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National Affairs: Questions & Answers

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With a nice sense of the appropriate, the Senate’s committee to investigate current Presidential campaign funds let purity begin at home. The first Candidates examined were seven of the Senate’s own galaxy —the Messrs. Borah, Curtis, George, Goff, Norris, Reed, Walsh; also the onetime Senator, Nebraska’s Hitchcock, and Representative Hull of Tennessee. The Committee also waited on Governor Ritchie of Maryland, on the tenth floor of a Baltimore office building. This interview lasted only ten minutes, Governor Ritchie explaining in that time that he was not a Candidate, though he intended to maintain a suite at Houston to entertain his friends, he said.

Candidates Watson and Lowden were the last ones examined. Mr. Lowden said some $60,000 had been spent in his behalf, perhaps $5,000 of it from his own pocket. “As you gentlemen know,” he said, “I have not been active; I have not even made a political speech.”

The investigating Committee had been named, of course, by Vice President Dawes, between whom and Candidate Hoover there is almost no affection whatever. The most careful choosing would be required to find five Senators distinctly friendly to the G. O. P.’s busy Beaver Man and Vice President Dawes had not been careful at all. The chairman he had chosen was Oregon’s Steiwer, a youngish Republican Senator (aged 44) serving his first term. As the colleague of Oregon’s famed farm-relieving McNary, Senator Steiwer could not be expected to feel warmly toward so firm a foe of McNary-Haugenism as the Secretary of Commerce.

Then there were South Dakota’s McMaster, a thoroughgoing Lowden Republican, and Vermont’s bald Dale, who has evaded Hooverism by sticking to the Coolidge-anyway movement. The two Democrats were Kentucky’s bulky Barkley and New Mexico’s curly Bratton.

When Candidate Hoover appeared before this quintet he looked gloomy and prepared to be annoyed. He gazed at the floor, as though in bored submission to an inescapable futility.

Chairman Steiwer began the ritual by explaining that this was a non-partisan inquiry. The Beaver Man replied that his campaign was in the hands of friends, that there was “no very formal” national organization. He sounded vague on such subjects as the actual number of States where his friends were active and for a money accounting he referred the Committee to James W. Good as “perhaps the most responsible man” in his Washington committee.

Senator Steiwer, questioning meticulously, asked about patronage promises. The Beaver Man bristled noticeably and said: “If anyone suggested that outside … it would be rather offensive.”

“That is the reason I said I assumed that none had been made,” said Senator Steiwer soothingly.

Senators Bratton and McMaster took their turns at questioning. By the time Senator Barkley’s turn came, the Beaver Man was restive. Senator Barkley asked if a charge had not been circulated by Hooverites that all the Favorite-Son candidates were “stalking horses.”

“Oh, my goodness,” sighed the Candidate, “the talk that has gone on is beyond belief and has included some of a slanderous order.”

Senator Barkley asked about Hooverism’s relations with Will Hays and other suspicious public characters. The answers being barren, he asked if Candidate Hoover was not a man “of considerable means.”

“Nothing like the amount that is generally reported by a curious public,” retorted the Beaver Man, and declined to be specific.

Senator Barkley went on about cinema, the Scripps-Howard press and a variety of matters, including chinaware. Had the Secretary of Commerce called a meeting of china manufacturers last year and suggested they could raise their prices?

Hoover: “No, sir. . . . The notion . . . is grotesque.”

Barkley:”. . . Have you any knowledge that they did make such an increase?”

Hoover: “I have not the remotest idea, but such a suggestion is grotesque. I wonder, Mr. Chairman, if the committee is not getting down to dealing with a pretty small type of street slander?”

Steiwer: “Possibly so, Mr. Secretary, but I think it is in the report here that those people had contributed to your campaign. … I feel that these rumors should be exploded. . . .”

Senator Dale remarked that Candidate Hoover seemed “rather resentful of the proceedings of this committee.”

Far different, with no shadow of “resentment,” was the seance held by the Committee next day in a ballroom of the Hotel Commodore, Manhattan. Before the Senators arrived, there strode into the room a figure in blue serge and buttoned shoes, carrying a tan topcoat. The figure wore an almost white fedora hat instead of its traditional brown derby that was instantly recognizable, by the flash of gold in the smile, the jaunty salute to the newsgatherers, as Candidate Smith. When the Committee entered, this Candidate, minus fedora and topcoat, put his thumbs in his waistcoat and tilted back in the witness chair with his cigar at a happy angle. The front feet of the chair turned to earth when the questioning began, but the smile remained and the cigar rolled easily about between answers which were not without a certain eager humor. The questions paralleled those asked of Candidate Hoover, though they were put less pressingly, in less finicky detail.

