The Tillman Act and Clarence Thomas: The Tillman Act The Rest of Story?

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke to students at Stetson Law School this week and made some comments that have caused some fireworks. He spoke of the striking down of some of the Nation’s campaign finance laws, and the conservative Justice just happened to mention “race.”

Thomas said the Tillman Act, which banned campaign contributions from Corporations, had a “dark side.”

“Go
back and read why Tillman introduced that legislation,” Justice Thomas
said, referring to Senator Benjamin Tillman. “Tillman was from South
Carolina, and as I hear the story he was concerned that the
corporations, Republican corporations, were favorable toward blacks and
he felt that there was a need to regulate them.”

It is thus a mistake, the justice said, to applaud the regulation of corporate speech as “some sort of beatific action.”

Since Justice Thomas made the comments, I’ve been looking for information on the Tillman Act and trying to piece it together. The Center for Competitive Politics has republished their own article from December 1, 2006 by Brad Smith.

Smith points outs that Senator Benjamin Ryan “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman “was one of the most despicable men ever to serve in the Senate, and “did more to put in place the Jim Crow system in the South than any other single person. Here are some highlights:

–) Tillman was a leader of the “Red Shirts,” “a terrorist paramilitary group,”  who attacked and intimidated Republicans and Blacks

–) While Governor of South Carolina, he “pledged” to “personally lead a mob in lynching a negro.”

–) Tillman is quoted saying “the negro” was “a fiend in human form.

–) He worked thoughout the South for the “suppression of Blacks.”

According to Smith’s analysis, one of the purposes of The Tillman Act was to:

“cut the power of northern industrialists, whom Tillman hated in part because of their more liberal attitudes on race.”

Thomas suggested we go back and study the Tillman Act. I think you will find at least a portion of that “story” at the Center for Competitive Politics: Ben Tillman, The Forgotten Founding Father of Campaign Finance Reform.

Linked by Doug Ross and Larwyn’s Linx – Thank you!