Nowadays, the effort to collect these contributions is usually made after a careful study of the law, and with a deliberate purpose to evade its provisions. Office-holders do not serve on the collecting committees, and the latter mail their requests to the clerks' homes instead of to their offices. But the truth of it is that the clerks ought not to be addressed by these committees at all. The law ought to prohibit its being done. The clerk is bound to feel that there is some duress in the matter, when a committee of the association with which his immediate superior is closely connected requests him for campaign funds. He ought to be allowed to contribute or not, just as he sees fit. It is all wrong for the Republican national committee, or the Democratic state committee of New York, for instance, to send circulars to the federal employees in the municipal departments as the case may be. There is no more reason why letter carriers, custom-house clerks, and city officials should receive these letters than there is why the employees of Lord and Taylor or of Tiffany should receive them.
Even when the committee thus evades the law instead of violating it, it is the intention of the Commission publicly to call attention to the fact, and explain with the utmost explicitness, both to the public and to the government employees, that the latter need not pay a cent. I think that any campaign committee trying to solicit government employees in this manner will damage the good name of the party on whose behalf it acts to an extent that will far outweigh the benefit accruing from what paltry sums it may collect. Moreover, wherever we have reason to think that the law is being violated, even where there are no positive charges brought to us, we shall at once proceed to make an investigation, and will try to inspect any office in which we think foul work is going on.
There is another point to which I would like to call the attention of all possible wrong-doers. There are many men whose tongues are tied by fear of consequences to themselves, but who lose this apprehension as soon as the election is over. It is very possible that acts of wrong-doing in the way of collecting political assessments will remain unnoticed until after the election; but then some of the clerks will be very apt to talk about it. When an election results in the defeat of the party in power, this is almost sure to be the case. Under these circumstances, the clerks who have been assessed talk freely, and are delighted to try to avenge themselves by calling the attention of the incoming party to the misdeeds of the representatives of the outgoing party; and of course the wrong doers can expect no mercy from their political opponents. So I would like to warn all these wrong-doers, who think they may possibly cover their tracks for the present, that they are probably merely preparing for themselves a ripe harvest of discomfort in the future.
Government employees, as whole, are hard-working, not overpaid men, with families to support, and there is no meaner species of swindling than to blackmail them for the sake of a political organization. The contribution, moreover, is extorted from them at a time when it is often peculiarly difficult for them to pay. To take away two per cent of a man's salary just at the beginning of winter may mean that he will have to go without a winter overcoat, or his wife and children without the warm clothing which is almost a necessity.
Moreover, it is the poorest and most helpless class who are most apt to be coerced into paying. In several investigations undertaken by the Commission, we found that it was women who were most certain to pay, and that the women opposed in political faith to the administration were even more apt to pay than the others. Indeed, this is the case among men, too. There are a certain number of offices in which the employees not in sympathy with the administration for the time being always feel more or less fear of being turned out. They know they have no supporters among the politicians who for the moment are in prominent positions, and they are nervously anxious not to awaken any hostility or give any offense. In consequence they are easily bled.
Another thing always to be kept in mind, in dealing with these cases of political blackmail, is that really but a comparatively small portion of the funds obtained goes to the benefit of the party organization. A certain proportion gets lost in the transit, and when the collecting officers or clubs are of low character this proportion becomes very large indeed. The money that is collected is used, in the great majority of cases, not to further the welfare of the party as a whole, but to further the designs of certain individuals in it, who are quite as willing to us the funds they have obtained against their factional foes in their own organization as against the common party foe without.
There is no longer any such brutal and flagrant assessing of government employees in the federal service as was customary ten years ago. There is not nearly so much as there is in the local, state, and municipal service of New York, for instance; but a certain amount of soliciting for money, usually by indirect methods, goes on, and a good deal of the money collected is in reality obtained by coercion. More of this kind of work is done in a presidential year than in any other. A great deal of it was done in the last presidential campaign, in 1888. It is too much to expect that the Commission will be able to put a complete stop to it now; but at least we intend to try to minimize the evils complained of, and to make them less than they have ever been before; to interfere as much as possible with the politicians who try to collect the funds, and to protect the office-holders whom these same politicians in any way menace or coerce.