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Lyndon Johnson on Government Reform


Staff rule: Don't touch money; let finance dept. handle it

President Johnson was very fussy about campaign contributions and particularly who handled them. He told me, not once, but dozens of times, I was never to handle a campaign contribution. "Never, never get involved in contributions," he said. "If anyone comes to you and wants to make a contribution, don't ask him how much or what for or anything. Just send him to the National Committee finance chairperson and let it go at that. Do you understand? And do you also understand that it is a federal crime to accept a contribution in a federal building? Do you? You'll be clean if you don't touch money, don't look at money, don't ask about money. Let the finance chairman handle all that. Do I make myself plain?"

Yes, he made it plain.

Source: A Very Human President, by Jack Valenti, p.108-109 , Dec 1, 1976

Staff rule: Fired for meeting about contract with contractor

Johnson told me, as he told all of those whom he brought to power: "I am going to say this once and never again so you better listen hard. If anyone on my staff even so much as makes a phone call for an appointment for someone to see any official in this government about contracts in any government department, or about lawsuits in the Department of Justice, he automatically has his resignation on my desk. I don't care who ask you, or how much money he contributed to the party or how important he is in this country, there are no exceptions to the rule. Understand?"

I understood. So did every other staff member. How then to explain that rule to a large contributor when he called and asked for me to make an appointment for him? I can't recall how many times my phone rang with an "important person" at the other end of the line. "Can you make an appointment for me to see....?" When I responded that I simply couldn't do that, incredulity and oftentimes anger exploded in my ear.

Source: A Very Human President, by Jack Valenti, p.111-112 , Dec 1, 1976

Stimulate small contributions to parties and candidates

As the process of election becomes more complex and more costly, we must make it possible for those without personal wealth to enter public life without being obligated to a few large contributors. Therefore, I will submit legislation to revise the present unrealistic restriction on contributions--to prohibit the endless proliferation of committees, bringing local and State committees under the act--to attach strong teeth and severe penalties to the requirement of full disclosure of contributions--and to broaden the participation of the people, through added tax incentives, to stimulate small contributions to the party and to the candidate of their choice.
Source: Pres. Johnson's 1966 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 12, 1966

Change House term to 4 years, to avoid constant campaigning

To strengthen the work of Congress I strongly urge an amendment to provide a 4-year term for Members of the House of Representatives-which should not begin before 1972.

The present 2-year term requires most Members of Congress to divert enormous energies to an almost constant process of campaigning--depriving this Nation of the fullest measure of both their skill and their wisdom. Today, too, the work of government is far more complex than in our early years, requiring more time to learn and more time to master the technical tasks of legislating. And a longer term will serve to attract more men of the highest quality to political life. The Nation, the principle of democracy, and, I think, each congressional district, will all be better served by a 4-year term for Members of the House. And I urge your swift action.

Source: Pres. Johnson's 1966 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 12, 1966

1953: Ended seniority-based Senate committee assignments

Standing squarely between the divergent wings of his party, he started off by demonstrating forcibly that, with all due respect to tradition, [as Senate Leader], he was not afraid to depart from the beaten path in Senate procedure. Important committee assignments customarily were made on the basis of seniority. But Johnson was able, when he made the assignments at the beginning of the session, to persuade some of the Democratic elders to give up their claims to choice committee spots. That left the way open for giving good places to the freshman Senators who had won in 1952 in spite of the party's national defeat.

A few of the elders protested. Every Democratic Senator wound up with at least one desirable committee appointment. With perhaps one or two exceptions, everybody was pleased. Before long, even the old hands who had complained slightly about Johnson's departure from tradition were acclaiming the wisdom of his policy on committee assignments.

Source: The Lyndon Johnson Story, by Booth Mooney, p. 91-92 , Jun 1, 1964

There is always a national answer to each national problem

A great part of my own philosophy is a listing of tenets of my own beliefs, the specific tenets of my own philosophy.
  1. I believe every American has something to say and a right to an audience.
  2. I believe there is always a national answer to each national problem, and, believing this, I do not believe that there are necessarily two sides to every question.
  3. I regard achievement of the full potential of our resources--physical, human, and otherwise--to be the highest purpose of governmental policies next to the protection of those rights we regard as inalienable.
  4. I regard waste as the continuing enemy of our society and the prevention of waste--waste of resources, waste of lives, or waste of opportunity--to be the most dynamic of the responsibilities of our Government.
These tenets, I concede, are simple. They are certainly personal. For these are not tenets I have embraced or adopted but rather, beliefs I have--over 50 years--developed and come to follow from my own experience.
Source: Johnson article in The Johnson Story, by B.Mooney, p. xii , Jun 1, 1958

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Other past presidents on Government Reform: Lyndon Johnson on other issues:
Former Presidents:
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Dwight Eisenhower(R,1953-1961)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

Past Vice Presidents:
V.P.Dick Cheney
V.P.Al Gore
V.P.Dan Quayle
Sen.Bob Dole
V.P.Walter Mondale

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Page last updated: Feb 20, 2014