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Tommy the Cork; the secret world of Washington's first modern lobbyist.



"I know the corners of this town in thedark,' boasted Thomas G. Corcoran, Washington's premier lobbyist, in a private phone coversation in 1945. His words are preserved today because Harry S. Truman had the FBI tap into the corners of Corcoran's Washington, recording conversations held on the power broker's home and office phones.

Corcoran, nicknamed "Tommy the Cork' byFranklin Roosevelt, had been FDR's chief political operative, guiding much of the New Deal legislation through Congress and serving as the President's primary deal maker and talent scout. He had joined Roosevelt's administration in 1933, seemingly an idealist recruited by Felix Frankfurter to help "cheat the cheaters.' But by 1941 Corcoran had embarked on a career that would gain him a more dubious distinction as the prototype modern lobbyist and influence peddler.

Truman apparently tapped Corcoran becausehe feared that several of FDR's former aides were plotting against his administration. In so doing, Truman and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who likely originated the idea for the taps, created the most extensive record of political surveillance in American history: 5,000 pages of wiretap transcripts, covering May 1945 through early 1947. They were deposited in the Truman Presidential library and opened to researchers two years after Corcoran's death in 1981.

The tapes provide a mini-course in the art ofWashington lobbying with lessons hidden behind every deal, the most important being that lobbying is not pulling strings--it's scrambling. Corcoran enlisted a Catholic bishop in one lobbying effort, and used the off-the-cuff words of a tipsy cabinet secretary in another. He plotted with a future Supreme Court justice to bribe a selective service official, and acted as real estate agent for a sitting Court justice. He helped a major company evade wartime quotas for soaps, drawing into the fray a half-dozen major government officials, party leaders, and businessmen.

At every step Corcoran searched for a way touse his former White House connections to cash in for himself, in one case personally profiting from the transformation of a United Nations relief effort into what later became the first CIA-backed airline--the forerunner of Southern Air Transport that shuttled Eugene Hasenfus and weapons to the contras.

Although Corcoran suspected his phonesmight be tapped, he spoke candidly of personalities and strategies, sometimes bluntly acknowledging the illegality of his efforts. The tapes even show a streak of anti-Semitism and a contempt for some of his former New Deal associates who had taken a different path.

The trail that Corcoran traveled seems well-beatennow: find a government job, develop expertise, then leave government to sell that expertise for a handsome profit. But it was Tommy Corcoran and a handful of other FDR aides who first applied that career strategy to the executive branch. They recognized that the mix of New Deal regulations and World War II foreign policy commitments had created an opening for savvy, well-connected lobbyists who focused not just on Congress, as they had in the past, but on federal agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Export-Import Bank. In the process, of course, Corcoran sometimes worked to undermine or exploit for personal gain the very laws and regulations that he and other New Dealers had helped establish. But as he said in a phone conversation in January 1946, "You can't luxuriate yourself in your personal friendships and your likes and dislikes and your senses of justice and injustice when you're playing in this racket.'

The little red house

Corcoran's path to political power began inPawtucket, Rhode Island, where his father headed the town's most prominent law firm. He attended Harvard Law School studying under Professor Felix Frankfurter, who later became a close adviser to Roosevelt and the leading advocate of an activist government. After a clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Corcoran joined the prestigious Wall Street firm of Cotton and Franklin where he plunged into the practice of securities law.

In 1932, Cotton and Franklin loaned Corcoranto the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, an agency set up by Herbert Hoover to fight the Depression through loans to businesses and banks. Supposedly on temporary assignment, he would never again leave the nation's capital. In 1933, FDR's "Brain Trust' recruited him to help write and lobby for legislation governing the securities industry. Corcoran's behind-the-scenes maneuvering on behalf of New Deal legislation impressed both Frankfurter, by then a Roosevelt confidant, and the president himself. Although formally employed in a minor agency position, Corcoran was drawn into the inner circles of the White House, soon becoming FDR's all-purpose speechwriter, strategist, talent scout, and back-channel lobbyist. Corcoran's "Little Red House' in Georgetown became the town's leading communications center. Government officials, journalists, and businessmen swapped information and traded favors with Corcoran, creating the network of contacts that he would exploit in his private practice. Historian Cabell Phillips wrote that Corcoran and New Deal colleague and housemate Benjamin Cohen "constituted a sort of semi-autonomous fourth level of government.'

