John Jackley
John Jackley
Hill Rat: Blowing the Lid Off Congress
ISBN: 089526529X
Hill Rat: Blowing the Lid Off Congress
Mr. Jackley, former press secretary to Representative Ronald Coleman (D-TX), discussed his experiences in Washington, DC and his book Hill Rat: Blowing the Lid Off Congress.
Search Audible
Video Clip Search is not avaialbe for this video.
TRANSCRIPT
Hill Rat: Blowing the Lid Off Congress
Program Air Date: June 21, 1992

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: John L. Jackley A couple of weeks ago, you were to have a book party in the Capitol that was canceled. How come?
JOHN JACKLEY: The reason that the leadership in the House Administration Committee gave was that since it was a book, it involved publisher, a publisher was a commercial venture, and they couldn't have any commercial ventures going on in--in the House office buildings. But they do this all the time. They had parties for Jim Wright's book; Claude Pepper had a big book party. Book parties are pretty common. I think it had more to do with the content of the book and what I chose to write about than the fact that it was just a book.
LAMB: How did you set something like that up? I mean, who sponsored you?
JACKLEY: Congressman McCollum from Florida was the sponsor. The publisher had paid well in advance. They'd taken the check; they'd cashed it. And we didn't find out that Congressman Rose had decided to cancel it until the night before. We really had to do some scrambling that afternoon.
LAMB: And who was this party going to be for?
JACKLEY: Oddly enough, it was for the press. And as a result, I think we came pretty close to doubling the expected attendance because of the controversy that it caused. You know, it was also refused for sale in the House bookstores, in the stationery store, as well as having the party thrown off the Hill.
LAMB: Where were you going to have the party on the Hill? What exact place was it scheduled for?
JACKLEY: The traditional reception rooms in the basement of the Rayburn Building--What is it?--B 336 and 337.
LAMB: So where'd you take the party?
JACKLEY: We went next door to Bullfeathers.
LAMB: What's that?
JACKLEY: It's a bar right next to the Capitol. It's a common watering hole for members of Congress, staffers, lobbyists and association
LAMB: What's a Hill rat?
JACKLEY: A Hill rat is an inside slang term for congressional staffer I first heard in the early 1980s by a--a man that I met in another Capitol Hill bar who was lamenting the fact that his boss had died, and he didn't know how to do anything else. He said, `I'm a Hill rat. That's all I am. I don't know how to do anything else. Don't want to. My career is here.' And it's slang for the congressional aides who work behind the scenes and do much of the daily work of government in the House.
LAMB: How many of them are there?
JACKLEY: I think it depends how you count them and--and what kind of employees. I've heard figures in the range of, oh, a low of 11,000 to a high of 18,000 or 19,000, depending on how many support staff you count.
LAMB: And you've been a Hill rat for how long?
JACKLEY: I started working in the House of Representatives in 1978. I left in mid-1979. I worked for a Democratic political consulting firm for the following two years. And then I worked continuously from August of 1981 to June of 1990.
LAMB: Who'd you work for?
JACKLEY: I worked for Tom Luken in 1978 and '79, a Democrat from Ohio, subsequently retired; then Jim Mattox, a Dallas congressman who ran for Texas attorney general in 1982 and won, which is why I had to find another job; and then from January of 1983 to June of 1990, I worked for Ron Coleman, one of the House majority whips at large from Texas.
LAMB: What kind of a Democrat are you?
JACKLEY: I've always been a Democrat. I've voted for Democratic candidates ever since I was 18 years old and was able to vote. I'm probably more of a moderate to conservative Democrat than many of my liberal brethren--brethren. But I've always voted Democratic--always will. That won't change.
LAMB: What are you doing now?
JACKLEY: I'm a full-time writer. I live in the Portland, Oregon, area.
LAMB: Why'd you leave here?
JACKLEY: I left because Congress changed in the 1980s. You know, I started off as one of the most gung-ho Hill rats or congressional aides of ll. I really enjoyed working next to power. Congressional aides don't have quite as much power, I think, as the public might be led to believe. But it's considerable, and you can get a lot done by deflection. I liked the action in Washington. I liked participating in government. But Congress changed in the 1980s. I--something happened, something that caused self-interest to rise above everything else.

