Called before a Senate Committee investigating campaign financing in 1920, Colonel William Boyce Thompson accused Democratic presidential candidate James D. Cox of “making his millions” on Wall Street.
“Don’t forget that your candidate has his millions, and he got it on Wall Street,” the Colonel alleged, according to a September 23, 1920 article in the New York Times. At the time, the Colonel, who was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee of the Republican National Committee, was raising money for Warren G. Harding. Thompson was new to politics, but he proved that he could fling mud with the best of them.
Senator James A. Reed (D-Mo.), a former prosecutor, immediately sunk his fangs into Thompson, who without question had made countless millions on Wall Street. After repeated questioning from James, Thompson ultimately admitted that he had only “heard rumors” that Cox, who was then Governor of Ohio, had amassed a fortune on Wall Street.
Thompson alleged that Cox had invested in the securities of some Ohio companies. He claimed that the candidate was, in effect, part of an investment ring. “All the Wall Street crowd are supporting Cox, and so are the two big financial papers, The Times and The World.”
The Colonel’s most damning allegation was that Cox owned a home worth $500,000. He speculated out loud how Cox could have afford such a home.
After Thompson could offer no evidence of where Cox got his money, Reed accused Thompson of letting the “blood run to his head.” Then he launched into a “cross-examination” about how much money the Republican National Committee planned to raise for the next election. Thompson said the committee’s goal was to raise $3 million, and that fundraising efforts were difficult because of a $1000 limit on individual contributions.
Reed, though, claimed that the Republicans raised $1.8 million before selecting a candidate, and before the Colonel set the $3 million goal. That brought the purse to $5 million, Reed alleged. Then the Committe made a budget of $6 million and sent it to the states, which doubled the pool to $12 million, Reed alleged.
“That’s pure bank stuff,” Thompson retorted. “And now your candidate comes forward and says we are after a $30 million fund. It is all rot. The Republican Committee hopes to raise $3 million and no gifts in excess of $1000 will be received. Where are the Democrats getting there’s?”
Thompson dismissed talk of Republican slush funds as nothing more than “barroom” politics.
According to his biography, the Senate investigation took the wind out of The Colonel’s fundraising sails. “When the Senators were done with him,” wrote Hermann Hagedorn, “the momentum was gone and he was forced to seek loans which entered unhappily into the history of a dreary decade.”
Even if Thompson lost the Senate battle, he won the presidential war. Campaigning on a “return to normalcy,” Harding won the election in a landslide, ultimately spending more $8.1 million, according to campaign manager Will Hays. That’s nearly four times as much as his democratic challenger spent.
The American public was looking for a change in 1920. The popularity of President Woodrow Wilson, a democrat, plunged after the economy collapsed after WWI. There were major strikes in the meatpacking and steel industries, large race riots in Chicago and other cities, and a terrorist attack on Wall Street.
Cox did ultimately make his millions. The publisher of the Dayton Daily News, he built a large newspaper chain, Cox Enterprises.