The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, July 16, 2005
 

PUHCA: the Truman connection


I mentioned on July 14 that the energy bill HR 6 will most likely repeal the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935.

Just leafing through David McCullough's Truman bio in search of nuggets, I find (p218) a PUHCA reference; Truman was on the Interstate Commerce Committee that dealt with the bill (S 2796), and, in the passing of it, much fun was had by all - including the lobbying of Wendell Willkie of Commonwealth & Southern (also this). Truman called it a propaganda barrage, apparently, with 30,000 wires and pieces of mail received.

And the utilities lobbyists went as far as taking trips to Kansas City and persuading the organ-grinder, Tom Pendergast, of the justness of their cause. The legendarily incorruptible Truman declined to heed his master's voice [1], and cocked his leg for FDR.

There were two roll call votes in the Senate (according to Voteview). The key provision of the bill (my understanding of it is limited!) was the so-called death sentence in §11(b) of Title I which limited utility holding companies to two decks of subsidiaries [2].

The first vote on June 11 1935 was on an amendment to remove the death sentence from the bill; it failed by just one vote, 44-45. One would expect the supporters of the amendment to be at the conservative end of the ideological range; but the amendment was sponsored by Dieterich (IL) who ranks as sixth most liberal senator in the 74th Congress according to his DW-NOMINATE 1st dimension score.

The vote on passage on the same day was much more comfortable - 56-32.

  1. And not for the first time - McCullough is keen on lauding his subject, through examples, as a man who touched pitch but was not defiled thereof.

    Truman was top man of Jackson County local government (technically, presiding judge at the County Court - not a judicial post!) responsible for construction of roads and public buildings. And he was insisting, so the tale goes, on handing out contracts fairly, and not on the Pendergast system. Pendergast - the Ready Mixed Concrete Company man - had him in to chat about the problem (p184) - but, instead of providing Truman with his own tomb of Company concrete, Pendergast allowed him to carry on with his officiously honest practices!

    Why would he do that? And then, when Truman found himself term-limited out of his judgeship, why wasn't he junked by the machine? My guess (nothing in McCullough that my skimming has revealed) is that Truman was a bit like Al Smith was to Tammany: a guy tipped for stardom who was deliberately kept personally clean by the machine for use in fora (like the US Senate) where plausible cleanliness was an asset.

  2. The point of the bill was to stymie the pyramid structures of the likes of Samuel Insull.

MORE

This from 1999 on Alfonse D'Amato's earlier attempt to repeal PUHCA.

This (wacky-looking site!) on a deregulation bill (date?) of Gramm and Schumer which would have repealed PUHCA.

A 1999 CRS report on the origin and operation of PUHCA.

A 2005 piece on fast-expanding New Mexico utility holding company PNM Resources for which repeal of PUHCA would come in handy.

The 2005 SEC decision on the merger of American Electric Power with Central and South West provides an illustration of the current operation of §11(b). (I've yet to read it!) Also, the Public Citizen brief (PDF) in the case.


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