BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, author of “The Lobbyists: How Influence Peddlers Get Their Way in Washington”, what does the Blackwater Hunt Club have to do with lobbying?
JEFFREY BIRNBAUM, AUTHOR, "THE LOBBYISTS: HOW INFLUENCE PEDDLERS GET THEIR WAY IN WASHINGTON": The Blackwater Hunt Club is a duck-hunting club on the eastern shore of Maryland that is owned by a large number of lobbyists and, until not too long ago, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Beryl Anthony. When Beryl Anthony decided that he didn't want to be a member of the Blackwater Hunt Club anymore, the lobbyists who were his partners in this venture made sure that when he sold his stake he was made whole. They got another lobbyist to buy his share, and they financed it in large part with money from one of the lobbyist's pension funds. That's the way Washington works sometimes.
LAMB: Beryl Anthony is no longer . . .?
BIRNBAUM: Beryl Anthony was defeated for re-election last year.
LAMB: What do they do with the hunt club?
BIRNBAUM: They shoot birds, I think, and have a jolly old time standing in some pretty deep water.
LAMB: Who goes there?
BIRNBAUM: Lobbyists -- J. D. Williams is one of the lobbyists. Tommy Boggs is also a member of that club. They go there and bring their friends who are sometimes members of Congress, influential people.
LAMB: Who is J. D. Williams?
BIRNBAUM: J. D. Williams is one of the top corporate lobbyists in Washington, as is Tommy Boggs. Boggs is a name that probably your viewers know.
LAMB: Because . . . ?
BIRNBAUM: Because he is also another big lobbyist in Washington.
LAMB: But why would our viewers know him?
BIRNBAUM: Well, his name has been out a lot recently. A lot more is being said about lobbying finally, and when people need to focus on an important issue, often they focus on a personality, as I tried to a little bit in this book.
LAMB: You followed nine lobbyists.
LAMB: Why did you pick those nine?
BIRNBAUM: I picked them because they were in the first rank of Washington lobbyists in the sense that they were real lobbyists, work-a-day lobbyists and were doing serious work. These are not people who say they're lobbyists but are not really. They also were willing to allow me access that hasn't ever before really been given to a journalist. These are people who were honest and open with me, and it produced a book.
LAMB: What were the ground rules?
BIRNBAUM: There were no ground rules. When they were willing, I went with them on their lobbying visits on the Hill, for example, and I would regularly, at least once a month, meet with each of them to talk about what they had done.
LAMB: One of them is named Mark Bloomfield.
BIRNBAUM: That's right.
LAMB: Who is he?
BIRNBAUM: Mark Bloomfield is the president of the American Council for Capital Formation, and during the period covered in this book, 1989 and 1990, he headed the coalition that fought to cut the tax rate on capital gains, which is the sale of securities and property.
LAMB: What kind of a guy is he?
BIRNBAUM: Bloomfield is a very interesting character. He is part dandy and part strategist and part economist, expert in taxation. He has a lot of quirks. He talks a lot. People don't quite figure out Mark Bloomfield easily, but what he is, really -- and what is important for this book -- is a prototype of the modern-day lobbyist. He knows a lot of people, so he is, in effect, part glad-hander that way. He goes and meets with members of Congress and is known to a lot of them, but he is much more than that, as is the entire lobbying community these days. He is an expert. There isn't anybody in Washington who knows more about capital gains taxation than Mark Bloomfield, and members rely on him for that reason.
LAMB: How did he get to his position?
BIRNBAUM: Bloomfield basically studied his craft at the master's knee for 10 years or more. He is a disciple, if you will, of Charls Walker, a name maybe that some of your viewers know; also one of the best-known corporate lobbyists in Washington.
LAMB: He's one of your nine.
BIRNBAUM: I sort of group them together. These nine include several pairings to describe the many facets of the lobbying world. Charly Walker is a member, and more than Mark is, of the old school of lobbying. Charly is a former deputy treasury secretary, knows an awful lot of Republicans in town of long standing and has enormous access to some of the more important people because he's been in Washington so long, basically. So he was able to see people that Bloomfield, for example, could not get to see as easily. And so we see the evolution in lobbying when you look at just these two characters.
