Jump to content
The Education Forum

William Proxmire


John Simkin
 Share

Recommended Posts

A great American politician died yesterday: William Proxmire. After the Japanese Airforce bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Proxmire enlisted in the US Army as a private. He was assigned to counterintelligence work and was discharged in 1946 as a first lieutenant.

Proxmire moved to Wisconsin to be a reporter for The Capital Times in Madison. According to Proxmire: "They fired me after I'd been there seven months, for labor activities and impertinence." William Proxmire stayed in Wisconsin and worked briefly for a union newspaper. He also had a weekly radio show called Labor Sounds Off, sponsored by the American Federation of Labor.

Proxmire took an interest in politics and his idol was Robert La Follette. A member of the Democratic Party, Proxmire failed in his attempts to become governor of Wisconsin in 1952, 1954 and 1956. Proxmire was elected to the Senate in 1957 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Joseph R. McCarthy.

A strong supporter of Civil Rights, in his first term, he clashed with the Senate majority leader, Lyndon B. Johnson, because he thought he was blocking civil rights legislation. He was also a leading critic of the oil depletion allowance. Johnson used his position in the Senate to get Proxmire removed from the important Finance Committee. Proxmire responded by calling Johnson a dictator and a paid spokesman for the Texas oil industry.

John F. Kennedy agreed with Proxmire about the oil depletion allowance and talked of it being reduced from its high level of 27.5 per cent. This was not implemented before his death in November, 1963. It remained unchanged during Johnson's presidency. According to Barr McClellan this resulted in a saving of over 100 million dollars to the American oil industry. Soon after Johnson left office it dropped to 15 per cent.

Proxmire voted for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution but later felt that Lyndon Johnson had misled Congress and he became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. He used his seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee to spotlight wasteful military spending and was instrumental in stopping frequent military pork barrel projects (government spending that is intended to benefit constituents of a politician in return for their political support, either in the form of campaign contributions or votes).

Proxmire was unhappy that the United States government would not sign up in support of the genocide convention. Starting in 1967, he made a speech every day Congress convened - a total of 3,211 speeches - over a 19 year period. His campaign came to an end when the genocide convention was accepted in 1986.

In 1975 Proxmire established his annual Golden Fleece awards. In this way he "publicized outlandish government spending, bureaucratic wastage or money misused in the case of self-advancement". Some examples of his Golden Fleece awards was the US navy's use of 64 planes to fly 1,334 pilots to a reunion in Las Vegas and doormats that cost the navy $792 each.

Proxmire served as chairman of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs until his retirement in 1988.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

I have managed to get a copy of William Proxmire's book, Report from Wasteland: America's Military-Industrial Complex. It includes details of how the Suite 8F Group worked (although he does not mention the group by name). Proxmire clearly explains the importance of the chairmen of the key Senate committees. Interestingly, he does not report on the role played by LBJ in this (as Majority Leader he decided on who became chairmen of these committees). In fact, the book only mentions LBJ twice. Like most figures of this period, Proxmire appeared to be frightened of LBJ. There is a good section in the book on the TFX scandal:

Roswell L. Gilpatric, who served as Deputy Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1964. (He was) a member of the law firm of Cravath, Swaine, and Moore, when he became deputy to McNamara in 1961, he and his firm had represented General Dynamics in the period 1958-61. Gilpatric's fees had exceeded $100,000. Although he left his firm, he continued to receive some $20,000 a year in severance pay while at the Pentagon. In the meantime, Cravath, Swaine, and Moore continued to represent General Dynamics.

Like Packard, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gilpatric had been a part of the military-industrial-law firm complex for years. He had served as Under Secretary of the Air Force in 1951-53 and as chairman of the Board of Trustees of the nonprofit Aerospace Corporation that President Eisenhower established to conduct studies on major missile systems.

The storm and furor over Gilpatric's relationships were raised during the TFX investigation. It was shown that he had taken a direct part in the negotiations over the highly controversial contract, which went to General Dynamics. He was involved in discussions on the contract. He signed the letter turning down Senator McClellan's request that the formal signing with General Dynamics be delayed.

Fred Korth, Secretary of the Navy in 1962, is another case in point. He had a past close relationship with the Defense Department and with the defense contractors and played a questionable part in the TFX controversy as well.

His official Pentagon biography states that he rose from a second lieutenant to lieutenant-colonel in the Air Transport Command during World War II. After private law practice in Fort Worth, in 1951 he became Department Counselor, Department of the Army. In 1952, he was made an Assistant Secretary of the Army. He returned to Fort Worth where he was elected executive vice president and director of the Continental National Bank and, later, became its president. He was a director of the Bell Aerospace Corporation and active in the Navy League of the United States.

Korth succeeded John B. Connally, Jr., another Texan from Fort Worth, as Secretary of the Navy. When Korth was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee, he stated that he had resigned as president of the Fort Worth Continental National Bank. But he retained his stock valued at $160,000 in the bank and told the Committee he intended to return to the bank when he left public office. Only a few months before he was appointed, Korth had approved a $400,000 loan from his old bank to the General Dynamics Corporation. The Convair plant of General Dynamics was in Fort Worth. Although $400,000 may not appear to be a large sum for the largest defense contractor in the country to borrow, it was, nonetheless, two-thirds of the $600,000 loan limit allowed the small Continental National Bank.

