Matthew McCloskey

Matthew McCloskey

Matthew McCloskey was born in Wheeling, Ohio County, on 26th February, 1893. He left school at the age of 15 and entered the building trade in Philadelphia.

In 1911 McCloskey established his first building company. Three years later he created the McCloskey Construction Company. As the New York Times later pointed out, McCloskey was "destined to erect office buildings, hotels, schools, post offices, a court house and other structures throughout the country."

It was claimed that McCloskey changed "the Philadelphia skyline with the building of Convention Hall, the Sheraton Hotel and high-rise apartments on Rittenhouse Square". He also built the Rayburn House Office Building, the District of Columbia Stadium and three large housing projects in Florida.

McCloskey claimed he was born with two things in life: "My religion and my politics." He was an active member of the Democratic Party he was delegate to the National Conference in 1936, 1940, 1944 and 1948.

A Roman Catholic, he became a close friend of John F. Kennedy. He was an important party fund raiser and in 1954 was Treasurer of Democratic National Committee. It is claimed that he invented the $100-a-plate dinner. During the seven years he served as national treasurer he raised an estimated $20 million.

During this period he became associated with what became known as Kennedy's Irish Mafia (a group that included Grant Stockdale, Dave Powers, Larry O'Brien and Kenneth O'Donnell).

Harry S. Truman and Matthew McCloskey
Harry S. Truman and Matthew McCloskey

In 1962 President John F. Kennedy appointed McCloskey as ambassador to Ireland. He replaced his old friend, Grant Stockdale, who had been accused of taking payments for building projects in Miami.

During this period Senator John Williams of Delaware began investigating the activities of Bobby Baker. As a result of his work, Baker resigned as the secretary to Lyndon B. Johnson on 9th October, 1963. During his investigations Williams met Don B. Reynolds and persuaded him to appear before a secret session of the Senate Rules Committee.

Reynolds told B. Everett Jordan and his committee on 22nd November, 1963, that Johnson had demanded that he provided kickbacks in return for him agreeing to this life insurance policy. This included a $585 Magnavox stereo. Reynolds was also told by Walter Jenkins that he had to pay for $1,200 worth of advertising on KTBC, Johnson's television station in Austin. Reynolds had paperwork for this transaction including a delivery note that indicated the stereo had been sent to the home of Johnson. Reynolds also told of seeing a suitcase full of money which Baker described as a "$100,000 payoff to Johnson for his role in securing the Fort Worth TFX contract".

Don B. Reynolds also provided evidence against McCloskey. He suggested that he given $25,000 to Baker in order to get the contract to build the District of Columbia Stadium. His testimony came to an end when news arrived that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.

Reynolds also appeared before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee on 1st December, 1964. Before the hearing Reynolds supplied a statement implicating Bobby Baker and Matthew McCloskey in financial corruption. It seemed that the District of Columbia Stadium government project was initially fixed at $6m but for some reason it was agreed to allow McCloskey to charge $20m for the project. However, the Democrats had a 6-3 majority on the committee and Reynolds was not allowed to fully explore the role that John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson had played in this deal. However, McCloskey was forced to resign as ambassador to Ireland.

Matthew McCloskey, who it is claimed raised an estimated $60 million for the Democratic Party during his lifetime, died of cancer in April 1973.

Primary Sources

(1) The Morning Herald (17th January, 1962)

Matthew McCloskey said Tuesday he intends to loaf around after his resignation May 1 as treasurer of the Democratic National Committee.

He said he knows nothing about reports he might he named ambassador to Ireland. "I know nothing about these reports about the ambassadorship, said the wealthy Philadelphia builder. "I have not been sounded out."

Committee sources, however, say McCloskey could have an ambassadorship if he wants one. The present ambassador to Dublin is Edward Grant Stockdale, Miami, Fla., real estate man.

McCloskey, who has raised millions for the Democrats in the last seven years, said he hopes to have the party debt, now around $600,000 wiped out by the time he quits the committee. He said he expects half a million of this to come from the $100 a plate dinner here Saturday night, the first anniversary of President Kennedy's inauguration.

McCloskey recently resigned as president and board chairman of McCloskey and Co., and turned over active supervision of the construction firm to his son.

(2) Indiana Evening Gazette (7th June, 1962)

President Kennedy's nomination of Matthew H. McCloskey as ambassador to Ireland was expected to go to the Senate today. Kennedy announced the nomination late Wednesday.