LAMB: Did Mark Bloomfield ever work on the Hill?
BIRNBAUM: Bloomfield briefly worked on the Hill as a junior staff member for a member of the House Ways and Means Committee when he was very, very young, but he spent most of his adulthood, if you will, downtown Washington near K Street, the lobbyists' boulevard, as a lobbyist.
LAMB: Another name on this list is Thomas Donohue.
BIRNBAUM: Yes. Donohue should not be confused with a Tom Donahue, who is a labor leader and a major labor lobbyist. This is Thomas Donohue only with O's -- there is no A in his name -- who is the chief executive officer of the American Trucking Association. It's a very large trade association, interestingly enough, located just inside the famous Washington beltway. He is, in effect, the chief lobbyist for the trucking industry in the United States, and during this period spent an awful lot of time trying, with some success, to beat back the proposed increase in the motor fuels tax known to us as the gas tax.
LAMB: What kind of a person is he?
BIRNBAUM: The way to look at him, maybe, is with the person he's paired with in this book, Kenneth Simonson, who is his chief economist, someone you would not imagine as a lobbyist, who is younger than Donohue. Donohue is a white-haired gentleman and Simonson, as I describe, and my apologies to him, looks sort of like Groucho Marx with sort of a scratchy, monotone voice. In any case, what Simonson is is an expert in taxation and budget matters. One of his avocations is finding typos in tax bills, for example. Donohue, on the other hand, is the outside man. He is the one who gives speeches and meets with members of Congress, trying to present the best face he can to the public and, more particular, to the people who make decisions here in Washington in a way that would best favor the trucking industry he represents. The way I refer to them is the combination of flash, Donohue, and substance, Simonson. Simonson writes a lot of Donohue's speeches.
LAMB: How much money does Thomas Donohue make?
BIRNBAUM: Well, at the time his base salary was over $300,000 a year, and at the time Simonson's salary was $110,000 a year.
LAMB: How about Mark Bloomfield?
BIRNBAUM: He made at the time in excess of $200,000.
LAMB: And Charly Walker?
BIRNBAUM: He once described for the Wall Street Journal some years ago himself as a diminutive millionaire.
LAMB: And the time you're talking about when you followed them was when?
BIRNBAUM: 1989 and 1990.
LAMB: Stuart Eizenstat is another man you followed. Who is he?
BIRNBAUM: Stuart Eizenstat is a familiar face to people who care about public affairs. He was the chief domestic adviser to President Jimmy Carter in the Carter administration, and since then he has turned up as the resident expert for many things here in Washington when people needed quotations -- expert quotations, really. Eizenstat is a very well-schooled fellow on a lot of Washington subjects. They often turn to Eizenstat and almost always identify him as the former Carter administration official. But what he also is, and he is depicted in this book in great detail, is a lobbyist for the corporate cause. He, in fact, was a lobbyist for a group of mostly electronics companies but also, in a broader sense, some drug companies as well -- companies that were interested in extending, perhaps permanently, the lucrative tax credit for research and development expenditures.
LAMB: How much money does he make?
BIRNBAUM: His going rate per hour was over $200 -- in the range of $300 an hour -- at this juncture.
LAMB: Where did he come from and what kind of background experience? Did he ever work on the Hill?
BIRNBAUM: I don't believe he ever worked on the Hill, but he had worked in a Democratic administration as a speechwriter prior to the Carter years.
LAMB: Describe him personally.
BIRNBAUM: Maybe I should describe what he isn't, in a certain way, to try to give a sense that lobbying isn't what most people think it is all the time. You would imagine a lobbyist to be an extremely smooth, very charming fellow, ingratiating all the time. Eizenstat has a dry wit and can be charming, but his most outstanding features to the people who know him over a number of years are his determination and his doggedness. He can, in fact, sometimes be quite abrasive in his interactions, and there are some descriptions like that.