One thing I've noticed in my travels out West is that there's a deep gap between the fundamental assumptions that many members of Congress operate on and those that are held by the rest of the country. But my own attitude didn't change overnight. It took a number of years, and it took the birth of two children to make me realize that there was something more to my life than just working for politicians. The book's a personal story. It's not in the standard political science approach. It's my experience and my life as I lived it on Capitol Hill.
LAMB: Former Congressman Tom Luken is from where?
JACKLEY: He's from--well, he was from Cincinnati, Ohio. He's now a lobbyist here in Washington.
LAMB: You write this on Page 38, `Luken was dangerous, ugly, and everyone on the outside thought they could handle him.'
JACKLEY: I think most of the incoming staffers did. We had one of the highest turnover rates on Capitol Hill. Tom was an interesting politician, one of my favorites in retrospect. He taught a generation of us Hill rats how to investigate anything down to the ‘nth’ degree, but on the other hand, he was extraordinarily difficult to work forg one aide, in fact, after I left his office, quit and sent a letter excoriating Luken to the entire Energy of Commerce, Energy and Commerce Committee in the House.
LAMB: Let me read some more on the previous page, `Congressman Luken, for all intents and purposes, left the human race.'
JACKLEY: That was the impression of the people who worked for him. It was extremely difficult to get anything done in terms of working on legislation or, in my case, on press releases and newsletters, because the volume level in the office was very high.
LAMB: Another sentence, `A former television reporter from Cincinnati, who had joined the staff, regularly threw up after Luken's tirades.'
JACKLEY: That's right. It lasted six months. I was one of the longer ones. A few other people have lasted longer. But we would have people who would come in and join the staff in the morning, and they wouldn't come back after lunch. It was a revolving door in Luken's office. But on the other hand, I do have to say to Tom's credit, aside from working for him, he did a great job of representing the district. His voting record, by and large, reflected the needs of the district. And I used him in the book because it was a good example of how complex members of Congress are. You can have a Tom Luken, who is a virtual tyrant to work for, and yet he can do a good job representing his constituents. That kind of complexity, people who read the book will find, is evident in a lot of Capitol Hill offices and with a lot of members.
LAMB: Are you worried about libel?
JACKLEY: No, the book's been vetted completely by lawyers, first of all. Secondly, everybody I've written about are public figures. And, third, unlike many Washington books, "Hill Rat" is very well-documented. I'm a graduate student in history at on the side at Portland State University in Oregon. And I applied many of the techniques of historical evidence and documentation that I've been taking in my graduate studies to the book. And I think it's paid off.
LAMB: You have three points in the chapter on former Congressman Luken. `First of all, no job and no boss ever seemed too bad after Luken.'
JACKLEY: That's right. It's kind of like hitting yourself on the hammer and then having it feel good when it stops. It was a real experience, but I think it toughened people who worked for him. If you could survive Congressman Luken's office, you could survive on the Hill. And I think the alumni of that office have done so.
LAMB: Was he honest?
JACKLEY: Yes, he had a good sense of personal integrity. I noticed that he didn't bounce a single check, at least in terms of the names and the numbers that came out of the Ethics Committee. And I think he had a sense of honesty with the staff, too, from the standpoint that he didn't chase women; he wasn't a drinker. I mean, he was very good in that respect.
LAMB: Can you buy a United States congressman?
JACKLEY: I think in some respects, you can rent them. I don't think they're for sale. But I think the history of Congress, at least in the 1980s when I was there, demonstrates fairly conclusively that on specific votes and on specific issues, the political action committees get what they pay their money for.
LAMB: What do you think of Speaker Foley?
JACKLEY: He's in a real tough job right now. There's a lot of talk—the scuttlebutt I'm hearing from my former colleagues and friends on Capitol Hill is that if this turnover of 100 to 150 seats does take place, his speakership could be in jeopardy. You know, he's been wounded politically by the publicity surrounding his handling not only of the check bouncing scandal but the s--the alleged scandals at the post office and the actions of his wife. He's becoming an issue; he's becoming controversial. And the membership don't need that. They want a speaker who's willing to take the heat without creating any on his own.
LAMB: Did you see him up close?
JACKLEY: In the halls. I wasn't one of the top aides that worked for the leadership. I--I'd watch him on TV. Our leadership--our office communicated with his office normally on paper.
LAMB: What'd you think of Jim Wright?
JACKLEY: My opinion of Jim Wright is better than most people's. He did have severe ethical problems that proved to be his downfall. But on the other hand, there was an element of Wright that, from my perspective as a Democrat, I had to admire. He was willing to stand up to the Reagan administration on key issues like Central America and not back down. I don't think Foley's that kind of person. Speaker Foley is more of an accommodator, a `get along to go along.' And I don't think he takes a tough partisan stance that show up in elections and win seats for Democrats. That's been one of the recurring criticisms of him politically.
LAMB: As a press secretary, when did you find yourself compromising your own principles?
JACKLEY: That's a tough question. We never lied to the press. That was something that's just crazy for a politician to do, even crazier for a press secretary.
LAMB: Did any congressman want you to?
JACKLEY: No, nobody ever asked me. I don't think I would have. Congressman Coleman never did, Jim Mattox loved the press, and Congressman Luken never did either. They were pretty good about that.
LAMB: But did you ever find yourself saying, `I don't believe that I'm doing this'?
JACKLEY: Oh, pretty much on a regular basis, but, you see, Capitol Hill has a very complex set of dynamics. You can't institute change from the inside. It's the kind of environment where you're either on the program or you're out of a job. You vote with your feet. Most people--most of my contemporaries who leave Capitol Hill normally go to a downtown Washington lobbying firm and become a lobbyist or a consultant. I took a somewhat different approach. And some of them still can't believe that, that someone would actually leave the political culture and move out to the mountains of the Northwest and undertake a completely different life. I'm out of politics. I registered to vote, and I vote, but I'm done with it as a participant sport.
LAMB: You'll never work on Capitol Hill again?
JACKLEY: I'll never have lunch on Capitol Hill again.
LAMB: Why?
JACKLEY: I just, that part of my life is over. You know, I have a lot of friends. since I've been in Washington on my book tour, I've been meeting with my friends and my former colleagues. And they've all been very encouraging. But I mean, I might go there for the occasional Coke or hot dog if I'm taking my kids there when I get older, but I'm done with it as a participant. It's part of my life that's over. I don't want to go back. I've said my piece in the book. And I'm just out of politics. I don't like the political life anymore. I don't have any use for the professional political class. And I've got my own life now out West.
LAMB: `I don't have any use for the professional political class.' What do you mean by that?
JACKLEY: Well, one thing that I concluded after leaving Congress, I didn't realize this at the time. You know, you can be so close to something and yet be blind. There really is a professional political class in Washington. Alan Ehrenhalt has written about that in his fairly recent book, "The United States of Ambition"--slightly different style than mine, but it's the same point; that there's a certain Homo politicus, if you have it, who starts off becoming interested and active in politics in their late teens or early 20s, takes an internship in some political job while they're in college, goes to work on Capitol Hill or in a state legislature, then runs for office themselves. If they make it, fine; they keep working their way up the ladder. If they don't, most of them try again.

And there is this professional political class that doesn't have that much in common with the rest of America. It's not necessarily a criticism, but if you're in politics all your life, you know, if you are a Tony Coelho, for example, who started off as I think he had an internship and then he became a staffer and then he became a member, and then he became a majority leader. It’s very difficult to empathize with the day-in and the day-out financial pressures, for example, of average people.

