Thomas Gardiner Corcoran

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Thomas Gardiner Corcoran
Born (1900-12-29)December 29, 1900
Pawtucket, Rhode Island
Died December 6, 1981(1981-12-06) (aged 80)
Washington, D. C.
Nationality United States
Other names "Tommy the Cork"
Alma mater Brown University
Harvard Law School
Occupation Lawyer, lobbyist

Thomas Gardiner Corcoran (1900–1981) was one of several[1] advisors in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's brain trust during the New Deal, and later, a close friend and advisor to President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Life and career

Corcoran was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and educated at Brown University (where he was class valedictorian)[2] and Harvard Law School. He clerked for Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. at the United States Supreme Court in 1926-27. In 1932, after practicing corporate law in New York, Corcoran joined the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. When Roosevelt began to take notice of his efforts, Corcoran was given a wider range of responsibilities than his official position as assistant general counsel allowed. He organized administrative agencies for various New Deal programs and assisted in drafting such legislation as the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. A protégé of Felix Frankfurter, Corcoran was considered the leader of the "New Dealers," a group of young lawyers that became prominent within the Roosevelt administration in the wake of the renewed economic recession of 1937.[3]

Much of his work during the New Deal was in conjunction with Benjamin V. Cohen. Together Corcoran and Cohen were known as the "Gold Dust Twins" and were on the cover of Time Magazine's September 12, 1938 edition.[4] Nicknamed "Tommy the Cork" by Roosevelt, Corcoran was the outgoing yang to Cohen's shy and retiring yin. Eventually Corcoran, who as an Irish Catholic did not favor pro-British policies, had a falling out with Roosevelt.[5]

After leaving the White House, Corcoran retained enormous influence in the administration, in part because of high appointees who owed their positions to him. Corcoran went into private practice as a lawyer along with former U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chief counsel William J. Dempsey, whom Corcoran had installed in that job in 1938. Dempsey and Corcoran managed the take-over of New York radio station WMCA for Corcoran's friend, Undersecretary of Commerce Edward J. Noble. This resulted in an FCC and Congressional investigation.

Corcoran's work after leaving government service led him to be dubbed the first of the modern lobbyists.[6] From 1945 through 1947, President Harry S. Truman apparently ordered Corcoran's phones tapped.[7] The transcripts of the wiretaps were deposited in the Truman Presidential library and released to researchers upon Corcoran's death in 1981. The evidence is that Truman's aide ordered the tap, but it was then rescinded by the president.[8]

It is also alleged that Corcoran engaged in improper attempts to influence decisions of the United States Supreme Court.[9]


  1. E.T. O'Donnell's "1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish American History"
  2. Brown Alumni Magazine - The Power Broker
  3. Alan Brinkley The End of Reform. Vintage Books. 1996. p. 51
  4. Time magazine, September 12, 1938
  5. Robert Caro The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power. Alfred A. Knopf 1982, p. 670.
  6. David Mckean, "Peddling Influence: Thomas "Tommy the Cork" Corcoran and the Birth of Modern Lobbying"
  7. Allan J. Lichtman, "Tommy the Cork: the secret world of Washington's first modern lobbyist", Washington Monthly, February 1987
  8. Harry S. Truman Papers: President's Secretary's Files