LAMB: Tell the story about the telephone call with Dick Darman.
BIRNBAUM: As told in the book, Eizenstat was very worried about one particular feature of the research and development tax credit being dropped as a proposal by the Bush administration. He was an acquaintance of long standing of Richard Darman, who was then the director of the Office of Management and Budget. Darman was a big advocate of the research and development tax credit, and Eizenstat was extremely worried about this particular, especially lucrative, part of the R&D tax credit and called Darman to find out what was going on.
Why would Darman drop such a thing? Why would he not propose it? It would really endanger this portion. But he called, and there was no answer and no response. He called again, and he called again and again and again -- this is very much in Eizenstat's way of doing things; he is a very determined fellow. Finally Darman took pity on Eizenstat, this person he's known for a long time and, I'm sure, respected and did return the call. Eizenstat asked, "Well, what's happening with 861?" -- we speak in shorthand here in Washington; this part of the R&D tax credit -- and Darman said, "Well, we may put it in and we may not put it in, but if we do, it won't have anything to do with your lobbying. It will have to do with the merits of the issue." As it turned out, Eizenstat won the day. This section was retained as a proposal by the Bush administration, but Darman sort of let him know in a subtle way that all of the lobbying wouldn't help or hurt in this particular instance.
LAMB: Now, when you get a story like this, does Stuart Eizenstat tell this to you or do you have to learn it from somebody else?
BIRNBAUM: I have to learn it from a number of people to make sure of its veracity.
LAMB: Did you ask Stuart Eizenstat about it?
BIRNBAUM: Yes. His part of it, I certainly did.
LAMB: When you say that these people all met with you every month or so and talked to you about . . .
BIRNBAUM: He didn't meet with me as much as the others. I tried to keep in touch as best I could.
LAMB: But did you feel the need to tell every one of these people how you were going to describe them?
BIRNBAUM: Oh, no, I didn't. I gave them the benefit of getting the first books printed. As soon as I got a book, I immediately left my office and delivered one to each of them. But they didn't know how I would characterize them or what stories I would use and which ones I wouldn't.
LAMB: What's the best thing any of these people have said to you to your face about this book?
BIRNBAUM: The best thing that more than one of them has said is that I have written it the way it happened and the way they told it to me -- more important, the way it happened -- that I didn't manufacture even a nuance, that I tried very hard to lay out the story as it unfolded. And that, to a reporter, is a great compliment.
LAMB: What's the worst thing anybody has said to you?
BIRNBAUM: The worst thing . . .
LAMB: Is anybody mad?
BIRNBAUM: I haven't heard a lot from some of these people, so I assume they may not be as pleased, but I haven't spoken to everyone. The book has just come out, so I don't know.
LAMB: There are others on the list of nine. Robert Juliano, who is he?
BIRNBAUM: He is the lobbyist for the business-meal-and-entertainment deduction, among many other things. He is a walking coalition, if you will. He represents both business and labor interests, which is very unusual, but is not unusual in the way Washington works these days, though not in one person. Business interests often try to get labor interests to come with them. It gives them a stronger case to make. It has become a standard ploy, if you will, of corporate lobbyists in particular to try to find white-hat lobbyists -- good people with broader public interest appear to front for their causes.
LAMB: What is he like?
BIRNBAUM: Juliano fits the description of the extremely charming lobbyist that most people would think exists. He is an extremely intuitive character who really does understand the way people think and what people want and need. He is a lobbyist who a lot of lawmakers consider their friend.
LAMB: Did he ever work on the Hill?
BIRNBAUM: He never did.
LAMB: Where did he come from?
BIRNBAUM: He came from the hotel business, basically. He was moving up quickly in the world of hotel management but some years ago became an admirer of a young labor negotiator who was caught in a citywide strike in their hometown of Chicago, saw him negotiate his way out of this horrendous strike, and struck up a friendship with him which turned out to be quite fortunate for Juliano. This young labor negotiator is named Edward Hanley, who is now the president of the International Union of Hotel Workers and Bartenders, restaurant workers union, and Juliano is his chief lobbyist.