You know, out in Oregon, there's a friend of mine named Bill who is a supermarket checkout guy. And I always talk to him, because he's a good sounding board, and he's different from my friends back in Washington. And when you talk to people like that--cab drivers, checkout clerks, framers, construction workers, they really, took this check bouncing thing to heart. And to me, it symbolized one of the themes of the book that the professional political class just is operating on a fund--on a set of fundamentally different assumptions from the rest of the country. I don't think they're doing it in a conspiratorial sense, but just because of the environment in Washington and what their own life stories have been and what their careers have been, it just works out that way.
LAMB: Former press secretary to Jim Mattox, former congressman from Texas...
JACKLEY: That's right.
LAMB: ...currently the attorney general?
JACKLEY: Ex.
LAMB: Ex.
JACKLEY: He ran for governor and lost to Ann Richards in the primary.
LAMB: This--you're quoting him in the book, `"Let me tell you what this job is all about," he said, as he brandished an envelope during my job interview. "I'm in a district full of Republicans, and the newspapers hate my guts. The TV stations are out to get me. I'm always barely a step ahead of the political undertakers, and I win by a couple of percentage points if I'm lucky. The only chance I have is mail. We are going to mail, mail, mail, then mail, and mail some more."' What's that all about?
JACKLEY: He's referring to the--what's called the congressional franking privilege, the ability, at that time, to mail unlimited amounts of taxpayer-funded mail into your district--postal patrons, computer targeted letters, that sort of thing. And many members of Congress, particularly with the advent of these high-tech direct mail computers that most House offices have now-a-days--many members are able to outprint their local newspapers. I know we could in El Paso, for example. My former boss, Ron Coleman, represented that city in Texas.

And it's and when Mattox was a congressman, the Hill was just starting to go high-tech. A lot of incumbents were looking with great alarm at the defeat of incumbents, particularly senators, in 1978 and 1980. The current or the conventional wisdom at the time was that these incumbents lost because of the right-wing's ability to harness this new direct mail computerized technology. And Capitol Hill's response was to go high tech itself. Mattox's congressional career was over in '82, and he was just at the start of it. He was referring essentially to postal patron mailings.

Nowadays, of course, congressional offices have really state-of-the-art direct mail technology in terms of computers and data bases and you can really put the mail out.
LAMB: This is from another part of the book on your last boss, Ron Coleman...
JACKLEY: That's right.
LAMB: ...Democrat from Texas. `We would hold congressional town meetings to encourage the locals to meet their congressman in person. This practice establishes, quote, "accessibility and accountability and political prominence," but the real dividend comes from being allowed by the rules of the House to send out postcards bearing Coleman's name and photograph to every mailbox in the congressional district.'
JACKLEY: Sure. Every member of Congress does that. You're able to send out these postal patron postcards with the member's photograph and a little summary of what the meeting is going to be about to virtually any neighborhood in your district. Many of these town hall meetings, you'll only have a handful of people show up--five, 10, 20. Still on occasion, you—if there's something hot in the news or if there's a big national issue that's breaking, you might get up to 100. But that doesn't compare to the quarter of a million postcards that--that you can mail into your district.
LAMB: Did members that you were involved with hold town meetings solely for the postcard mailing?
JACKLEY: I think it was a combination of both. My impression with Coleman is that the direct mail function was the most important. I think with Jim Mattox, he had a--Jim was kind of the last of the old-style populists. You know, he grew up in a very poor, broken family in Dallas, put himself through school, put his brother and sister through school. Jim was the last of one of the--one of the great progressives who really believed in fighting for the little guy. And I think Jim held those town hall meetings to reach out and touch people in a sense. He loved to debate. He loved to argue. He's one of my favorite members, you'll discover this. But I think with Coleman and with a lot of the other members in the later part of the '80s, it just became one more way to get ahead.
LAMB: You pick a quote out and use it in the book from Representative John R. Rowland, Republican of Georgia, "Let's face it; you have to be a bozo to lose this job."
JACKLEY: That's right.
LAMB: Why did you use that?
JACKLEY: That's a quote from Roll Call magazine--or, excuse me, Roll Call newspaper, a publication that circulates up here on Capitol Hill. And to me, it was very candid. I mean, he summarized everything about working in Congress as an incumbent. You really do have to be a bozo to lose your seat as an incumbent or you get redistricted or you get indicted or--but what he's referring to is that if you do your job right and if you use the taxpayer-financed resources that are available to all congressional offices, you really do have to be a bozo to lose your job.
LAMB: Jim...
JACKLEY: And I think the incumbent--excuse me--re-election rates in the 1980s proved that. It was 98 percent in--in 1988; it was roughly 96 percent in 1990. We may have a different picture this year, of course, for a lot of different reasons.
LAMB: Former members routinely become lobbyists. The National Journal identified 74 in 1989. What do you think of that practice?
JACKLEY: It's part of Washington to evolve indoor. It's becoming more and more common. I don't think it's right. A lot of people have raised the moral problem with it--people from conservative groups, such as the National Taxpayers Union, to more liberal groups, such as Common Cause and Ralph Nader's organizations. There just seems to be something wrong in trading your access and your influence--not so much your expertise, but your ability to pick up the phone and get something done for someone who pays you a fee when you've held a very important sort of public trust as an elected official. I don't like it. I never did. And I think the Journal has subsequently come out and said that those numbers are rising. You know, it's a steady flow.
LAMB: You can just hear a member watching this interview, saying, `Yes, Mr. Jackley, but you're sitting there on this program. You've got a book. You're charging $21.95 for it, so you're trading on what you learned there.' What's wrong--what's the difference?
JACKLEY: Well, it's remarkable that the political class would consider betrayal telling the public the truth about what goes on in Congress when it's perfectly acceptable for a member of Congress to trade in on his access and influence to become a lobbyist and lobby the same committees that he served on and his former colleagues that he worked with. I don't think there's any problem with telling the public the truth about what I saw and did on Capitol Hill. I'm proud of it. The public reaction has been tremendous. I didn't expect the Washington market to do that well, because, you know, some of Washington's greatest secrets, of course, are those that everybody already knows about. You know, the check bouncing scandal has been around. A lot of reporters knew about it, but it really didn't take off until last year.