McCloskey, 69, is a leading Democratic fund raiser and Philadelphia contractor. He would replace Grant Stockdale on July 6.

Stockdale, a Miami real estate man, who was named early in the Kennedy administration.

McCloskey was Democratic national treasurer from 1955 until he resigned in April.

(3) The Missouri Sunday Tribune (13th September, 1964)

"The Bobby Baker case" bounced back into the political news when the Senate instructed its Rules Committee, by a 75-3 vote, to probe a GOP charge that Matthew M. McCloskey, Philadelphia contractor, Democratic-fund raiser and former ambassador to Ireland, made a $35,000 "payoff" after getting a contract to build the District of Columbia Stadium.

Republicans claimed in advance the investigation would result in "a second coat of whitewash." In any case. Bobby Baker, the former Senate page boy was going to play a leading role in the campaign.

(4) Mason City Globe-Gazette (1st October, 1964)

The Senate's reopened Bobby Baker investigation got off to a low keyed start Thursday, with testimony about an alleged 35,000 political payoff on the District of Columbia stadium contract.

The first witness called by the Senate rules committee was James A. Blaser, director of building and grounds for the District government and contracting officer for the 50,000 seat stadium. He told about the selection of architectural and engineering firms to draw plans for the stadium and testified that the opening of sealed bids on June 10, 1960, showed McCloskey & Co. of Philadelphia had submitted a low bid of $14,247,187.50.

Blaser said bid, submitted by 10 firms were kept in a padlocked box until they were opened at a public gathering in the office of the District Armory Board, which had responsibilityfor the stadium construction.

Sen. John J. Williams, R-Del., charged in a. senate speech a month ago that Matthew McCloskey, head of the Philadeliphia firm that won the contract made a $35,000 overpayment on the performance bond for the stadium to Don B. Reynolds, a local insurance agent.

Williams quoted Reynolds as telling him that $25,000 of this was funneled through Baker, then secretary to the Senate's Democratic majority, into the into the 1960 Kennedy-Johnson campaign fund. Baker resigned his $19,600 a year senate job last fall after questions were raised about his outside dealings and business interests.

McCloskey, former ambassador to Ireland, has been a Democratic fund raiser. At the outset of Thursday's hearing, Chairman B. Everett Jordan, D-N.C., said he wanted to explain, why the committee was taking testimony first about the details of the stadium project rather than plunging directly into Williams' payoff charge.

He said that Williams had implied that there was something very seriously wrong in the whole conduct of the stadium project, that McCloskey had "possibly showed favoritism" and that changes in plans after, the construction award might have given McCloskey a "price advantage" These changes ran the cost up by several million dollars.

(5) Investigations: Messrs. Clean, Time Magazine (9th July, 1965)

A year ago the Senate Rules Committee's six-man Democratic majority slapped a few coats of whitewash over the Bobby Baker investigation with a final report that was supposed to end the case once and for all. But Delaware Republican John J. Williams, the tenacious Senate watchdog, pointed out a few splotches, and the Democrats were forced to try again. Last week they issued a second "final report" that is as white as can be.

To be sure, there were harsh words for Bobby Baker, the former Senate page who amassed a $2,000,000 fortune as the $19,600-a-year secretary to the Senate's Democratic majority and the loyal friend of then Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson. The report accused Bobby of using "the influence of his public office to feather his own nest," said that on one occasion he had received $5,000 from the Ocean Freight-Forwarder Group for helping to get a bill through Congress. That "flagrant" abuse of his office, concluded the report, "justifies careful consideration looking to an indictment for violation of the conflict of interest statutes."

When it came to a number of other embarrassing aspects, though, the majority got out its brushes. Veteran Democratic Fund Raiser Matthew H. McCloskey, for example, had been accused of deliberately overpaying Maryland Insurance Man Don B. Reynolds $35,000 for writing a performance bond on the $20 million District of Columbia Stadium that McCloskey's firm was building. McCloskey claimed that it was only a bookkeeping goof, but Reynolds testified that $25,000 of the money was illegally channeled into the Democrats' 1960 presidential campaign fund through Baker. Generously, the committee found McCloskey's testimony "candid and convincing," dismissed Reynolds' as "devious and inconsistent."

