[1936 Ma. 29, IV, 12:1]


Congressional Inquiry Into Old-Age
Pensions Follows Close Upon Split
In the Ranks of the Leaders

WASHINGTON, March 28. — Where does the Townsend old-age pension movement got from here? That question is engaging many minds in Washington following the opening of a Congressional investigation and an open rupture in the movement's high command all within three days this week.
  Will the movement whose co-founder and chief organizing expert, Robert Earl Clements, has just resigned in an obvious huff, and whose financial structure is being examined by a special House committee, suffer rapid disintegration and lose most of its political potency even before the 1936 campaign gets under way? Or has the idea of $200-a-month pensions for all Americans over 60 such a fundamental emotional appeal and have the leaders remaining after Mr. Clements's defection sufficient reorganizing talents to tide it over the crisis and enable it to survive with its strength actually increased by an admittedly extreme test of its vitality?
  Washington experts are guessing both ways at the present moment—as well as admitting that a good many of their judgments are guesses, modified by considerable wishful thinking. Perhaps the best way to strive for a clear view of Townsend prospects is to give an account of what has recently happened, or is happening, in the movement in such a way that fact and rumor may be separated.
Facts and Rumors
  On Thursday the House's $50,000 investigating committee, headed by Representative C. Japser Bell of Missouri, opened its sessions with Mr. Clements on its stand and started subjecting him to the severest sort of grilling.
  Townsend leaders in Washington were openly jubilant over the results of the first two days' sessions. On the other hand, James R. Sullivan of Kansas City, committee attorney, announced that his procedure during the first two days was calculated to lay the groundwork for charges of fraudulent accounting of the Townsend movement's income at the OARP convention in Chicago last Autumn.
  Committee members considered it damaging to the movement to have proved that Mr. and Mrs. Cements were being supported in relative luxury by the dimes and nickels of a pension-seeking following. (Together they had an income of $14,110 and many of their expenses were paid by the movement.) Townsend leaders, on the other hand, maintained that Mr. Clements had earned his salary and additional perquisites by building up the movement to a point where it is bringing in about $1,000,000 a year, and that no "scandal" could result from the disclosure.
Co-Founder's Resignation
  To leave conjecture and consider fact again, Co-Founder Clements, whose organizing skill is evidenced by a Townsend membership roll admitted by its worst enemies to exceed 2,000,000 resigned on Tuesday. Mr. Clements retired after a months-long disagreement with dr. Francis E. Townsend, OARP founder, over the political policies of the movement and over the question of who was "boss" of its organizing phase. Mr. Clements, who believed in "boring from within" in the major parties and throwing the OARP movement's political support to pro-Townsend national candidates, in the old Anti-Saloon League manner regardless of party labels, withdrew after his inability to restrain Dr. Townsend from announcing third-part programs and declaring his support for merely "sympathetic" candidates—like Senator Borah in the Presidential race—was openly demonstrated on several occasions.
  Other grievances of Mr. Clements against the founder included the addition of three men—a controlling majority—to the national executive body of the movement without the co-founder's knowledge or advice, and instances in which Dr. Townsend appointed organizers in the field, or reinstated organizers whom Mr. Clements had dismissed for minor faults, without consulting the organization chief.
  All these developments are reasonably factual. There are many other reports, some gleaned from sources close to the investigating committee, but most of them are rumors.
McGroarty's Views
  A characteristic reaction of a veteran Townsend leader to the present uncertainties is that of Representative John Steven McGroarty, elected as a Townsend-pledged Congressman from California in 1934 and sponsor of the official bill to put the Townsend plan, in most of its essentials, into legal effect. From fact and rumor Mr. McGroarty deduces that the Townsend movement has enough "human vitality" behind its basic demand to preserve itself more or less automatically from disintegration.
  More specifically, he believes a convocation of serious Townsend leaders from all parts of the country will introduce a necessary degree of order and discipline into the movement's working methods, put professional politics into the background of OARP activities, and, while recognizing Dr. Townsend as the movement's chief propaganda spokesman, limit his authority to make political commitments without consent of the movement's other directing agencies. Mr. McGroarty believes it is not impossible to arrange a basis on which Mr. Clements, whom he regards as one of the great organizing geniuses of modern times, will be able to return to his post with his authority clarified.
Effect on Membership
  As to the actual effects of the recent excitements on the movement's numerical strength and political power, it is a little early to tell. As the investigating committee's sessions drew near, Congressmen of all degrees of friendliness and hostility to the plan reported their Townsend mail increasing both in volume and in emotional tension. No outward symptoms of a numerical decline had made their appearance, and the work of organizing new clubs was going on at a normal rate, according to official Townsend organization charts, up to the moment when Mr. Clements resigned.
  Mr. Clements's departure, even according to Townsend leaders who sympathize with his reasons for resigning, will not immediately affect the movement's organizing activities. The resignation does not take effect until late next week, and a successor will probably not be appointed until a meeting of the OARP board of directors with other recognized regional and national officials can be held. But meanwhile the club recruiting system of Townsendism is such—thanks to the work of Mr. Clements—that is will operate in large degree more or less automatically,
  The Townsend membership-promotion program functions through four regional headquarters — in Washington, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles—whose executive heads have their organizing methods and duties cut out for them and are able to act with little more than occasional guiding suggestions from the heads of the national movement.
State Organizers
  Below the movement's regional chiefs come the State and area organizers; "areas" are Townsend territorial divisions embracing more than on State or fractions of large State, but ranking on the same basis with single State departments in the Townsend hierarchy. These State and area officers work on what is substantially a commission basis, and consequently have the same economic motives for carrying on their work on a full pressure basis that they had while Mr. Clements still directed their activities.
  The same incentives apply to the Congressional district organizers who work, for a share of the commissions, under the State and area directors, and whose immediate "bosses" will not be changed, necessarily, as a result of Mr. Clements's withdrawal.
  Most Townsend leaders are confident, however, that the Clements system of recruiting by clubs will be preserved practically intact. Under this method any group of fifty or more members may organize themselves as a Townsend club, but no charters are issued and no memberships of individuals are recognized until the new club has paid into its State or area headquarters its entire dues quota. Townsend headquarters are entirely indifferent on the question of whether each individual member pays his dues or not, but the Clements system requires absolutely that the dues of the members unable to pay be remitted by the club as a whole.
  Meanwhile both Townsend leaders and their opponents admit that to some extent what happens in the movement in the immediate future will depend on what is develop in the investigating committee's sessions. A "flop" in the investigation would mean a renewal and increase of crusading activities, while damaging disclosures might bring about a wide-scale reorganization of Townsend methods of procedure and numerous changes in personnel.
  In any event, plans are being made for a counter-irritant from the Townsendites while the investigation is on. Dr. Townsend, if this idea is carried out, will spend most of the weeks during the hearing working up monster mass meetings in the Eastern industrial States, whose Congressmen thus far have proved least sympathetic.