But I feel good about myself. I think that sooner or later, people--in my case, me; hopefully there'll be others--have to decide that they're going to stop being Democrats first, that they're going to stop being Republicans first, that they're going to quit being members of this political class first and start by being Americans first. And I felt that I had a higher duty to the public and to the country to tell what I saw. You know, members might disagree; they've got that right. I'm sure they'll have their staffs write them their own book as a result.
LAMB: What's the nastiest response you've gotten from the book?
JACKLEY: There really hasn't been any to my knowledge. I think my former bosses complained about it. But at the signings that I've done here on Capitol Hill, almost all of them have been Capitol Hill aides, and they've been saying, `Hey, John, we--we can't say this publicly, but right on. You're doing a great job.'
LAMB: Now what would you do if you were a press secretary to Ron Coleman and this book was written, and some of the things that you said about your former boss was published in this book? How would you fight it?
JACKLEY: Well, as a former professional, my counsel would have been to lay low. He held a news conference last week in El Paso to denounce the book. And as a result, there was a run on the bookstores, and the distributor had to airlift some books out to Texas this last week.
LAMB: You would not have done that.
JACKLEY: No. I would have said, `Sit tight.' Any book only has a shelf life of--How long?--six months, eight months. I wouldn't have added to the controversy or to the media interest. I mean, it's like the leadership banning the book from the House stationery, and then in a fit of peak, throwing the book party off the Hill. That doesn't help their own interests. It's an emotional reaction, and it's that I wouldn't have expected from people with such a professional reputation as those.
LAMB: What have you heard about how the process worked to throw your book party off the Hill?
JACKLEY: I don't know much, only what I've read in the newspapers. I don't know if it was Chairman Rose or how high up it went. I know some reporters are digging in, but they haven't been able to get any comments yet.
LAMB: Now ha--having worked for Ron Coleman, by the way, how long has he been in Congress?
JACKLEY: He was elected in November 1982.
LAMB: And how long did you work for him again?
JACKLEY: From January '83 to the summer of 1990 in June.
LAMB: And you were his press secretary.
JACKLEY: That's right.
LAMB: It's hard, when the audience hasn't read this book, but let me just say something, and you can argue with this.
JACKLEY: Sure.
LAMB: It sounds like you don't like the man. You call him lazy. You say lots of other things about him in here.
JACKLEY: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Is that true, you don't like the guy?
JACKLEY: I didn't like the way he squandered his promise. Congressman Coleman is probably one of the smartest members of Congress on an individual basis. He took graduate studies in law in Cambridge. He's an extraordinarily intelligent man. He can be compassionate personally. He's very complex. You know, the public has, I think has the wrong opinion of many members of Congress when they see them in--in black and white, as good or bad. So I--we need to recognize the complexity of a Coleman or of any other member. But at the same time, he went from being the Dallas Times Herald's rising star of the Texas delegation in 1985 to being the seventh worst check bouncer in the nation in 1992. And the rap on Ron has never been that he hasn't been a good Democrat or he hasn't brought plenty of appropriations projects to El Paso, which needs them and for which he's done a very good job. It's just he could have done so much more.

I mean, it's a story of promise unfulfilled. And I think, frankly, you know, if he recovers from this check bouncing scandal and from the fact that he lied about it in his district--you know, he somehow got a bogus letter on Sergeant of Arms letterhead from Jack Russ stating that he had only bounced four checks for $285 when, in fact, the Ethics Committee revealed that it was 673 checks for nearly $300,000. But if he can get over that--and maybe this book will jolt him into action. I hope so, a Democrat. I hope he can fulfill that promise. I think it would be great for his district, and I think it would be great for Texas.
LAMB: If you lived in El Paso, would you vote for him?
JACKLEY: I'd weigh what was more important. Someone asked me on a radio talk show earlier today, `Did I think Coleman should be defeated?' And I said, `Well, you know, that's really not my place. You know, that's something that the voters of El Paso get to decide. It's their privilege. It’s not mine.' But I would take it all. He has done a great deal for the district in terms of federal spending projects. On the other hand, he's had some serious ethical lapses. I think Coleman's district is going to be like a number of others, say, Mary Rose Oakar's district in Ohio, where a member who connects with the community, who's from the community, who has done a lot in terms of specific projects, yet has this other side of serious ethical lapses. These kind of districts are going to be good bellwethers for the electorate.
LAMB: If you had these feelings about him, why'd you work for him for so long?
JACKLEY: Well, a lot of it was hope. Myself and a lot of other people on the staff kept hoping, kind of like Charlie Brown who's going to kick the football one more time again--hoping that he would turn around. We were doing everything in our power that we could. And also, frankly, my own opinions about Congress didn't start to change. You know, Coleman is, by no means, the worst member in terms of working for someone. Just in terms of how I was treated and how other members of the staff were treated, he wasn't bad at all. But it was this sense of promise unfulfilled, and it was the fact that he had that promise. You know, if he'd been a complete bozo, you know, a real dimwit, I think myself and a lot of other people on the staff would have left long ago. But he had the brains and he had the skill and he had the potential for so long. I think a lot of us hung on, hoping that he would do something with it. I think we're still hoping.
LAMB: `Like many Hill rats'--and, again, what's a Hill rat?
JACKLEY: It's insider slang for the congressional aides who work behind the scenes and do much of the day-to-day work on Capitol Hill.
LAMB: When's the first time you ever heard that?
JACKLEY: In 19--it's in the book--82 or '83. But other people have told me that they heard it in the 1970s.
LAMB: `Like many Hill rats, Paul Rogers represented the Hill's contradictions.'
JACKLEY: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Who was Paul Rogers?
JACKLEY: He was our staff director. On Capitol Hill, an administrative assistant is not a secretarial job, it's the staff director. It's the number one staff position in an office.
LAMB: How old is he?
JACKLEY: He must be in his early 40s. He was in--must have been 35, 36 when he started working for Coleman.
LAMB: Was he your boss?
JACKLEY: Right. Absolutely. He was my immediate boss.
LAMB: `He could be personally compassionate. I was allowed to take as much time as I needed, even during working hours, when the kids were sick. He...'
JACKLEY: That's right. And I appreciated it a great deal.
LAMB: `He treated me well--big Christmas bonuses, yearly pay increases, six weeks vacation each year.'
JACKLEY: That's right.
LAMB: Six weeks vacation every year?
JACKLEY: Sure. Well, our office shut down between Christmas and New Year's. We just had a skeleton staff on, and--and that would count as a week's vacation.
LAMB: And you all can have six weeks vacation if you're a Hill rat.
JACKLEY: Well, we had a sliding scale. In our office, you were able to--you weren't able to take much vacation until you had worked there for a year, say. I forget the exactly number, but if you had worked there for four or five, six years, like myself and some of the original staff members had, you could take longer amounts.
LAMB: How much were you paid when you left the office?
JACKLEY: I don't remember the exact figure; it was $30,000 plus some change, plus I got a Christmas bonus, so probably in the neighborhood of $33,000.
LAMB: That was in 1990.
JACKLEY: 1990, yeah.
LAMB: To be a press secretary.
JACKLEY: Yeah.
LAMB: At what age?
JACKLEY: In 1990, I was 35.
LAMB: Do you have any idea how much Paul Rogers made?
JACKLEY: He made, oh--he probably started off in the 50s and worked his way up to the 60s. That kind of thing is all public record, though.
LAMB: So you do say in here, though, that there are--What?--100 people on Capitol Hill that make over $100,000 as staff people?
JACKLEY: Yeah. I missed out on the big staff increases in terms of pay. You know, when members voted their own pay from $89,500 to $124,500, staff salaries rose up accordingly.
LAMB: `But at the same time,' you're talking about Paul Rogers...
JACKLEY: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...`he deliberately cultivated the attitude that he was the, quote, "real," unquote, congressman. He set up a private office with the same flags that flanked the congressman's desk and commissioned his own official secretary with a gold-embossed seal.' Did he do anything that others didn't do on Capitol Hill or couldn't do?
JACKLEY: No. In fact, Congressman Coleman and Paul Rogers--I used them in the book as universal metaphors for Capitol Hill. I don't think they ever did anything illegal, but Capitol Hill is the kind of place where almost everything's legal. You know, House rules are written for the benefit of the members and by corollary, the staff. And it's very, very difficult to break a law or a House rule on the Hill. No, the things they did are pretty common.
LAMB: `He al...'
JACKLEY: --nothing unusual.
LAMB: `He also adopted Coleman's scotch, told his jokes and even started reading the same terrible pulp detective novels.'
JACKLEY: That's very--a lot of staffers, particularly the most important ones on Capitol Hill, a certain bonding process, I think, takes place—or this is my theory--that when you work with someone for so long, whom you probably admire, who you respect or at least whom you share the same kind of politics, you work day in and day out, and in the case of staff directors like Paul, you're making decisions that a generation ago were only made by elected officials, I think a certain osmosis takes place, and you start thinking that, well, you're a part of the member or you're a deputy member. That kind of thing is very common on Capitol Hill.
LAMB: `Paul's the ultimate broker and middle man. He never really did anything.'
JACKLEY: In terms of a work product. His job was to make all the fundamental political decisions in the office, like every other staff director on the Hill.
LAMB: You say he never wrote anything, never handled specific projects other than fund-raising, never produced anything, but he decided which constituent would receive what level of attention--a letter, a call, a gift bearing the congressional seal.
JACKLEY: That's right. Again, that's the way things work on Capitol Hill. It's not surprising, and it's certainly not uncommon.
LAMB: The Democratic Club--what is it?
JACKLEY: The Democratic Club is the Rick's, referring to the movie "Casablanca," of the Democratic community in Capitol Hill. It's a couple of blocks away from the Capitol. It's private. Very few journalists are allowed in, if ever. No photographs are allowed. And it's a place where members and lobbyists and staff go either during or after working hours to have a drink, get some food, let their hair down.
LAMB: What role did it play in your education on Capitol Hill?
JACKLEY: Well, I probably learned more about Capitol Hill and how it really worked at places like the club than I did in any political science class in college or high school. Because, you see, one thing I tried to bring out in this book is that people in the C-SPAN audience see the House floor action or they see committee action. But what they're really seeing is the surface whitecaps. There's a very deep ocean down below what shows up on television.