Like Candidate Hoover, who had denied a report that he would campaign for nomination by cinema and radio, Candidate Smith denied that he would leave New York until after the Houston convention. He was soon excused, to let the Committee hear from his campaign manager, George R. Van Namee. “Pleased to have met you all,” was the Candidate’s salute as he retired to a spectator’s seat.

Manager Van Namee reported that the Smith campaign had contained $103,310, of which $92,090.28 was expended. The balance, he hoped, would last until June 26. He named the contributors — William Henry Todd, shipbuilder; James J. Riordan, banker; Herbert Lehman, banker; Henry Morganthau, onetime Ambassador; George Gordon Battle, lawyer; James W. Gerard, onetime Ambassador; Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Thomas W. Kelly, Anna E. Felix, etc., etc. And told about the biggest contributor of all, William F. Kenny, contractor, who had given $20,000 and loaned $50,000 without security.

“What is Mr. Kenny’s business?” asked Senator Bratton.

“He is in the contracting business,” answered Manager Van Namee. “He tears up roads, digs mains, lays pipes and restores the roads.”

Manager Van Namee, himself a Public Service Commissioner, testified that Contractor Kenny had received no undue number of large contracts during the Smith regime in New York State. From other sources, the Senators learned more about Mr. Kenny and why he is chief backer of the Brown Derby.

The firm in friendship of Smith & Kenny is said to have begun long before Smith had a vote or Kenny a spare nickel, before either had long trousers, in fact. Mr. Kenny’s father was a fireman and “Bill” and “Alfred” are supposed to have played together under the unique glamor of hook, ladder and sliding pole. They are both volunteer firemen to this day. While “Alfred” worked in Fulton Fish Market, “Bill” hawked newspapers. It would be absurd to suppose that they did not help each other along when one became a contractor and the other a city politician. Now, the one has some 40 millions, the other a formidable fragment of the national electorate.

Mr. Kenny’s doctrine of wealth is as follows: “Money is useful for just two things. One is to provide for family needs and the other is to use it to entertain friends. That’s what I do with mine.”

So the boy from the gashouse district who grew up to build the gas houses has two private railway cars, one for Mrs. Kenny in case Mr. Kenny wants to be off somewhere—with “Al” in North Carolina, for instance. And when a New York or Brooklyn fireman is killed in line of duty, the widow gets a $1,000 check from the son of the late Battalion Chief.

Unlike most millionaires, Mr. Kenny carries a massive “roll,” anything from $5,000 to $10,000. His motors form a fleet. He will charter a whole deck of a steamship to take friends to Europe, preferring that to a private yacht. His beefsteak dinners, held for years in the basement of his Brooklyn home, have grown so populous that he now gives them in a 300-ft. chamber, called the Tiger Room, in a midtown Manhattan office building, equipped with a 70-foot onyx table and a full-size stage. Off this chamber is the replica of a Bowery hall, complete with sawdust, broken chandelier, old-time police license.

Beyond friendship, the firm of Smith & Kenny is supposed not to go. Anything, or almost anything, that Kenny has is Smith’s to command, but Mr. Kenny says: “He does not ask my advice and I offer none.” Picturing Candidate Smith in the White House, citizens can picture Mr. Kenny as a salty, Irish, demonstrative version of Frank Waterman Stearns, the Boston merchant who, with Mrs. Stearns, so often stays over night at the White House or cruises over the week-end on the Mayflower.

When Manager Good reported the accounts of Hooverism, no contributor comparable to Mr. Kenny was revealed. Edsel Ford of Detroit had given $5,000; Julius Rosenwald of Chicago, $3,500; Walter E. Hope of Manhattan, $3,000; Palmer Fuller, J. D. Grant, W. W. Crocker, F. W. Bradley, S. H. Chamberlain, F. W. Van .Sicklen and G. M. Rolph, all of San Francisco, had given $1,000 each. These were gifts to the Hoover fund at Washington, which totalled $50,150. Committees in 18 states reported funds totalling $191,884. The total Hoover outlay was about $250,000 to date, most of which, protested Manager Good, had been spent to vindicate Candidate Hoover of charges made by “overzealous” antagonists. Mr. Good estimated that the final cost of seeking the Beaver Man’s nomination would not run beyond $300,000. He called this a “modest” sum, comparing it with the $1,773,330 that was spent trying to nominate the late Leonard Wood in 1920. Other G. O. P. primary funds in 1920 were:


Johnson………………………… 200,000

Lowden…………………………. 414,987

Basing his figures on the Committee’s disclosures, Senator Cutting of New Mexico introduced bills to restrict Presidential and Vice Presidential nominating costs to $10,000 per state and $400,000 in all. For election campaigns proper, triple those sums was set.

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