LAMB: How much money does he make?
BIRNBAUM: At the time he made an excess of a quarter million dollars a year.
LAMB: Wayne Thevenot.
BIRNBAUM: Wayne Thevenot is an example of a growing type of lobbyist in Washington -- a gun for hire, if you will. He is a member of a lobbying firm called Concord Associates in the Willard Office Building complex in downtown Washington.
LAMB: Near the Willard Hotel.
BIRNBAUM: Right next to the Willard Hotel, that's right.
LAMB: Is that an expensive area?
BIRNBAUM: Yes, sure. It's high-priced. It's in the trench-coat district of Washington, if you will. Thevenot represented a variety of real estate interests. I don't know who he would select and who he wouldn't, but he would work for people who would be willing to hire him and pay his fee. At this time frame he worked for real estate interests and for life insurance companies.
LAMB: Where does he come from?
BIRNBAUM: He is from Louisiana and is part in Washington of what is essentially the Louisiana mafia -- the Louisiana clique of lobbyists and lawmakers here in Washington.
LAMB: Did he ever work for anybody on Capitol Hill?
BIRNBAUM: He was a top aide to former Senator Russell Long, who was once one of the most powerful people in Washington as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who is himself today a lobbyist.
LAMB: James Rock.
BIRNBAUM: James Rock is a junior associate of Thevenot or was a junior associate at this time. Rock was still in his mid-30s during this period and was a former tax aide to Congressman Ed Jenkins, who has retired, and former Congressman Kent Hance.
LAMB: How much money does he make?
BIRNBAUM: I don't really know. During this juncture he took a job -- one of his starting lobbying jobs -- in the range of $100,000 a year.
LAMB: I'm not sure, but did I get to Kenneth Kay?
BIRNBAUM: You didn't mention Kay.
LAMB: I think he's the last one on the list.
BIRNBAUM: Right. Ken Kay was the executive director of the coalition of groups -- corporations and universities, among others -- that lobbied for the extension of the research and development tax credit. He worked closely with Stuart Eizenstat.
LAMB: And did he work on Capitol Hill?
BIRNBAUM: He was a former aide to, among others, Ed Koch, who went on to become the mayor of New York.
LAMB: When he was a congressman?
BIRNBAUM: When he was a congressman. He worked for Koch and Senator Max Baucus of Montana.
LAMB: And do you have any idea how much he makes?
BIRNBAUM: I'm not as sure. I know that his firm made over $100,000 from Coretech, this organization for research and development tax credits.
LAMB: How many people did you approach to follow?
BIRNBAUM: Maybe twice this number, but I didn't just willy-nilly go out and try to find people to follow around. I realized that I was making very serious demands on these people. In the instance, for example, of the research and development tax credit, to describe why I didn't meet as often with, let's say, Eizenstat along the way, that began, really as a Wall Street Journal story. I'm a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and I wanted to follow one lobbying group to look inside for the Journal, and I asked this group if they would be willing to help to describe what a modern-day lobbying campaign is. Once they agreed, then they became part of the larger project.
LAMB: Have you seen the movie “The Distinguished Gentleman” with Eddie Murphy?
BIRNBAUM: Yes, I did.
LAMB: Was there any comparison with what that movie was all about and what your book is all about?
BIRNBAUM: Well, that's a very carefully done movie. People might not suspect it, but the facts involved about how freshmen get their office assignments and how people get onto committees, it's all very accurate. The influence of lobbyists plays, of course, a huge role here. There is an amount of bribery that is central to the plot involved in this. It's a very funny movie. It is a farce, however, and is exaggerated, but if you were to tone it down a few notches, you would have my book, I think.