And I tried to bring to life the people and the human emotions that are behind what you see on television. And a lot of that comes to light and happens at places like the Democratic Club or the Republican counterpart, the Capitol Hill Club. It's the kind of place where the bar talk might be called the talk of history later on, if anyone had bothered to record it. It's a place where you could go down and meet the lobbyists who also—who normally know a lot more about what's going on than most staff or the average member. You can find out what the leadership scuttlebutt is. It's just a great place to hang out. It's the Rick's of Capitol Hill.
LAMB: Again, trying to get you to--describe this. Let me see if I can explain what I read in here.
JACKLEY: Sure.
LAMB: Limousines parked outside, ready to pick up lobbyists and take them to back to their office...
JACKLEY: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...or members back to the Hill. Bars full of lobbyists and staffers playing liar's poker.
JACKLEY: That's right.
LAMB: Members and lobbyists and staff sitting around eating dinners and...
JACKLEY: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...steaks and all that stuff, trading information, insider stuff. No cameras allowed, no journalists allowed.
JACKLEY: That's right.
LAMB: Is there something sinister about all this?
JACKLEY: No, I don't think so. It was--it's all pretty light, but there's deals on the side going on. Again, the best metaphor I can think of is Rick's bar in "Casablanca." It's where the Democratic operators meet, people from the Democratic National Committee, people you see on television, people who never want to be seen on television. It was for me and for a lot of my contemporaries, places like that were probably the single best source of political intelligence available on the Capitol.
LAMB: Let me read you the jacket that--by the way, how did you get to this publisher?
JACKLEY: I--it's an interesting story. When I left Capitol Hill in the summer of 1990, I enlisted the services of a literary agent in New York--ironically, the same guy who did the deal for Tip O'Neill's book, "Man of the House." And I thought to jazz up my book proposal, which is how books get bought and sold these days, I would try and get some publicity for the idea of a staffer leaving the Hill and the political culture to go and write a book. So I did my own press release right before I moved out West. And I took it to about 500 offices of the Washington press corps, up in the House and Senate galleries. I papered the National Press Club building with it. I did some mailings. I really took it around. One person wrote a story, and that was a friend of mine, and a reporter who would say, `Well, John, this is a good idea, but we don't think there's anything new here.'

So I get discouraged, and I moved to Oregon the next week. And then I decided, `Well, maybe I'll give it one last try.' So I took the exact same language from my press release and put it into the form of the kind of article that you send into a newspaper that appears on the opinion page. I sent it to the 200 largest newspapers in America, including The New York Times. But this time, I didn't send it to the Washington reporters. I sent it directly to the newsrooms in Seattle, in Phoenix, in Texas, in New York. And you know what? It ran from coast to coast. It was the lead Op-Ed on--on The New York Times the day that it ran.

