“I don’t care too much for money. Money can’t buy me love.”
– The Beatles, from the album “A Hard Day’s Night,” 1964.
Copper king and Sen. William A. Clark cared more than a little for money.
He had more of it than any man on earth. He used much of it to buy land, mines, a mansion with 32 bathrooms, a seat in the U.S. Senate and a crowd of Montana politicians.
He never tried buying love. He should have. More on that below.
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer defended his state against the U.S. Supreme Court in a recent New York Times piece. Schweitzer credited Clark with the corruption that spurred passage of the state’s 1912 Anti-Corruption Act.
The court in 2010 ruled against state laws restraining large corporations and unions from taking large campaign contributions from individuals without revealing their names.
Montana’s claim that its history made it different from other states was recently rejected by the high court.
An ultra conservative political organization, Citizens United, contended that legislation limiting corporation and union campaign contributions violated the First Amendment - even if they were made anonymously. The court ruled in favor of Citizens United, finding that corporations are people, too.
Recently Montana appealed to the court to take a second look at the decision.
The court rejected the appeal in a brief, unsigned opinion.
Democratic senators and governors (including Schweitzer and Sen. Max Baucus) have lobbied Congress for a constitutional amendment to block big boodle contributions.
Schweitzer wrote in a New York Times editorial: “In Montana’s frontier days, we learned a hard lesson about money in politics, one that’s shaped our campaign-finance laws for a century and made our political system one of the country’s most transparent.”
In 1899 senators were still elected by legislators. Clark bought more than a dozen at $10,000 a whack. Three of the legislators pooled their boodle and opened a bank. Others paid off farm and ranch mortgages, bought businesses or retired.
Clark won the election, but the Senate refused to seat him when news of his bribery reached Washington.
He finally claimed a seat after returning to Montana. Clark’s operatives lured the elected governor out of state and bought the acting governor.
Montana responded by passing an initiative that limited corporate, union and large individual contributions. The anti-corruption act protected Montana for 100 years.
Schweitzer noted, “These laws have nurtured a rare and pure form of democracy in Montana.”
He implored the court not to send Washington’s stink our way.
Back in 1912, Clark, snuggly ensconced in the U.S. Senate, had sneered, “I never bought a man who was not for sale.”
Mark Twain described the distinguished gentleman from Montana thusly: “He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a ball and chain on his legs. To my mind he is the most disgusting creature that the republic has produced since Tweed’s time.”
Tweed was “Boss Tweed,” who ran a graft-riddled, patronage-driven political empire from New York’s Tammany Hall.
Tweed’s style would have fit Clark’s pistol. Thousands of miles from home, Clark ran nothing and whined about his life.
Colleagues in the Senate would not eat lunch with him. Some spit on the sidewalk when meeting him. Worse yet were his constituents. They complained, made requests, made demands. Common Montanans treated Clark like a public servant.
His personal life fared no better. Furnaces in the Clark mansion burned 2.5 tons of coal a night. The cost was no object but the great house - the most expensive private residence between New York and the Twin Cities – was supposed to be full of courtiers, kowtowing to the senator. It wasn’t.
Three wings of the Clark mansion were art galleries. These he filled with works purchased in the capitals of Europe. When it came to art, most of Clark’s taste was in his mouth. He tried to will this treasure trove to several great museums. Curators were willing to pick and choose from the Clark collection but none would take the whole set.
Plans for his favorite daughter may have been Clark’s greatest disappointment. Huguette, born in 1906 in Paris, was Clark’s little princess. Clark wanted her to have a real title.
The opportunity was there. Impoverished nobility, dukes, earls, counts, princes and other assorted noble Jimjams flocked to America in search of the daughters of tycoons.
Huguette spent most of her life cowed by the fortune Clark left her. She avoided the three mansions she had built, letting them stand empty for decades. She had no friends outside of her staff of nurses and accountants.
She secluded herself in New York hospitals for decades before her death at the age of 105.
Had Clark founded a university as his friend urged, mothers would have named sons William Augustus. A seeding of scholarship money would have scattered WAC alumni across the state. With enough money to fill the Berkeley Pit, Clark could have attached his name to good causes, important buildings, scientific and cultural projects.
Detached from politics, Clark’s corruption would have been forgotten before the next election. Men and women of excellent reputations would have sung his praises.
Think money can’t buy you love?