Yet by the time of Roosevelt's reelection in1940, Corcoran's seven years of scuffling with Congress and the press had transformed him into a political liability. He was blamed for Roosevelt's embarrassing political defeats with the 1937 plan to pack the Supreme Court and the 1938 efforts to purge conservatives from the party. The enemies he had made through his high-pressured lobbying style also blocked Corcoran's dream of becoming U.S. Solicitor General or under-secretary of the Navy, FDR's old job. Even ex-mentor Frankfurter came to believe that Corcoran lacked the discipline to put into practice the ideal of selfless public service.

The triple play

So in 1941 Corcoran began working as alawyer-lobbyist. Although he could no longer jolt senators and cabinet secretaries by crackling "this is Tommy Corcoran calling from the White House,' he could remain a manipulator of people and events and a permanent member of the in-crowd. In several of the deals captured on the tapes, Corcoran helped powerful individuals with problems that involved the government, often enlisting the help of important officials and cutting them in on potential profits from the case.

They show, for example, that in early 1946,Corcoran teamed up with Abe Fortas, former undersecretary of the Interior, later a Supreme Court Justice, and another New Dealer who used his government expertise for private gain. The tapes show them considering a plan to strike it rich by helping financier Serge Rubinstein avoid criminal prosecution for draft evasion and securities law violations. In a conversation recorded on January 27, 1946, Corcoran explained to Fortas that the wooing of a client had two stages: first, earn their confidence, then, exploit their fears: "You can't do it until you've proved to him a little bit that you can help him. As soon as you get him on the fly-paper and as soon as you're sure yourself you can help him, then you can do something [to get control of his assets].'

To help Rubinstein with his draft evasion case,Corcoran that day called William Leahy, Selective Service director for the District of Columbia: "He [Rubinstein] is a rich man who's scared as I never knew one who's scared. He can put it on the line. . . . I think you can get $100,000 down this morning.' Leahy reported the following day that Rubinstein's one slim hope was that Selective Service might want to quash the prosecution to avoid being embarrassed by their initial failure to discover the violation. Fortas told Corcoran that "Chocolate bar [Lewis B. Hershey, national director of Selective Service] thinks it will be a black eye for him. Because they didn't catch it themselves. . . . Now that may be hogwash, but Bill [Leahy] is going to look into it this afternoon. And we're trying to get this guy [Rubinstein] out of town on a plane.' They then engaged in an Alphonse and Gaston conversation about compensation:

Fortas: He [Rubinstein] handed me a check forfive [$5,000] . . . on one of his companies. Is that all right?

Corcoran: Sure. . . .

Fortas: Now all or any part of that is yours.

Corcoran: No it's yours. . . .

Fortas: Well, Tom you're too generous.

Corcoran: Someday, maybe, we'll make someadjustment, but that's all yours. Because we've got to get this thing off the ground, boy. Remember what I said. I have a vivid idea of the rent.

Fortas had apparently made a quick profit(although Rubinstein's checks may have been as suspect as his character). But the larger scheme collapsed. Rubinstein was indicted on January 30 and later convicted in one of the most publicized draft evasion cases of the World War II era. Ironically, Fortas was forced off the Court in 1969 by revelations that he had participated in a similar scheme to soak a trouble-ridden financier.

Corcoran usually demanded high fees as in theRubinstein case; he admitted to a minimum fee of $5,000. In his first year in private practice, he is reported to have earned over $250,000 (comparable to seven figures in today's lobbyist-intensive Washington). "When you're charging fees . . . charge them high,' Corcoran advised one senator. "The world takes you at your own valuation. You decide whether you're Tiffany or Woolworth--not the market.'

