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The Election Case of Magnus Johnson v. Thomas D. Schall of Minnesota (1926)

Charges of campaign misconduct; Senate refused recount.

Petition field: Feb. 2, 1925
Referred to committee: Mar. 10, 1925
Committee report: June 7, 1926
Senate vote: June 16, 1926

Result: Schall retained seat

In Minnesota conflicts between agrarian and industrial interests helped spark several third-party movements that repeatedly threatened the political security of entrenched Republicans. The Farmer-Labor party succeeded in electing a member, Magnus Johnson, to fill a United States Senate vacancy in 1923. When the articulate Swede—whose earlier professions included glassblower, lumberjack, and farmer—ran for reelection in 1924, however, Republican challenger Thomas Schall defeated him by fewer than eight thousand votes.

Statement of the Case
On February 2, 1925, with only a month remaining in his term, Johnson notified his colleagues that he intended to contest Schall's seating at the beginning of the new Congress in March. Six days after Schall appeared and took his oath, the Senate ordered the Committee on Privileges and Elections to investigate Johnson's charges. Johnson had submitted a long list of allegations, including excessive campaign expenditures, false and defamatory statements made about Johnson, illicit promises of political appointments, violation of franking privileges, unlawful distribution of a scurrilous campaign newspaper, and coercion of campaign contributions from bootleggers and other miscreants.

Response of the Senate
On June 8, 1926, after holding twelve days of hearings in Washington, D. C., the Committee on Privileges and Elections recommended that Johnson's request for a recount be denied, the contest dismissed, and charges against Schall dropped. The testimony of eight pro-Johnson witnesses had failed to provide evidence connecting Schall with any wrongdoing.

In reviewing the accusations that Schall violated the Minnesota corrupt practices law, the committee noted that Johnson had not filed a formal contest in Minnesota district court, as provided for under that law. The Senate investigation, the committee noted, could not be expected to "act as a substitute for a district court." While the committee would have regarded a court judgment seriously, the report stressed that such a state action would not be binding upon the Senate, which is the sole judge of its members' qualifications.

On June 16, 1926, the Senate accepted the unanimous opinion of the committee that Schall retain his seat. This action, however, did not fully mollify Thomas Schall. When objection was raised to the expense of printing the full set of hearings, Schall, who was blind, had the clerk read a lengthy prepared statement in order to place on the official record his rebuttal in strong language of "these unfounded, baseless slanders" against him. The intensity of the Minnesotan's concern convinced his colleagues, and the Senate ordered the hearings to be printed.

On July 2, 1926, the Senate authorized a $15,500 payment to Thomas Schall for his expenses in defending his seat. In 1932 his reelection was unsuccessfully challenged by another defeated candidate. Schall remained in the Senate until his death in 1935.

Magnus Johnson later served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1932 to 1935. He died in 1936.

Source: Adapted from Anne M. Butler and Wendy Wolff. United States Senate Election, Expulsion, and Censure Cases, 1793-1990. S. Doc. 103-33. Washington, GPO, 1995.

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