The Honest Graft of Lady Bird Johnson
How she and Lyndon came by their millions.
Under Texas law, the station belonged solely to Lady Bird because she purchased it with her inheritance. But as her spouse, Lyndon owned half of all the profits. He was ultra-active in recruiting staff and running the operation, and by 1948, Caro writes, he was telling his friends that he was a millionaire.
The Johnsons earned thousands from their radio station but millions from their TV stations, writes former FCC official William B. Ray in his book, FCC: The Ups and Downs of Radio Regulation. The commission allocated one commercial station to Austin in the early 1950s, and the Johnsons were its sole applicant. "Filing a competing application would have been a waste of money," Ray writes, because of the Johnsons' political clout. "Whenever there was a business matter to be discussed between CBS and the LBJ stations, Johnson would summon the appropriate CBS personnel to the White House to discuss it," he continues.
Was it graft? The crooks of Tammany Hall distinguished between honest graft—which they considered respectable—and dishonest graft. Honest grafters used political connections, such as tips as to where a new bridge was going to be built, to make surefire investments. Dishonest grafters stole directly from the treasury.
You can rest in peace now, Lady Bird. Your honest-grafting days are over.
The Johnsons' hometown newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, acquits itself on the subject of the family fortune in its Lady Bird obit. Send your spare millions via PayPal to email@example.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum, in a future article, or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)