But Corcoran also understood the value ofhumbly accepting modest payment in exchange for heartfelt future grantitude. He would, for example, earn the debt of politicians by engineering deals that would throw campaign contributions their way. The transcripts for 1946 indicate that in return for a $6,500 contribution for the re-election of Senator Joseph Guffey of Pennsylvania, Corcoran got the William Penn Life Insurance Company a permit to construct a new office building in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. When the task proved more difficult than he expected, Corcoran moaned that "what they did was chisel an extra $25,000 bucks worth of work out of me--the sons of bitches.' The quid pro quo was so blatant in this case that the check arrived drawn on the company's account. Corcoran had to explain to the novices that corporate contributions were illegal and that other arrangements had to be made for remitting the mondy.

When it came to helping out the truly powerful,no man was more generous than Corcoran, for such assistance was a crucial tool in building his influence throughout Washington. For example, when Ganson Purcell was about to step down as chairman of the SEC, Corcoran offered him precious office space. Purcell accepted, adding what must have been music to Tommy the Cork: "But I feel I owe you so much already.'

For Supreme Court Justice William O.Douglas, Corcoran functioned as a real estate agent. The following exchange, taped on March 18, 1946, shows how Corcoran mingled the personal and political, and reveals that the Supreme Court Justice was helping to arrange appointments to a key agency of government at the same time he was sitting on the court:

Corcoran: I found a downtown air-cooledapartment.

Justice Douglas: Oh, you did.

Corcoran: And I think I can work this thingout on a purchase basis.

Justice Douglas: Yeah.

Corcoran: The third thing I want to tellyou . . . Sumner [Pike, SEC Commissioner] as well as Gans [Ganson Purcell, SEC Chairman] are quitting. . . .

Justice Douglas: We better get together andtalk about guys to take over that place.

Corcoran's favorite arrangement was the tripleplay in which he would gain compensation for the efforts of others, avoid taxes, and make all parties believe that he had performed favors on their behalf. According to transcripts for Fall 1945, Corcoran was approached to help a wealthy businessman, Dick Von Guntard, get his daughter out of Russian-occupied Germany. Rather than traveling to Europe himself to make the necessary arrangements, Corcoran delegated the task to his New Deal friend, Bishop Bernard Sheil of Chicago, influential head of the Catholic Youth Organization, who was going abroad on other matters. Corcoran dictated the following terms to Von Guntard's attorney: The businessman must "pay the expenses of the man of the cloth [Sheil] over and back as a contribution to him. Now that, my dear sir, is deductible. If the man of the cloth actually delivers . . . I want him to make the same $5,000 contribution to the Catholic Youth Movement over here . . . for myself, a bond up to the gift limit of three thousand dollars for each of my kids before he goes [a total of $12,000].' The Bishop got his carfare to Europe and a potential contribution, Von Guntard gained successful arrangements to have his daughter returned, and Corcoran received $12,000 tax free for his children.

Sweet deal

Many of Corcoran's cases exploited the newrelationship between business and government that developed in the 1940s. The New Deal and the war had transformed Washington into a center of business activity. Corporate America crowded into the capital to take part in the war effort, to gain contracts and concessions from government, and to share in the development of a U.S.-dominated post-war economic and strategic system.

Corcoran particularly loved to assist companiesin deed trouble; they always paid more. In the summer of 1945, for example, Corcoran teamed with former Senator William Smathers of New Jersey in an effort to acquire a share of a lucrative sugar company from businessmen charged with tax evasion. The recordings of August 30, 1945 show that Corcoran contacted Smathers with "a case of people who are awfully scared and they might pay you desperately well.'

Corcoran explained to Smathers that he hadpersonally "made their agent yesterday understand that they were right in the shadow of the pen . . . so that they'll dig up' if Smathers could just keep them out of jail. Corcoran suggested that Smathers "could say to the Department of Justice, "You're getting the full tax and fraud penalty out of these people--there's no use in smashing up a local enterprise in my home state of New Jersey.' Get it?' Corcoran was particularly fond of having people like Smathers make the key contacts because it allowed him to increase his influence and protect himself at the same time.