LAMB: At the very end of the movie there is a trailer that gives names of people who have participated, and the last two names that comes up are J. D. Williams and Tommy Boggs. I wanted to ask you why lobbyists in this town want to either cooperate with you and let you see the process or cooperate with that movie.
BIRNBAUM: That's a very good question. Each of the generous people who helped with this project know in their hearts that they are not doing anything wrong. They certainly are not doing anything illegal. They are people who believe in telling things and being honest and open, and they think that lobbyists are widely misunderstood. For some of them, I think that being part of a book project will also give them some small bit of immortality in a world in which none of us have it, basically or completely. I think that's what a lot of book writing is in general. So these are people who believe that what they do should be seen more in the light of day and are not ashamed of what they do.
LAMB: Page 161: "Though money rarely bought votes outright, it did buy a lobbyist the chance to make his views known, a chance not everyone had."
BIRNBAUM: I don't think there's any question that campaign contributions are a fundamental first step in lobbying, that if you have money to give then you are a player in Washington. If you're not, then you are not.
LAMB: "'Access to Congress can't be bought, but it can be acquired with the help of campaign contributions,' said Democratic Senator Brock Adams of Washington state in a marvelous example of double-speak." Why did you call it double-speak?
BIRNBAUM: Because his quote doesn't make any sense, basically -- it can't be bought, but it can be acquired. I think what he's saying is that it can be bought, and I think as this book illustrates, it sometimes is.
LAMB: You have an interview with ex-Senator Russell Long. Who was he?
BIRNBAUM: Russell Long was for a long time the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee which has huge jurisdiction including over taxes, trade and health care legislation.
LAMB: What is he doing now?
BIRNBAUM: He is a lobbyist.
LAMB: For whom?
BIRNBAUM: For a variety of interests, including some insurance companies. He's also on the board of directors, I think, of one insurance company.
LAMB: To quote, and this is Russell Long, "Members aren't going to have much time to visit with people who can't be bothered to attend a fund-raiser, who don't find it convenient to make an appropriate campaign contribution or urge of principle to make a contribution."
BIRNBAUM: I think he's stating honestly the fact in Washington, that to be a player you need to have campaign cash.
LAMB: What do you think of that?
BIRNBAUM: I think that this may be the year when that equation changes a little bit. This year because of President Clinton's interest we may see legislation that would make it so that there's a lot less cash and a little more sunshine in terms of what lobbyists actually do.
LAMB: "One lobbyist complained," you write, "there are some congressmen you have to buy your way in. If you pay them, they'll see you; if you don't, you don't get in." How much of that goes on?
BIRNBAUM: I'm not sure exactly how much. I know that it does go on. I'm quite certain that many offices are more amenable to lobbyists who are "friends" than they are to those who are not friends in the sense of being campaign supporters.
LAMB: You say that there is a group called players. Who are the players?
BIRNBAUM: The players are the people who give campaign contributions, are willing to do some sort of staff-like work for members of Congress, basically -- that they can be called upon to, for example, get some of their colleagues to give campaign contributions or can be called upon to get their clients to become supporters of proposals that are important to those legislators; that they would go out and serve as foot soldiers for those members of Congress and get other members of Congress to become supporters or co-sponsors of that legislation that they advocate.
LAMB: You quote somebody by the name of Joe Miller as saying, "The shades of gray are many between bribery and a contribution, and it is difficult to determine whether money was given to support a campaign or because a contributor expected something in return. Either party may state what that something is, but both parties understand what is expected."
BIRNBAUM: I'm not sure what I can add to that. The other example like this, I think, in the book is something that first appeared in the Washington Post. A member of Congress, Peter Hoagland, I believe, told a group of incoming freshmen back in this period that there was a business relationship formed between political action committees and the people they give money to.
LAMB: On page 268 you talk about a phone call that was made to a gentleman by the name of Allen Neece. Who is Allen Neece, and what was that all about?
