Political Assessments in the Coming Campaign

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WHERE a bad custom has been in existence for any length of time, most people grow to regard it as part of the order of nature. This is well illustrated in the attitude of the average politician towards civil service reform. He finds some difficulty in understanding the proposition that minor offices should be taken out of politics, and is quite unable to surrender the idea that a large part of the funds for every campaign should be paid by the office-holders.

Formerly, in every campaign, national, state, or local, the office-holders were assessed all round, as a matter of course. The party committees, after consultations with the heads of departments, notified office holders outright what amount--usually about two per cent of their salary -they would be expected to pay; and at the appointed day they marched up, paid, and got their receipts. The scandal grew so intolerable that efforts were made to stop it by legislation. In some States, notably New York, these efforts have not accomplished very much as yet; the state and municipal officers are entirely under the control of the politicians of the party in power in the State, and are assessed at every campaign. But we now have a sweeping federal law forbidding the collection of these assessments among national office-holders. Under this law, the evil has been greatly diminished; yet it still exists to some extent, and it is most rife in presidential years. In off years, the different campaign committees try, of course, to get money, and do a little assessing of employees on the sly, if they get an opportunity; but in presidential years the pressure for funds is very great. The national and state campaign committees strive urgently to get every dollar possible, and the political excitement rises to such a pitch of fever heat that the politicians desirous of evading or breaking the law act much more openly than at other times, both because they themselves are so excited that they forget their caution, and because they believe that the public itself is too inflamed to take note of anything that is not fairly forced on its attention. In consequence, it is well, at the beginning of a presidential contest, to show clearly how matters actually stand; and it is also well, as publicly as possible, to warn politicians not to transgress the law, and to inform office-holders of their rights and immunities. The law provides, under heavy penalties, first, that no office holder shall in any way solicit or receive assessments or contributions for political purposes from any other office-holder; second, that no person, office-holder or otherwise, shall solicit such contribution in any federal building; third, that no office-holder shall be in any way jeopardized in his position for contributing or refusing to contribute, as he sees fit; and fourth, that no office-holder shall give any money to another office-holder for the promotion of any political object whatever. The law, it will be seen, thus tries to provide both for the protection of the office-holder, and for the punishing of the politician who solicits from him. The object of protecting the office-holder himself may be said to have been very nearly attained, at least so far as the office-holders who have any pluck and backbone are concerned. Cases in which it is alleged that the office-holder has been in any way interfered with for refusing to contribute are very rare indeed. It may safely be asserted that if any man has the manliness to stand up and refuse to be bullied into paying an assessment he will not suffer. Moreover, the Civil Service Commission would be very zealous in dealing with cases of alleged intimidation by superior officers. If, during the approaching presidential campaign, we are able to establish any connection at all between a man's refusal to contribute and a discrimination against him by his official superiors, we shall certainly promptly and publicly recommend the dismissal and prosecution of these superiors. We cordially invite any complaint that may be made by any office-holder who is aggrieved in this fashion. Often the office-holder does not make the complaint because he fears that he will be further maltreated if he does. In such cases, we will, upon request, treat the man's complaint as confidential, and endeavor to make an investigation and get at the facts without implicating him, or at least without having him known as the author of the investigation. If in any office we found that several men who had not contributed were discriminated against by the head of the office, we should undoubtedly hold the latter responsible, and require him to show ample cause why he should not be considered to have made this discrimination because of his subordinates' failure to contribute.

The law thus works satisfactorily in protecting employees. It works much less satisfactorily, however, in punishing would-be wrong-doers. It is difficult to get evidence against these wrong-doers; and having gotten the evidence, it is sometimes difficult to get convictions. During the past three years the Commission has recommended the indictment of some thirty different individuals for violations of the law against making political assessments. Indictments have been procured in ten or twelve cases. It is simply a question of time when we shall get some conspicuous offender convicted, and either heavily fined or imprisoned. Whenever we can make a strong case against any individual collecting political assessments, we intend to ask for his indictment, and we shall often get it, and this alone will serve to frighten other offenders. Of the men thus indicted, eventually we shall be able to convict a certain proportion. Moreover, we find that a very great deal can be done to stop the assessments by mere publicity. Throughout the approaching campaign we intend, whenever we find an individual or an organization trying to assess government office-holders, publicly, through the press, to call the attention of everybody to what is being done, and to invite any information which will enable us to prosecute the offenders; at the same time assuring the people solicited that they need not contribute one dollar unless they wish, and that they will be amply protected if they refuse to contribute at all.

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