As Secretary of the Navy, Korth made the decision about the TFX. The Pentagon's Source Selection Board had recommended that the contract go to Boeing. Korth overruled the Board and recommended General Dynamics. Along with Secretary McNamara and Air Force Secretary Eugene Zuckert, Navy Secretary Korth signed the five-page memorandum of justification.

The question of a conflict of interest was raised directly with the justice Department by Senator John J. Williams, of Delaware. In fairness to both Korth and Gilpatric, the Justice Department wrote that in their opinion there was no law violation in either Korth's or Gilpatric's role in the TFX contract.

Later, Korth was so indiscreet as to write letters promoting the business of the Continental National Bank on Navy Department stationery. He resigned shortly after this matter was drawn to the attention of Attorney General Robert Kennedy by Senator McClellan.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...
A great American politician died yesterday: William Proxmire. After the Japanese Airforce bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Proxmire enlisted in the US Army as a private. He was assigned to counterintelligence work and was discharged in 1946 as a first lieutenant.

Proxmire moved to Wisconsin to be a reporter for The Capital Times in Madison. According to Proxmire: "They fired me after I'd been there seven months, for labor activities and impertinence." William Proxmire stayed in Wisconsin and worked briefly for a union newspaper. He also had a weekly radio show called Labor Sounds Off, sponsored by the American Federation of Labor.

Proxmire took an interest in politics and his idol was Robert La Follette. A member of the Democratic Party, Proxmire failed in his attempts to become governor of Wisconsin in 1952, 1954 and 1956. Proxmire was elected to the Senate in 1957 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Joseph R. McCarthy.

A strong supporter of Civil Rights, in his first term, he clashed with the Senate majority leader, Lyndon B. Johnson, because he thought he was blocking civil rights legislation. He was also a leading critic of the oil depletion allowance. Johnson used his position in the Senate to get Proxmire removed from the important Finance Committee. Proxmire responded by calling Johnson a dictator and a paid spokesman for the Texas oil industry.

John F. Kennedy agreed with Proxmire about the oil depletion allowance and talked of it being reduced from its high level of 27.5 per cent. This was not implemented before his death in November, 1963. It remained unchanged during Johnson's presidency. According to Barr McClellan this resulted in a saving of over 100 million dollars to the American oil industry. Soon after Johnson left office it dropped to 15 per cent.

Proxmire voted for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution but later felt that Lyndon Johnson had misled Congress and he became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. He used his seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee to spotlight wasteful military spending and was instrumental in stopping frequent military pork barrel projects (government spending that is intended to benefit constituents of a politician in return for their political support, either in the form of campaign contributions or votes).

Proxmire was unhappy that the United States government would not sign up in support of the genocide convention. Starting in 1967, he made a speech every day Congress convened - a total of 3,211 speeches - over a 19 year period. His campaign came to an end when the genocide convention was accepted in 1986.

In 1975 Proxmire established his annual Golden Fleece awards. In this way he "publicized outlandish government spending, bureaucratic wastage or money misused in the case of self-advancement". Some examples of his Golden Fleece awards was the US navy's use of 64 planes to fly 1,334 pilots to a reunion in Las Vegas and doormats that cost the navy $792 each.

Proxmire served as chairman of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs until his retirement in 1988.

Mondale, Kennedy Honor a Colleague

Proxmire Gave the 'Golden Fleece' Awards

By Frederic J. Frommer

Associated Press

Sunday, April 2, 2006

Washington Post

Former vice president Walter F. Mondale and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) saluted the late Wisconsin senator William Proxmire yesterday as a tenacious worker and moral crusader.

Proxmire, a Democrat best known for fighting government waste with his mocking "Golden Fleece" awards, died in December at 90. He had Alzheimer's disease.

At a memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral attended by 350 people, Mondale called Proxmire a tireless "checks-and-balances machine."

Mondale is a Minnesota Democrat who served in the Senate with Proxmire. He paid tribute to Proxmire's work ethic.

Mondale recalled complaining once about having to take a red-eye flight. Proxmire responded that he loved the flights, which he would board every weekend as he returned home.

Voters grew accustomed to seeing him in Wisconsin, shaking hands with people outside whatever big event was going on.

"Wisconsin loved him," Mondale said.

Kennedy said Proxmire cast more than 10,000 consecutive votes over two decades -- "a Lou Gehrig record that no one will ever break, unless Cal Ripken wins a Senate seat," Kennedy said.

"I hated it when Boston reporters would say to me, 'Senator, how come you missed that vote last Friday? Senator Proxmire hasn't missed a vote in 20 years,' " Kennedy said.

Proxmire's hard work had a purpose, Kennedy said. He noted that the Wisconsin senator fought for decades for the Senate to act on an anti-genocide treaty, goading senators with frequent speeches. The Senate finally approved it in 1986, two years before Proxmire retired.

"It took 3,211 speeches, but his moral crusade finally prevailed," Kennedy said. "Bill Proxmire was one of the most original, decent and impressive people I've ever known in public life."

Kennedy said there was more to Proxmire's domestic legislative focus than his "Golden Fleece" awards.

"He also passed some of the most far-reaching public interest reform bills in the past half-century," Kennedy said. "Time and time again to protect the common good, he took on and defeated powerful special interests."

Paul A. Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, said Proxmire was the "personification" of congressional oversight when Proxmire was chairman of the banking committee.

Proxmire was elected to the Senate in 1957 to fill the seat vacated by the death of Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.), the senator who gained notoriety for his communist witch hunts. Proxmire was elected in 1958 to his first six-year term and was reelected in 1964, 1970, 1976 and 1982.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...