Corcoran's plan called for picking these clientsclean. "I think you can just take the pants off them,' he said. Corcoran and several associates would share both the sugar company and an exorbitant fee. Although transcripts don't show whether Corcoran and Smathers were able to keep their clients out of jail--Corcoran called it a "long shot'--they do show that they were paid handsomely for their efforts. Within 24 hours of the deal being struck, Smathers reported back that cash was on its way. "I told them I wanted $5,000 now and $15,000 in January. They said they would come and bring it down. . . .'

Tommy hustle

One of Corcoran's most significant preoccupationsduring World War II and its aftermath was helping corporations and trade groups get around the federal controls on wages, prices, and raw materials. He helped the American Hotel Owners Association get relief from pricing restrictions and the Raycrest Mills company to get increased supplies of Rayon. When asked by Raycrest for help, Corcoran first thought about his own pocketbook: "How about the old dole?'

But of all the deals captured on tape, nonemore fully illustrates Corcoran's repertorie of lobbying techniques--and how often those techniques failed--than his exhaustive efforts in late 1945 and 1946 to help the Lever Brothers company increase its quota on the materials used in the making of soap. Quota breaking was a serious crime bordering on treason. Corcoran's delicate task was to pressure the Department of Agriculture into raising Lever Brothers' allocation of raw materials, without alerting competitors such as Proctor and Gamble. Corcoran avoided formal hearings in favor of private contacts and used front-men in addition to direct lobbying. For the Lever Brothers deal, Corcoran told law partner Worth Clark, a former senator from Idaho, "I want $100,000' and to keep the business for future deals with the company. To press Secretary of Agriculture Clinton P. Anderson for allocations beyond what department staff recommended, Corcoran enlisted the active participation of both law partner Worth Clark and Worth's cousin, Bennett Champ Clark, former senator from President Truman's home state of Missouri and a recent appointee to the Federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

By recruiting Bennett Clark, Corcoran gainedboth a White House connection and a potential debt of gratitude from an important federal judge. "I'd like to make Bennett secure for life on that [Lever Brothers case]' Corcoran told Worth Clark. "I think that would be the best damn investment.'

The first big break in the case came from Corcoran'ssocializing rather than Bennett Clark's influence. In a conversation taped on November 23, 1945, Corcoran told a Lever Brothers executive that he had obtained a valuable confession from Secretary Anderson during a party "after enough drinks had gone so people can't tell the truth.' According to Corcoran, Anderson had agreed that Lever Brothers should be allowed additional fats and oils, but had not overruled staff objections because he was about to lift all restrictions on them anyway. Lever Brothers would shortly get the raw materials it wanted and the secretary would not have "to take on a storm in his department' by making an exception for Corcoran's client.

The next day Corcoran learned that whilealcohol may make confessions more readily available, it does not necessarily make them accurate. Anderson was wrong; quotas were not about to be lifted on the inedible fats and oils used in soap manufacturing. On December 11, Secretary Anderson informed Corcoran that the Lever Brothers case was officially closed.

Corcoran may have been secretly pleased thatAnderson was mistaken about the demise of restrictions on fats and oils; the key to lobbying is not getting something done, but taking credit for getting something done. If Agriculture had ended its quota system, then Corcoran could not claim to have accomplish anything special for Lever Brothers. Corcoran had, in fact, a month earlier confided to Worth Clark that if rationing eased up they should go to Agriculture and ask for a face-saving, if substantively meaningless, recognition of their Lever Brothers claim: "Now I think that gives us a way of going to them and say now you know and we know that [quotas are] going to collapse, it's going to be unnecessary, but it's awfully important for us to make this showing so come on and do it for us. I hope there's no dictography in that office.'

The Agriculture Department decision meantCorcoran would have to scramble for his client. "We'll have to mobilize forces tonight,' he told Bennett Clark. "We'll get it.' First, he tried to enlist the help of the Democratic Party machinery. He had earlier approached Robert Hannegan, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee and the postmaster general, about assisting in the Lever Brothers case, but Hannegan, seeing little in it for him, did little to help. So Corcoran offered the party a stake in the deal: in exchange for assistance with Lever Brothers, Corcoran and Worth Clark agreed to help the party treasurer court A. P. Giannini, retiring head of the Bank of America, and a politically influential financier.