BIRNBAUM: Allen Neece was a lobbyist who was part of the capital-gains coalition and also represented a large number of small businesses and small business trade associations. He was surprised by a phone call in 1990 from Majority Leader Richard Gephardt who needed information about small businesses. Also on the line, interestingly enough, in this evening phone call to a lobbyist, was Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady. They both wanted to find out some basic data about the growth of small businesses and how important small businesses were. Instead of going to some branch of the government, they went outside to a lobbyist to get information quickly that they could rely on. What they did was not unusual.
LAMB: What do you think of that practice?
BIRNBAUM: I think it should open people's eyes to understand that the line between those inside and outside of government is not clearly drawn, that lobbyists are, in effect, a fifth estate of government and they are as much a part of the process as are members of Congress, in many ways, or top government officials in the executive branch.
LAMB: You talked about guns-for-hire, you talked about the nine lobbyists you followed, you talked the hunt club over there on the Eastern Shore. What about the 116 Club?
BIRNBAUM: The 116 Club isn't far from here. It's just a block away, outside of the Hart Senate Office Building. Even in a pouring rain you wouldn't get very wet in running there. It's sort of a home away from home for lobbyists. It started out as the Lambuorum Club a long time ago. It is a special little gathering place. It doesn't look very special, but it's a place where lobbyists can take members of Congress and congressional staffers to lunch. It's a place often where fund-raisers are held because of its convenience.
LAMB: You say in that book that government people pay less money to belong to that club than lobbyists do.
BIRNBAUM: Yes. It's much easier to belong to that club if you are somebody who can be influenced than if you are an outsider trying to influence the people inside of government.
LAMB: Could you join that club?
BIRNBAUM: I don't know. As a reporter, I'm not sure. I've never tried it. I'm not a lobbyist, so maybe I can't. I don't know the answer, honestly.
LAMB: How do these fund-raisers work? You talk about some of the members that you followed, walking in the room with two checks in their hand, one from both sides of the fence -- guns-for-hire, representing all different kinds of people.
LAMB: Is it legal?
BIRNBAUM: I think it is legal, yes. Bundling of checks, that is collecting lots of checks from individuals and handing them over at once, is a highly questionable practice. But if a lobbyist has more than one client, as was the case with Wayne Thevenot in one fund-raiser that we report about in here, if he brings two checks I think that makes him a bigger player. It doesn't make him a criminal by any means.
LAMB: You talk about the American Trucking Association having a townhouse?
BIRNBAUM: Yes, well, they have an office building that is a townhouse just a few steps away from the Longworth House Office Building down the street.
LAMB: And members can go there and have fund-raisers?
BIRNBAUM: They often do. They even have a full-time caterer-manager on staff just for the purpose.
LAMB: Who pays for that?
BIRNBAUM: The members' political action committee pays for those.
LAMB: Do they give them a deal?
BIRNBAUM: That's a very good question. I don't know the answer.
LAMB: What's the Pisces Club, and why did you write about it?
BIRNBAUM: The Pisces Club is a private club in Georgetown, but it was a place where a group of lobbyists regularly met and hosted a dinner for an important person. People like Bob Dole have gone there. Sen. Pat Moynihan, in the instance we mentioned here, who will in all likelihood become the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee this year, was the guest of, if you will, a tong of very influential lobbyists, including Robert Barrie of General Electric and Wayne Thevenot. Actually, Ron Brown was a member of this same tong, and he is now the designate for secretary of commerce.
LAMB: Is this the magnetic levitation issue?
BIRNBAUM: Yes, a Maglev. It's a super-fast train that Wayne Thevenot represents and tries to advocate for on behalf of American construction companies.
LAMB: How does this work?
BIRNBAUM: The scene that we're describing here is that Moynihan is a huge advocate of Maglev trains because he believes it's an answer to a lot of the congestion in the current interstate highway system which he had a lot to do with putting together and maintaining in his other roles on the Hill. He's a big thinker -- a visionary, really -- when it comes to transportation, and he sees the wave of the future as Maglev. Now, what Thevenot saw Maglev was, it was in part this, but also a way for him to lobby and make money lobbying on behalf of American companies. What had happened with Maglev was that the technology was taken over by the Japanese and Germans, and there were people in the United States who said, "Why not us?" Thevenot said, "Sure, why not you?" and he has put together a coalition of those companies. The place where he first spoke about this with Moynihan was at a dinner at the Pisces Club, this special lobbyists-only dinner.