As for the charge that former Presidential Aide Walter W. Jenkins had pressured Reynolds into buying useless advertising time on Lyndon Johnson's Austin, Texas, television station in return for selling Johnson $200,000 in life insurance, the report said: "This procedure follows business conduct considered legitimate by many reputable American businessmen."

In a sharp dissent, the three-man Republican minority complained: "This whole investigation has been marked by a refusal to investigate, by attempts to cover up and foot dragging generally." The Democrats shrugged off the charges, consider the investigation closed.

(6) Bobby Baker, Wheeling and Dealing: Confessions of a Capitol Hill Operator (1978)

Senator Williams continued to pump Don Reynolds, the insurance man, in search of new fodder. In August of 1964 he forced the Rules Committee - which had closed shop and was writing its report-to reopen the Baker case. In a speech to the Senate he said that in writing insurance on the performance bond of McCloskey & Company-the Philadelphia outfit constructing the new District of Columbia stadium-there had been a $35,000 kickback which was to go to the 1960 Democratic campaign fund. Matthew McCloskey, president of the construction firm and long a big wheel in Democratic politics-he'd served as national chairman and as ambassador to Ireland - told senators that he had not personally handled the transaction and knew little about it. "These things, somebody goofs once in a while," he said. The senators did not hold his feet to the fire. They appeared to be satisfied with his promise that he would seek recovery of the funds in question, and with his claim that no more than oversight or a clerical error had been involved.

It is perhaps significant that he never tried to recover the money. I was the man who had put Reynolds and McCloskey together, so I know what the understandings were. As an official in the Reynolds insurance firm, I received a $4,000 loan from profits the firm made on the D.C. Stadium transaction.

(7) Jefferson City Post (1st December 1964)

Star witness Don B. Reynolds opened new fields for inquiry in the Bobby Baker investigation today as he

testified at a closed meeting of the Senate Rules Committee.

Hugh Alexander, committee council, told reporters Reynolds had agreed to disclose to the senators matters he had declined to discuss with their aides when they interviewed him Friday. Alexander declined to discuss the nature of what he called the "extraneous matter" he said.

Reynolds was tossing into the committee's investigation of Baker and an alleged political payoff to the 1960 Kennedy-Johnson election campaign fund, main subject of the inquiry.

Alexander said the committee, as a result of these developments, had postponed scheduled start of public hearings at which Reynolds was tentatively scheduled to be the first witness....

Alexander, addressing reporters outside the committee's closed doors, said the committee "decided to go into the extraneous matters" with Reynolds behind closed doors, and decide later "whether to go into

these matters in public session."

He acknowledged that the committee did take up Reynolds' allegations concerning the purported payoff from a $17-million government contract McCloskey received for construction of the Washington D.C. Stadium.

McCloskey, ambassador to Ireland in the Kennedy administration, has denied knowledge of any payoff. Baker, in earlier hearings, invoked his constitutional privilege under the Fifth Amendment to refuse to testify on matters that might incriminate him.

(8) Robert Sherrill, The Accidental President (1967)

There was also something of a stink when it was discovered that a $12,700,000 construction contract was awarded to the firm once headed by former Democratic national treasurer Matthew H. McCloskey, after he was allowed to lower his first bid and resubmit it beyond the deadline for receiving bids. The firm is now headed by his son, Thomas McCloskey. Old man McCloskey was charged a couple of years ago with slipping $25,000 to the 1960 Democratic campaign after he had been awarded a $19.8 million contract to build the DC Stadium. He constructed the Rayburn Office Building, possibly the most expensive office building in the world, at twice the original estimated cost. He was also involved in three Florida housing projects, costing $28.8 million, which promptly defaulted to FHA. No financial tie between McCloskey and Johnson has yet been made, and of course it could conceivably turn out that old Matthew is just lucky in business.

(9) Alfred Steinberg, Sam Johnson's Boy (1968)

Reynolds also told the committee that Bobby Baker and other Democrats had involved him as a "bag man" to deliver political kickbacks. This was the case with the D. C. Stadium. Matt McCloskey, a builder and chairman of the Finance Committee of the Democratic National Committee, and later Kennedy's ambassador to Ireland, was successful in winning the low-bid construction contract for the Stadium, and then was successful in getting the government to add three million dollars to his bid after construction started. Baker told McCloskey to take out his performance bond through Reynolds, a charge of $73,631. But "in error," the McCloskey check was for $109,205, said Reynolds. Of this sum, Reynolds said he gave $4,000 to Bobby Baker, $2,500 to the clerk of the House District Committee, and an additional $25,000 went to the Democratic party as a 1960 campaign contribution.