To win Giannini's affection, Corcoran had togain Federal Reserve Board approval of the Bank of America's plans to acquire 25 branch banks in California. On December 13, Corcoran reported that Worth Clark had persuaded Fed Chairman Marriner Eccles to give Giannini permission to acquire two or three banks as a prelude to further expansion: "And now, by God, I want Bob Hannegan to deliver for me on that Lever thing as he promised he would . . .' But Giannini was not enthralled. The "big storming pirate,' Corcoran complained to Clark on December 19, had "pounded the table? and complained, "if you can give me two of them [branch banks] you can give me the whole twenty-five of them and I demand them.' No help came from Giannini.

Just when Corcoran was looking pretty impotentas a lobbyist, the Lever Brothers company itself came to his rescue--by breaking the law. Corcoran learned that Lever Brothers, without authorization, had already obtained and processed into soap the 2.5 million pounds of fats and oils for which they had wanted Agriculture Department approval. Corcoran's mission changed to damage control.

He had just the weapon--Secretary Anderson'scocktail party gaffe. In a conversation with a Lever Brothers official on December 20, Corcoran explained that if Secretary Anderson dared move against the company, Lever Brothers could pretend that the secretary's off-the-record admissions had given de facto authorization for use of the extra fats and oils. "So as I understand it the two million five is already in the kettle. . . . Well don't worry about it. He [Anderson] knows you've put it in. But he doesn't know it in such a way that incriminates you. But he knows that in reliance on what he told me, you have taken an action which otherwise you wouldn't have taken. . . . I have very carefully not talked this thing directly with him because I'm passing the messages in such a way--remember we've violated a law--that I'm never putting myself in the point where I've said it.'

That strategy received a temporary setbackwhen career officials within Agriculture sent a letter warning that the department "did not believe the Company had acted in good faith in its use of fats during the last quarter of 1945.' The letter prompted the following exchange between Corcoran and Judge Bennett Clark reported on February 4, 1946:

Corcoran: I must say that suy [Anderson] isa most amazing bird. . . . He says one thing to your face, and then four or five days later a subordinate of his writes a letter.

Clark: He's a dirty son-of-a-bitch.

Corcoran: I'm going to pretend I got out oftown before I got the letter so I won't answer it.

Clark: The first chance I get I'm going to tellHarry Truman what a dirty double-crossing son-of-a-bitch this fellow is.

Just as Corcoran seemed to have run out ofavenues for exerting pressure on the department, one last potential deal fell in his lap. President Truman had nominated California oil executive Ed Pauley for undersecretary of the Navy, but the nomination had stalled because of objections from Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes. By helping out on the Pauley nomination, Corcoran had a final opportunity to get the assistance he needed from party chairman Bob Hannegan. Corcoran told a Lever Brothers official on February 10, 1946 that Hannegan "asked us to get him two votes on this Naval Affairs Committee for Pauley. . . . I don't know whether I can deliver those two votes or not--my own hunch is that if I can, it is probably the last chance I've got to heave him in so tough that I'll get this quota.' Corcoran could not deliver the votes for Pauley. Truman withdrew Pauley's nomination and accepted the interior secretary's resignation. Ironically, at the same time Corcoran was plotting to help secure Pauley's nomination over Ickes objections, he was helping the interior secretary write his letter of resignation.

After several unsuccessful efforts to gainspecial treatment, Corcoran finally gained a partial victory for his client. Apparently because Anderson had compromised himself, the Agriculture Department went relatively easy on Lever Brothers. The company was supposed to deduct the 2,500,000 pounds from the 1946 quota, but "no one is going to jail and time passes,' Worth Clark concluded. In fact, Lever Brothers would never actually have to deduct the fats and oils it had illegally used in 1945. Instead the company could keep "readjusting [its quota] from quarter to quarter,' putting off the deduction until wartime controls ended and no one cared anymore.

