Classic Royko: Bucking hard for the Equal Rights Amendment

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Equal Rights Amendment march in Chicago in 1978. Sun-Times file photo.

Editor’s note: Mike Royko wrote this in April 1978. The Equal Rights Amendment did, in fact, fail to pass in the Illinois General Assembly that year but passed in 2018. The effort continues nationwide to this day. The Sun-Times is republishing “Classic Royko” columns online every Monday, and occasionally in print.

I was talking to an ERA lady recently. She was fretting that the amendment might again fail in Illinois, after all of her hard work.

She showed me a list of about a dozen legislators and asked if I had any idea what kind of approach would work in bringing them around to her side.

I said: “Make the drop.”


She looked puzzled and asked, “Make the what?”

“The drop. Give them some money.”

She still didn’t understand. “Money? For what?”


She looked horrified and gasped: “Bribes?”

“Well, you can call it a campaign contribution, if it will make you feel better.”

The she laughed and said: “Oh, you’re just kidding.”

That’s the trouble with the ERA crowd and most do-gooders. They are earnest, diligent and energetic. But they don’t have much sense.

Throughout the history of this state, sly people have been getting what they want out of Springfield. They haven’t done it by being honest, earnest, diligent and energetic. All those qualities get you is laughed at by the legislators and called a goo-goo.

They have done it by throwing a shoebox full of money through the transom of a Springfield hotel room.

But the ERA ladies don’t understand that. As I told the lady mentioned above:

“It would be much cheaper, too. You could probably buy the votes of the dozen guys on that list for $5,000.”

“I can’t believe that,” she said.

See? They don’t even read about the bribery trials of legislators. They have no idea what a real bargain Springfield can be.

When the ready-mix concrete companies wanted their trucks to carry heavier loads, they bought some legislators’ votes for as little as $200. Most of the individual bribes weren’t higher than $500. Their total bankroll for cooperation was only $30,000. One legislative leader told the concrete people that he could deliver both sides of the aisle for only $20,000. The fact is, you shouldn’t ever offer a legislator too much money. It might scare him. He’ll think you want him to commit treason or kill somebody.

In contrast with the cement people, the ERA forces in Illinois have a war chest of about $200,000.

But how are they spending it? They hire public relations experts and staff members. They print up glossy charts and graphs and pamphlets and hold press conferences. They fly around the state, hold big luncheons, and make long-distance phone calls. They talk, they reason, they cajole. And then the money is all spent and they lose anyway.

It is absolutely sinful to throw money away like that when there are so many hungry legislators in Springfield.

And it is such a waste. I asked a friend of mine, who is an expert in such delicate matters, how much it would cost him to steer ERA through the legislature.

He rubbed his hands as he said: “Give me $100,000 to spend judiciously and discreetly, and I would not only pass ERA, but we would have a contingent of Illinois legislators going to other states telling them how good ERA will be for them, too.

“Naturally, you don’t just go around handing money out indiscriminately. That’s why they should not try to do this on their own.

“What you do is give lump sums to certain leaders of both parties, so they can distribute it to their individual followers in amounts they think are appropriate. Not every one gets the same amount, you know. That’s what democracy is all about.

“It is also essential that everyone who wants something gets something. It can be a disaster if someone is inadvertently left out. That could result in somebody saying:

” ‘Did you get your five hunnert?’

” ‘Five hunnert? I didn’t get no five hunnert. For what?’

” ‘The ERA vote. I got five hunnert.’

” ‘You got five hunnert. Why, those dirty crooks. They got my vote for nothing.’

“That the kind of careless planning that causes hard feelings and grand jury investigations.

“Part of the $100,000 would also go for a few study trips. We’d fly some legislators to somewhere like Sweden, to show them how nice equal rights work there. And maybe Hawaii, which is for ERA, to show them how being for it makes people happy and suntanned.

“On the way back we might stop in Las Vegas for a day or two to let them get over their jet lag.”

That is what the ERA supporters could get for $100,000, if they had even the sense of a ward heeler, which most of them probably think is somebody who repairs shoes.

And if they wanted to blow the whole $200,000, which they are going to do anyway?

My friend the expert looked dreamy as he said:

“For $200,000? For that we would not only pass ERA by a landslide, but they could probably get something elser.”

Such as?

“For that much money, I think I could get them a highway.”

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