My publisher was in New York in another newspaperman's office. And he was reading the newspaper, and he said, `Look at this. Do you know this guy?' And the other reporter said, `Well, yeah, we got something from him, too.' And my publisher said, `I've got to have this book,' and he called me up and we got the contract.
LAMB: Roll Call did a piece on your book when...
JACKLEY: That's right.
LAMB: ...and that headline is here, `"Hill Rat" wins big attention, but loses reception,' and that's all about the reception on the Hill.
JACKLEY: Yes.
LAMB: But you--they also talk about this news conference that Congressman Coleman had. `Coleman, in an interview with El--the El Paso Times, blasted Jackley and said the book was, quote, "the literary equivalent of tabloid journalism put out by a right-wing publisher."' Is this a right-wing publisher?
JACKLEY: Oh, I don't think so.
LAMB: Regnery Gateway.
JACKLEY: Regnery Gateway is a--three political titles this cycle are all by Democrats. There's my book. There's Peter Brown's book, "Minority Party." Peter's a reporter for Scripps Howard here in Washington. And then there's Philip Stern's "Still the Best Congress Money Can Buy." They publish some conservative authors. They publish liberals like me, so I figure they can't be all that bad.
LAMB: Well, let me jump in to say, though, that if he was here, he'd say, `Yeah, but you wrote about Democrats and sliced them up pretty good in this book; so, therefore, it would serve that publisher's'--you know, he says, `His new patrons are ultra right-wing Republicans in Congress whom his book glorifies and who hosted a reception in Washington for him,' although...
JACKLEY: Well, you've got to keep in mind, too, that Congressman Coleman's comments are aimed at the Democratic electorate in El Paso. In fact, I think the Roll Call article refers to that news conference--or to some statements that appeared in Texas. He's talking to his Democratic voters who are pretty soured on him by now. You know, he's got a host of problems with the special prosecutor, the bounced checks; the IRS is looking into this. He might have another Ethics Committee probe on a separate matter. He's trying to rally the Democratic troops as a political gesture. It's probably not a bad technique, I think, as a fair comment on the book. It sounds pretty desperate to me if all you can do is attack the publisher.
LAMB: Congressman Coleman says, `I feel saddened for the guy that he was willing to sacrifice ethics and truth and honesty for personal monetary gain.'
JACKLEY: Completely ludicrous. My advance for this book was one of the lowest that you get in publishing. It was $10,000. There was no interest in Congress. See, you've got to remember I didn't start writing this book when the check bouncing scandals broke out. I started this book in the summer of 1990. There was almost no interest in the publishing community in books about Congress and the inside of Congress two years ago. And between my wife's salary and my $10,000 to last two years of--of writing, that's hardly monetary gain. What they're really saying is that I should have kept my mouth shut and I should have stayed within the political culture and gone to one of these downtown law firms or worked as a consultant.
LAMB: Page 319, `But the current Democratic leadership of Speaker Thomas Foley and Majority Leader Richard Gephardt is devoid of true belief. Like Newt Gingrich among the Republicans, their belief starts and ends with what they see every morning in the bathroom mirror.'
JACKLEY: That's right. I came away from Capitol Hill and, again, this is my personal story, my personal opinions--that belief virtually doesn't exist there anymore; that members of Congress are there to stay, literally. Now there's some good members. And I think the public is smart enough to find out who they are and to not just throw them out of office in a throw-out-the-bums fit of pique. But I found that with this new crowd, with Foley, with Gephardt, with some of the newer members in the leadership, like Martin Frost, they could be Republicans in a different generation. They don't stand for anything. Success is what wins.

You know, I use the example of the Sam Rayburn generation, which ironically may have been more personally corrupt in terms of cash in their pockets and in their briefcases as they walked up and down the halls. But you know what? Sam Rayburn never pretended he was a Republican. The Republican leaders, people like Everett Dirksen in the Senate, they never pretended to be Democrats. There was a consistency of belief. Parties stood for something. And what you've got now is a modern member of Congress who's a political five and dime store, a one-step shopper. You know, the--they're ideological entrepreneurs. And in the case of Foley and Gephardt, to me, those guys don't stand for anything, except...
LAMB: What about Newt Gingrich?
JACKLEY: Well, Gingrich is a little more consistent at least. He doesn't pretend to be a--he doesn't pretend to be a Democrat. Newt's taken some flak, though, you know? He was part of that compromise deal on the congressional pay raise when he and the other Republican leaders agreed, with the Democratic leaders, not to make it an issue in each other's campaigns. That's when they got the big boost from $89,500 to almost $125,000.
LAMB: What do you think Dick Gephardt thinks after reading your book?
JACKLEY: I don't really care, to be honest. I hope his voters pay close attention.
LAMB: Let me read, though, another sentence here...
JACKLEY: Sure, sure.
LAMB: ...which is the reason I ask you this, `I will trust a clash of convictions anytime, any day, over bloodless, blow-dried, poll-driven talking heads like Richard Gephardt.'
JACKLEY: That's right. Congressman Gephardt to me is the perfect plastic congressman of the '80s and '90s. You know, he's flip-flopped on abortion for the demands of his earlier presidential campaign. He's taken the equivalent of a student deferment in the current war over perks and checks and special privileges. These guys pop up and down on the political and the media radar screen when it suits them. They don't believe in anything, and that's my fundamental beef.

I'd rather have--I came away from Congress really respecting people whose views were as disparate as Bob Dornan from California, the conservative Republican, and Barney Frank from Massachusetts, a liberal Democrat--very liberal Democrat from Mass--from New England. But what those guys have in common is they don't sell out their beliefs in private. Barney Frank fights for liberal beliefs when he's behind closed doors with the leadership. Bob Dornan fights for his conservative principles with the Republican leaders.