Although Corcoran never officially gainedrecognition of Lever Brother's claims, with his aggressiveness he had in effect succeeded in circumventing the regulations. While modern influence peddlers often promise only access, Corcoran delivered hustle. In the course of this one case, Corcoran had involved the treasurer of the Democratic Party, the postmaster general, a titan of American business, the head of the federal reserve system, members of the Naval Affairs Committee, a federal judge and a former senator. At each level, negotiation consisted of classic back room favor trading. Ultimately, Corcoran helped his clients avoid punishment not through his skills of persuasion, but by making use of the Agriculture Secretary's loose lips.

CAT scam

While the New Deal and World War II hadcreated a market for executive branch lobbying domestically, the end of the Depression and the war created other markets for Corcoran. "You are coming back to one of the greatest foreign trade eras the world has ever known,' State Department official Joe Panuch told Corcoran's brother Dave two months before the Japanese surrender. "You have to know how [to take advantage], and it is just a question of getting the jump.'

To get his jump on the new era, Corcoran onceagain used expertise and contacts developed while in government. During the war, Corcoran had served FDR as unofficial head of Lend Lease to China, a program that operated in the form of a private corporation, China Defense Supplies. Corcoran's brother Dave had been the company president and FDR's uncle Franklin Delano and Chinese leader T.V. Soong (later premier) were directors. After the war, Corcoran's law firm quickly obtained Soong as a client with a $100,000 annual retainer. In addition, Corcoran personally moved to get in on various enterprises, peddling aspirin, branch banking, public works projects, and exports of every kind. Most of Corcoran's schemes remained pipe dreams after Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist government began to collapse under the pressure of inflation, corruption, and war against Mao Tse-Tung's communist forces. But he did succeed spectacularly in establishing a commercial airline in China-- Commercial Air Transport or CAT, the only strictly private carrier serving China.

CAT began when Corcoran convinced FiorelloLa Guardia, director general of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and formerly mayor of New York City, to put up nearly $2 million to purchase surplus cargo planes, fuel, and other supplies necessary to start up the airline. In return, CAT would ferry UNRRA's relief supplies to-war-devastated China. Only after UNRRA needs were met would the airline be authorized to carry commercial freight. As a July 18, 1946 conversation showed, Corcoran and General Claire Chennault, the wartime commander of the Flying Tigers Air Group and president of CAT, were eager to carry as little humanitarian cargo as possible:

Chennault: This thing would be a great money-makerif we didn't carry a pound of UNRRA cargo.

Corcoran: I should think so too. The problemis how do you get the original equipment.

Chennault: Yeah, but I mean if we get theequipment.

Corcoran: That's right, if--

Chennault: Then don't carry a pound of thisUNRRA cargo and make a lot more money.

Corcoran: More money. I told them [theChinese investors] that.

Corcoran and Chennault were able to keeptheir commitments to UNRRA and establish a marginally profitable airline. After the triumph of Mao in 1949, they played upon fears of a spreading Asian communism to persuade the CIA to subsidize their airline as a source of supplies to anti-communist guerrillas. In 1950, the agency purchased CAT outright. Not only did Corcoran and other shareholders pocket $950,000 from the acquisition deal, but the CIA acquired the beginnings of an "aerial empire' that would eventually support covert operations in Nicaragua and throughout the world.

Corcoran had played the foreign policy gameperfectly with CAT, beginning the airline to meet the need for post-war relief, then selling it when concern switched to the containment of communism. But the tapes show that he was less successful in his bid to become a broker for the billions of dollars in loans that the federal government used to spur the revival of international trade. Corcoran's approach was to influence appointments to the Export-Import Bank, the main source of foreign loans in the 1940s. He had helped establish the Export-Import Bank as an FDR adviser in 1934. Loans were to be disbursed to help foreign governments buy goods produced by American concerns. Corcoran's candidate to head the Export-Import Bank was Leo "The Lion' Crowley, a New Deal colleague who had run lend-lease. Corcoran believed that with Crowley at the helm, the bank would authorize hundreds of millions in loans to nationalist China "to be spent as we want it spent.'

