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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, August 20 and 21, 1976. Interview A-0328-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Role of corporations in North Carolina politics

A major tobacco corporation did not support Terry Sanford because he would not promise to oppose a tobacco tax. Sanford argues that there are valid reasons that North Carolina leaders should promote business, but he criticizes corporations that violate the law in order to donate to certain politicians.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, August 20 and 21, 1976. Interview A-0328-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

BRENT GLASS:
How about the tobacco industry?
TERRY SANFORD:
Well, I was given an opportunity by the then personnel director of R. J. Reynolds, who was a friend of mine, to meet with the chairman of the board and the president and the top flight people on the, as I recall, seventeenth floor of the RJR Building. They asked me if I would pledge to be against a tobacco tax, after asking me a lot of other questions that I had answered satisfactorily.
BRENT GLASS:
This is before the election?
TERRY SANFORD:
It was while I was campaigning. And I wouldn't make that promise. I told them that I was against all taxes but that if we were going to have the right kind of an educational system, we had to have a proper tax base and everybody knew that North Carolina didn't have a proper tax base and so I couldn't possibly get committed to be against any particular tax until we knew what the problems were, that I didn't know whether a tobacco tax would be appropriate. I certainly wouldn't promise to have one but neither would I promise not to have one and the only promise I would make was that before recommending a tobacco tax I would give them a chance to come and talk me out of it. I didn't get any support from them.
BRENT GLASS:
How do you react to the news this past spring, I guess it was, about Mr. Wade?
TERRY SANFORD:
I thought that was just a very shameful corporate performance, to try to make a whipping boy out of a person that obviously didn't make the basic decision and to protect the hierarchy, which is what they did. In the first place, that's a multi-billion dollar corporation that we are talking about and it was less than $100,000. They ought to simply have said, "we in the past, as others, had a slush fund and we are not going to do it anymore." As I tried to explain to some of the students that raised questions here, it's not really a question of being immoral as much as being technically illegal. It's technically legal, for example, in several states to make corporate contributions. In most states, it's not technically legal and so what they did was by a devious means to put money in a slush fund. How wrong that was, it obviously wasn't right, but to attempt to disgrace a person that had spent his whole life in the corporation because he was taking orders from the chairman of the board, struck me as being far more improper than the original sin of having a slush fund. I didn't get any of the slush fund, I might say, but a great many corporations operated that way then. It was the accepted practice to find a way within the law to give money away. Well, it turned out obviously that they got a little careless and it wasn't quite within the law in the sense that they might coerce corporate officials to make contributions to the slush fund or whatever device they used. Or maybe they gave them a bonus and let them put the bonus in the slush fund. In any event, it wasn't right, but most corporations, I think, said, "All right, we made that mistake." Some major corporations have been way up in the millions. I just thought they got on a kind of a moral high horse that wasn't justified, but that's not really a part of history.
BRENT GLASS:
Just to follow up on what Key had to say, and then we can leave the subject for other things, he's talking about the economic oligarchy and he said, "The effectiveness of the oligarchy's control has been achieved through the elevation to office of persons fundamentally in harmony with its viewpoint. It's interests, which are often the interests of the state are served without prompting." In your experience, has this . . . it sounds like this is sort of an implicit kind of thing, not an overt kind of . . .
TERRY SANFORD:
One thing, maybe now as historians look back, this country has let political rhetoric overwhelm good common sense. I think North Carolina did not do that and at times, North Carolina probably had the leadership that was too conservative or too pro-business or too anti-labor. I think in fairness to . . . well, I'll say first of all that I think Governor Hodges was one of the best governors that the state has had, but at the same time, he was anti-labor, I think, to a degree that didn't serve the state well. He attempted . . . well, he did bust the union at the Henderson Mills and it couldn't have been done without him and he took an extremely harsh view of things of that kind. He gave very broad support to the so-called Right to Work Law in this state. So, there are excesses in the support of business but after all, North Carolina needed the business and it needed sound business and it needed business that could create productive jobs. So, most governors have attempted to promote that, but I think they promoted it within reason.