My beef is with this vast gray-flanneled, oatmeal-talking managers of the middle, people who are just managers. You know, look at the difference between a Tom Foley, on the one hand, and--or a Richard Gephardt, and Neil Kinnock of the British Labor Party. Neil Kinnock had the guts to stand up and say, `Look, I've lost four elections for our party. My leadership is over, and I think it's best if I resign.' He took, in effect, personal responsibility for the success or failure of his own actions and the policies that he tried to promote. People like Foley and Gephardt, on the other hand, we can have budget deficits, legislative gridlock, check bouncing, embezzlement scandals--you can have anything you want on Capitol Hill take place--and these guys aren't going to put their own jobs on the line as a result. And that's my beef with them. That measure of personal accountability just isn't there. Tom Foley has never yet, in all his media counteroffensive against the check bouncing scandal, simply said they were sorry.
LAMB: Again, I guess I'm going to go back to that party where they didn't let you have it on Capitol Hill. I wonder if you can--I mean, here's another couple of lines. I mean, does it really surprise you that I mean, do you think they had the right to kick you off the Hill?
JACKLEY: I didn't think they were that stupid. I mean, it was just a dumb political move.
LAMB: Why is it a dumb political move?
JACKLEY: It created controversy. It attracted attention. It doubled the media attendance at the party--at the fallback location.
LAMB: Let me read you another line.
JACKLEY: Sure.
LAMB: `Coleman'--that's Congressman Coleman from Texas--`did not read, he did not study, he did not deal with the staff, he did not attend briefings or legislative staff meetings. In short, he made no attempt to learn the issues, surviving instead on the life support system of his staff and damn little else.' Now...
JACKLEY: This...
LAMB: ...again, if that was written about you and this book went into your district, wouldn't you want to hold a news conference and say, `Hey, unfair, cheap shot'?
JACKLEY: If I was a member of Congress--well, first, of all, in Coleman's case, it's true. But regardless if that happened to any member of Congress, I would bite my tongue and lay low, because controversy sells books. I think the reason the book is so successful is because of its content and the fact that it's written in a style that it's not a standard political science inside-the-Beltway kind of approach. It's written for that larger attentive audience--people, well, say, who watch C-SPAN or who buy non-fiction hard-cover books. But if I was a professional politician, I'd try and bite my tongue and lay low. I really would. But, you know, on the other hand, no one said that these guys act rationally either.
LAMB: Well, let's just assume, again, that the members watching this thing, and they say, number one, `Why in the world are they giving that guy as much time as they're giving him?' Number two, `If he's so good, why doesn't he run for office, face the voters, like I did?'
JACKLEY: Well, one reason--I think one reason the book's so good is because of its documentation. There's hundreds of footnotes in the book. And this has never been done before, and I tried to do a really thorough job. There are things in the book--you know, if I say that somebody made a comment or, if so--you know, if something happened in a certain fashion, I've got the -- my documentation for this book, my files, available to any reporter or journalist who wants to look at them. That offer still stands. And I challenge any member of Congress to open his or her own files in that regard. But--but, secondly, poli...
LAMB: Before--before you leave that point, let me read...
JACKLEY: Sure.
LAMB: ...what you write and ask you why you did this in the back page. `The only frustration...'
JACKLEY: Oh, good.
LAMB: `...that accompanies a book such as this one is the inability due to space limitations to include everything that ought to be covered. The world of Capitol Hill is vast and its dealings over the last decade even more so. For questions or additional information about Capitol Hill or readers' thoughts and comments about the book, the author can be contacted at Post Office Box 117, West Linn, Oregon 97068. A personal reply is promised.' You mean you're going to answer every letter?
JACKLEY: That's right. I wanted to make the book interactive. I'm--I--since I left Congress, I've become fascinated by what ordinary Americans think and feel about the institution. I'm never going to write another book about Congress.
LAMB: You going to run for office?
JACKLEY: No. My wife has standing orders to shoot me if I ever make any noises in that regard. I'm done with politics as a participant sport. I have two small children; one of them has some substantial medical problems, and that's really going to occupy my attention in the coming years--that and writing. Politics really can take a toll on your personal life and your family, and I know a lot of the members feel that kind of pressure, too. The hours are crazy. There's no set schedule. It's a 24-hour-a-day operation, and I just don't want a part of it. I've got better things to do.
LAMB: Can you remember point two? I'm sorry I interrupted when we were talking earlier. You had point one and then you had point two.
JACKLEY: Oh, that was it.
LAMB: OK. Your dedication, `This book is dedicated to Janet and the promise of her silent toast.'
JACKLEY: That's right.
LAMB: Her silent toast--is this a toast that she or did you invent this toast?
JACKLEY: Oh, no. It's something she came up with back when we were engaged to be married.
LAMB: Let me read it then. `And to the women and men of the American news media, who for all their supposed faults are really the only ones we have that keep the big boys from stealing everything in sight.'
JACKLEY: That's right. In addition to respecting the men and women in Congress who truly believed in something, those few who do--say, a Bob Dornan or a Tony Beilenson, a Democrat from California--Beilenson's one of the best--I came away respecting the press. Because the members of Congress and the professional political class really is deathly as scared of—deathly scared of the media. It kind of the public's--excuse me--the public's last defense. And I wanted to dedicate the book to them.

