President Theodore Roosevelt argued vigorously against industrial trusts and the corruption that had developed along with the trusts. Major new industries, including the railroads and oil and steel production, were controlled by a small number of enormously wealthy individuals and companies who also carried great influence with Congressional leaders, especially senators.
These giant trusts, including Standard Oil, American Tobacco, and U.S. Steel, could all afford extensive lobbying in Washington. They seemed to carry the most weight with the United States Senate-the house of Congress not then directly elected by the people. A number of senators were closely identified with major trusts. Editorial cartoonists began picturing the Senate chamber filled with overblown figures representing corporate interests; newspapers referred to the Senate as a "Millionaire's Club"; (Chapter 2: "Lobbyists" September 28, 1987 (updated 1989))
President Roosevelt made extensive use of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 to break up the monopolies. The Northern Securities Company, which was a trust controlled by the three major railroads in the northwest (Northern Pacific Railway, Great Northern Railway, and Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad) was one of the first he attacked. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government and President Roosevelt, forcing the dissolution of Northern Securities, in 1904. Many other successful actions followed.
The Millionaire's Club referred to the group of senators who benefited from the way in which senators were chosen before the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913. As stated in the original Constitution, senators were chosen by state legislatures, and, by Teddy Roosevelt's time, this method of choosing senators had resulted in a group of senators who were beholden to party politics and political machines. They were seen as representing private interests rather than the public good. Teddy Roosevelt sought to destroy the Millionaire's Club, and the platform of his 1912 Progressive Party (nicknamed the Bull Moose Party) included a call for the direct election of senators. Wilson, also a Progressive, was elected President in 1912, and the 17th Amendment was passed in 1913. This amendment provided for the direct election of two senators from each state and was seen as a way to put more power in the hands of voters.