Nevertheless, after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, conspiracy theorists, such as Barr McClellan, speculated that he was offed partly to protect the allowance on the behest of LBJ. Once Johnson became president, any proposals for reducing the allowance were dead in the water as they would face his veto.

Without President Lyndon B. Johnson on hand to veto, in 1969 the Senate reduced the deduction from 27.5% to 22% in a compromise. In 1975, with an increase of liberals in the House and Senate, the oil depletion allowance was completely removed for companies that produced over 2,000 barrels a day, and gradually reduced for smaller producers until it hit 15% in 1984. This is where the oil depletion allowance stands today, a shadow of its former self.

References

Depletion allowance. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Retrieved from

https://www.britannica.com/topic/depletion-allowance

Nocera, J. (2019, January 30). How a 91% rate sparked the golden age of tax avoidance in 1950s Hollywood. Los Angeles Times.

Retrieved from

https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-nocera-tax-avoidance-20190129-story.html

Oil Depletion Allowance. Spartacus Educational.

Retrieved from

https://spartacus-educational.com/JFKoildepletion.htm