I know they're strung out on time demands, and they have a lot of people to cover and a lot of ground to cover. But, you know, without them, we would really be in trouble. And between them, whom I respected professionally, and the efforts of my wife, who sustained me over the two years of writing this book, who had the courage to believe in me when almost no one else did, particularly in the publishing world, who kind of kept me going all those long months and hours of writing, I felt that it was just appropriate to dedicate the book to them.
LAMB: We're running out of time. There's lots of little things I want to ask you about.
JACKLEY: Sure.
LAMB: `Revise and extend my remarks'--it's in--it's on this network every day.
JACKLEY: That's right.
LAMB: What is--in essence, does that mean?
JACKLEY: Well, that allows members to add an additional written statement that appears in the congressional record whether or not they said it. In some cases, though, you'll get five days to revise and extend. So you'll have a controversial vote, a member can read the Monday morning quarterbacks in the press and kind of get all the commentary and kind of see where the issue is going. And then they can write their statement three days after the vote but have it appear in the Congressional Record the day of the vote, as if they said it on the day that it appeared. It's just one of one of the little ins and outs that take place up on the Hill--kind of an advantage for the incumbents.
LAMB: You said that close to 80 former members are now lobbyists in this town. You also said that a former member can have access to the floor of the House of Representatives anytime they want to.
JACKLEY: That's right.
LAMB: Have you ever seen a former member lobbyist go on the floor and lobby for an issue?
JACKLEY: I have not, no, but I know they do have that right under the law.
LAMB: Are they--have you ever heard of it being done?
JACKLEY: I don't know. I've heard of members going into the cloak room, which is probably a better place to lobby than the House floor anyway. I don't know if any of them ever made it to the floor.
LAMB: You talk about rent money and the ability...
JACKLEY: What's that?
LAMB: ...rent money and the ability in--you know, the money that comes for the stationery allowance in the office...
JACKLEY: Oh, right.
LAMB: ...to be used for other things. Can you explain how that works in that office?
JACKLEY: Well, you have a fairly wide latitude in which to--or with which to spend your office expenses. You--you're allowed to transfer a certain amount of your payroll dollars--it varies by year--into your office expenses. Most members will do this so they can put out additional mass mailings and to pay for computer equipment. In some cases, some members of Congress in their districts have been taking advantage of a loophole in the law, and they've been leasing automobiles at a very high rate of a monthly lease and then buying a virtually new car with their own money for $2,000 and $3,000 a couple of years later. That's going to be the next big Capitol Hill scandal. And I understand it's going to make the press in the next couple of weeks.
LAMB: You see reference to a thing called Washington Campus and $500 being the tab for both congressmen and some aides that have spoken before them. What is Washington Campus? Do you know?
JACKLEY: I don't know. It was in the Federal Election Committee data that appeared in the Washington Post when they list the honoraria or the speaking fees that members used to get in the 1980s before the honoraria ban came into effect.
LAMB: What's the Pirelli Cable story?
JACKLEY: Ooh. Pirelli Cable is a company that's involved with a geothermal project in Maui, and they needed a certain federal grant to come through the Appropriations Committee. Well, they specialized in wining and dining members at the NCAA men's basketball Final Four galas. And, in fact, one of their--one year the amount of privilege and entertainment that they were offering the members was so great that I reprinted their itinerary in the appendix of the book. It was just one party, speech, sightseeing tour, basketball ball game after another. It was kind of a two- or three-day bacchanal in New Orleans. And I thought it was so outrageous, even by Capitol Hill standards, that it was worth reprinting for the public to see.
LAMB: What about this business of travel and limousines and all these different lobbyist events? How much of that goes on?
JACKLEY: Well, it's pretty common. I--you know, but I don't think anybody--I mean, you're looking here at the appendix in the schedule that went on just at this one particular event. This was where a member could come in and collect a speaking fee of, say, $1,000 for a 10 or a 15minute conversation with a group of business executives.
LAMB: Can they do that anymore?
JACKLEY: They cannot accept the cash payment, but they can still accept the travel expenses. But this one was just so outrageous that--that it--it caused chuckles even among congressional aides, and I--I thought it was worth putting in the book.
LAMB: `Spooked by the incident, nevertheless, he would publicly foreswear honorary on July 26th, 1988, but not free trips and expenses.'
JACKLEY: That's right.
LAMB: And you're talking about Congressman Coleman again.
JACKLEY: Yeah. But, again, a lot of members take those kind of trips. The--the book focuses on Coleman, because I worked for him for a long time. But I saw him as a congressional every-man. You know, he went through a cycle of--of--almost like a newborn child coming into the political world of Capitol Hill with a great deal of promise, high hopes all around. Then he rose up to the top, and then the book charts his--his decline and his plateau.
LAMB: `Coleman was generally perplexed. He saw politics as a way of doing business. You vote for your projects and they take care of your lifestyle.'
JACKLEY: That's right. Once you...
LAMB: What do you mean by that?
JACKLEY: Once you get on the Appropriations Committee, I called it the favor factory, when you start voting for specific projects that help specific companies, they take care of your lifestyle, just like this trip to New Orleans.
LAMB: The jacket--promotion jacket on this book reads like this, `What began as a secret journal for his children to clear his conscience has become "Hill Rat," a journey behind Congress' closed doors and into the corrupt back alleys of power.' Did you actually keep a secret journal for your children?
JACKLEY: I did. My own attitudes towards Capitol Hill didn't change overnight. And I'll be the first to state that. There wasn't any blinding flash of light. They changed as Congress changed. And by the time my first child, my daughter Julia, was born in December of 1985, I was beginning to have real doubts--I mean, not to the point where I was willing to leave my job. But I was trying to work out my own doubts about Congressman Coleman, but, even more so, the institution as a whole. And I would sit down every Sunday night and keep it almost in letter form and in a hard-bound journal to my daughter--what we did, what we--you know, what we tried to do. I explored my own doubts. You know, was--what I was doing was right? You know, even though the methods might have been a little suspect, you know, was the greater cause of the Democratic Party worth it?

I explored all this kind of thing on paper. At the same time, I kept very detailed professional journals for what I had to do in the office. And when I left, I had 37 volumes and over 4,000 pages of contemporaneous anecdotes, stories, as well as my own phone logs and what went--you know, what I did, what I saw, you know, what went on. It was a great resource from which to write the book.
LAMB: Did you think anybody would be worried about hiring you in the future--that you might do that to their business?
JACKLEY: That was my last political job. I'm a full-time writer now. I'm not going to be doing anything else.
LAMB: Where were you raised?
JACKLEY: My father was an Army officer, Airborne Special Forces, and we moved all over the country. We spent time in Europe. We spent a great deal of time in Panama and up and down the East Coast. I was born in Georgia, but we moved a few months after that.
LAMB: Where'd you go to school?
JACKLEY: I went to Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, which, in a way, probably changed my life almost as much as working in Congress did. You know, when I was 18 years old, I had to take General Lee's oath, which as something every freshman at Washington and Lee has to take and swear to: that you will neither lie, cheat, nor steal, nor tolerate anyone who does. And that moral keel, if you can call it that, sustained me in many of those long, dark hours on Capitol Hill. And it was one of the things that I rested upon in writing the book.
LAMB: This is what the book looks like. It's called, "Hill Rat." The author is John Jackley. He lives in West Linn, Oregon, right outside of Portland. And we thank you for joining us.
JACKLEY: Many thanks. I appreciate it.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.