Shaping Public Opinion and the Law: How a 'Common Man' Campaign Ended a Rich Man's Law

32 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2006 Last revised: 15 Mar 2010

Date Written: March 1, 2009


The danger of an oppressive majority faction is an obvious concern in a democracy, one that is frequently expressed by income tax opponents who argue that it “soaks the rich” by shifting most of the tax burden onto the wealthy few. In reality, however, the minority can exercise the same deleterious power. Shaping Public Opinion and the Law: How a “Common Man” Campaign Ended a Rich Man's Law, explores one example of the latter situation. Through extensive lobbying, media use, and rhetorical appeals to the common man a small organization of wealthy individuals achieved a surprising reversal of a newly passed provision that affected only the relatively rich — less than 10% of the population.

Although this campaign occurred over 70 years ago, both its method and subject matter are still relevant and controversial. It provides perspective on the recurrent tension between the right to know and privacy still being played out in the income tax area, as evidenced by recent calls for publicity of tax returns. At the same time, it illuminates the power of a small, committed number of individuals to effect political change by harnessing the support of the common man, a technique still frequently used, as in the recent battle to repeal the estate tax.

Keywords: disclosure, history, lobbying, media, New Deal, public opinion, public relations, publicity, taxation

Suggested Citation

Kornhauser, Marjorie E., Shaping Public Opinion and the Law: How a 'Common Man' Campaign Ended a Rich Man's Law (March 1, 2009). Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 73, No. 1, 2009, Available at SSRN:

Marjorie E. Kornhauser (Contact Author)

Tulane University School of Law ( email )

6329 Freret Street
New Orleans, LA 70118
United States

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