How Early Politicians Skirted the Rules About Gifts

Today, members of Congress are prohibited from knowingly accepting gifts valued over $50 under Senate Rule 35. In 1940, House Speaker Sam Rayburn had a personal rule barring him from accepting gifts over $25. After losing the speaker position in 1947, he also lost the use of a congressionally-funded 1944 Cadillac that was used as his official limousine. While Rayburn remained positive about his new role in Congress, his fellow Democratic congressmen couldn’t bear to see their beloved boss without a car. So, to skirt Rayburn’s rule about gifts, they conspired to each donate $25 towards the purchase of a new 1947 Cadillac Fleetwood for $3,600. The former speaker, embarrassed to have been outsmarted, grudgingly agreed to their plan. Rayburn used the 1947 Cadillac through 1949, when he was again elected Speaker of the House. His secretary, H. G. Dulaney, was the last person to drive the Cadillac, delivering it from Washington, DC, to Rayburn’s farm in Bonham, Texas. After Rayburn’s death in 1961, his surviving family members sold the Cadillac to E. B. Chapman, a Texas oil man, who attempted to donate it to the Smithsonian Museum. Instead, the car was donated to the Sam Rayburn House Museum.