(10) Kenneth O'Donnell and Dave Powers, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye: Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1972)

Matt McCloskey, the Philadelphia contractor who had been rewarded with the ambassadorship for his champion fund-raising efforts, was waiting for us when we came downstairs. "Matt, this is a much better place than the White House," the president said. "The party is running into debt, and we need you back there." Matt, said, "No, no, leave me alone. If you need money, send Dick Maguire over here and I'll tell him who to see."

(11) The Tucson Daily Citizen (27th April, 1973)

Matthew H. McCloskey Jr., former U.S.. ambassador to Ireland and a long-time Democratic party fund raiser, is dead at 80.

McCloskey died yesterday at a suburban Philadelphia hospital. The grandson of Irish immigrants, McCloskey was born in Wheeling, W. Va. He was one of eight children.

McCloskey founded a construction company which changed much of Philadelphia's skyline.

A jovial friend of presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt, McCloskey worked hard for his party and contributed generously to the Philadelphia archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church.

He also was a potent force in Democratic politics. For seven years he was national treasurer, raising more than $20 million.

(12) Kittanning Leader-Times (28th April, 1973)

Cardinal Krol, archbishop of Philadelphia, will officiate Monday at a mass of the resurrection for Matthew H. McCloskey Jr., millionaire builder and confidant of several presidents.

McCloskey, U.S. ambassador to Ireland from 1962 to 1964, died Thursday at the age of 80.

He raised an estimated $60 million for the Democratic Party during his lifetime, and was treasurer of the party from 1955 to 1962. McCloskey, who had a nack for turning a buck made the $100-a-plate campaign dinner a political tradition.

He founded McCloskey and Co. in 1914 and from a job which gave him a profit of $500 he built the business into one of the largest contractors in the nation. He received many government contracts, including the Rayburn House Building, the Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington, Veterans Stadium here and The Spectrum sports area here

(13) Lebanon Daily News (27th April, 1973)

Matthew H. McCloskey, millionaire contractor and lifelong Democratic fund raiser who invented $100-a-plate dinner, died Thursday night at a hospital here. He was 80. McCloskey, a tough-talking, self-made man who was appointed ambassador to Ireland by President John F. Kennedy, had been hospitalized since March 30.

Born in a wooden farm house in Glen's Run, W. Va , McCloskey eventually served for seven years as national treasurer of the Democratic Party and raised an estimated $20 million. He was a friend and supporter of every Democratic president from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Lyndon B. Johnson.

A son said that McCloskey, a boot-straps millionaire who made a fortune in the construction industry, had been ill for several months. McCloskey, known to his friends as "Matt," claimed he was born with two things in life: "My religion and my politics."

He was a devout Roman Catholic and became interested in politics in the 1930's. A salty man who minced no words, McCloskey worked his way up through the party to become treasurer and its chief fund raiser. In his lifetime he wielded power both on the national scene and in Pennsylvania politics.

McCloskey's construction empire, which he began building after his family moved to Philadelphia in the early 1900's, was one of the largest in the nation.

McCloskey, who dropped out of school in the seventh grade, took night courses in business and engineering. He was acknowledged as a genius by his competitors in the building trades.

McCloskey Enterprises Inc., constructed many of Washington's most prominent buildings, including the Rayburn building, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare headquarters, the old Senate office building and the Census building.

(14) The New York Times (27th April, 1973)

The grandson of Irish immigrants who farmed in nearby Conshohocken, he dropped out of school at the age of 15, learning the building trade while working, and became one of the nation's leading contractors...

At 18, he went into business for himself, forming the Philadelphia firm of McCloskey & Co., destined to erect office buildings, hotels, schools, post offices, a court house and other structures throughout the country.

After changing the Philadelphia skyline with the building of Convention Hall, the Sheraton Hotel and high-rise apartments on Rittenhouse Square, Mr. McCloskey went to Washington where his jobs included $17-million District of Columbia Stadium, later renamed the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

His firm also provided the Capitol building with a new face and constructed the gigantic House Office Building.