Corcoran was also interested in loans tocommunist-bloc countries, virgin territory for commercial expansion. "You're going to have a terrific voice on the Russian business and on the Balkan business and on the Polish business . . . the satellite states that are part of the Russian thing,' Corcoran told Leo Crowley on October 21, 1945. "I think we can control that all right,' Crowley replied. His interest in trade with communist countries did not, however, stop Corcoran from joining the virulent red-baiting of the time, especially when it served his personal ends. When Nelson Rockefeller, an occasional business partner, was dismissed as assistant secretary of state, Corcoran blamed "that wild commie-kike crowd that are sure that if you're not willing to dissolve all existing forms of society to their benefit, you're an s.o.b.' At another point, when it appeared that a plan to have Navy planes fly UNRRA relief missions to China threatened support for the Corcoran-Chennault airline, Corcoran cried "commie' conspiracy.

Without access to Truman's White House,however, Corcoran was frustrated in his efforts to gain leverage over the Export-Import Bank's appointees. He learned that connections may only take you so far if the people in power simply don't want to listen to you. Truman didn't appoint Crowley or any other Corcoran ally to the Export-Import bank. On November 11, 1945, Corcoran's partner Bill Youngman gave the following gloomy report about prospects for loans to China:

Youngman: I have a feeling this (U. S. to Chinaloan) is going to be in troubled waters.

Corcoran: I have no doubt about it. . . . We beton a horse that didn't show up.

Revolving that door

By invading the privacy of Corcoran, Harry S.Truman and J. Edgar Hoover inadvertently opened to public view the once hidden world of influence peddling in Washington, D.C. Corcoran, who remained an active player in the capital until close to his death in 1981, was by no means America's first high-powered lobbyist. For much of American history, corporations had hired lobbyista to press their claims in Congress. But the dramatic government expansion that began with the New Deal and World War II, and exploded in the sixties and seventies with the Great Society, spawned a breed of lobbyists who knew the workings of the executive branch. The boom in Washington office building construction is explainable in no small part by the need to provide safe haven for the Tommy Corcorans of the eighties.

Corcoran's lasting contribution to Americanpolitics was in showing just how self-enriching passage through the revolving door can be. He provides the evolutionary bridge between the crass "fixers' of the past who bought and sold congressmen and today's slick lawyers who serve the public interest for a short time for the sole purpose of cashing in later. Corcoran was not the only former New Dealer to follow such a path. For example, Thurman Arnold, FDR's assistant attorney general for antitrust, went on to form one of the most respectable power-law firms in town, Arnold, Porter and Fortas. "Thurman is doing awfully well,' Corcoran remarked on November 3, 1945. "The lure of that name is bringing in a lot of spectacular stuff to him.'

Perhaps more dramatically than any other ex-NewDealer, Corcoran had turned against the idealistic vision that had supposedly brought him to government. Initially claiming to be a proponent of an activist government committed to the public good, Corcoran then spent 40 years trying to circumvent or exploit for private gain the laws and regulations that government established. In Corcorans' Washington, the tapes reveal, everything was negotiable.

One of the few Corcoran recruits who couldnot live comfortably in this world was Joseph Rauh, later counsel to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Corcoran admired Rauh's intelligence and hard-work, but was frustrated by his penchant for clouding business arrangements with ideology. In a conversation taped on January 4, 1946, Corcoran asked former New Deal Colleague Ben Cohen to help discipline Joseph Rauh.

"Joe's got to remember, fellow, that we're notfree agents and we're not in politics--we're playing a law business . . . just simply make him understand, fellow, that when you're in business to make money, fellow . . . you've got to play in line--you know what I mean--and your private life is part of the game. . . . The boy won't play in line, and an undisciplined colt isn't good to anybody. . . . Once you get into this business you've got to be a draft horse and you've got to wear blinders.'
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Title Annotation:Thomas G. Corcoran
Author:Lichtman, Allan J.
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Feb 1, 1987
Previous Article:Catastrophic insurance for all.
Next Article:Ben Cohen: one who took a different path.

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