LAMB: What's fake mail?
BIRNBAUM: Fake mail, Astroturf. I think you know the term grassroots lobbying, which means Washington-based lobbyists reaching back into the districts to get people to write in on behalf of the causes that they advocate. That's grass roots lobbying. Fake mail or Astroturf -- it being taken off from grassroots -- is this manufactured sort of mail; that is, a lobbyist or a telemarketing company gets in touch with these folks back home, tells them what to write, even sends them packets describing what they should write and even cards that they can simply sign and send in to their lawmakers to say, "Please don't raise this tax" or "Don't impose this regulation." This happens all the time. There's an entire telemarketing industry in Washington just for this purpose.
LAMB: Does it work?
BIRNBAUM: It sometimes does work. I know lawmakers say, "Gosh, we know that all of this is made-up mail," but they also count it. They count it very carefully. There are telemarketers downtown who know perfectly well that there are different gradations of what they count. I mean, they value handwritten notes, for example, so some of these telemarketers actually charge their clients more if they persuade the people back home to write a handwritten note or charge more if a minister writes in because those will not be seen as fake mail as easily and would be valued more as a lobbying tool.
LAMB: What's computerized phone calling?
BIRNBAUM: What it means is that there is a fancy computer in a couple of these telemarketing centers where the Washington-based operative calls a constituent, calls a voter back in the district and says, "Do you agree that the cigarette tax should not go up?" And the person on the other end of the line, often who is taken off a list of known smokers, for example, says, "Absolutely it should not go up." "Well, would you mind if I patch you through to Senator So-and-So's office," that being that person's actual senator. He says, "No, not at all. Please do that," and with a flick of the switch and a computer, that call is routed directly into the office of that senator.
LAMB: How much of this goes on?
BIRNBAUM: It's a very expensive technique. It goes on only at the end of important bills, but it goes on regularly.
LAMB: Sam Gibbons.
BIRNBAUM: Yes. Sam Gibbons is the second-ranking Democrat on the important House Ways and Means Committee. It is the sister committee for the Senate Finance Committee. Its jurisdiction also includes tax legislation, trade and health care legislation. Gibbons is the chairman of the trade subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, and in this book I retell a story that I originally told in the Wall Street Journal about what appeared to be lobbying by his own son, Clifford Gibbons, of Sam Gibbons on behalf of life insurance companies.
LAMB: His wife is also written about in your book.
BIRNBAUM: Yes. She's an important adviser on campaign matters, in particular. It's a family affair is the way Gibbons told me his office is run.
LAMB: You tell a story about Congressman Gibbons and his son Cliff being together and the president's . . .
BIRNBAUM: Yes. This actually took the breath away of some of Gibbons' own colleagues who were witness to this, and I was actually there having lunch myself. I was quite surprised to see it myself, and it was the genesis of this story. In the members dining room of the House of Representatives, Gibbons showed up with his son and a fellow in a dark suit, whom I did not know but who turned out to be the chief executive of an insurance company that employed the son as a lobbyist. They started to have lunch just in the middle of the members dining room, but by coincidence that very same day, another diner there was President Bush, who is a former member of the House and occasionally came by to have lunch with, among others, Sonny Montgomery who is still a member of the House. And Gibbons, being a gentleman, and he is a gentleman, stood up and said hello to the president and introduced him around.
LAMB: How many former members of the Senate and the House are still in Washington and now in the lobbying business?
BIRNBAUM: It's a difficult estimate to make, but the National Journal magazine said that it was more than 100. It may be much more than 100 now because there are so many more former members of the House.
LAMB: We see often that they have access to both the floor of the House and the Senate once they have been a member. How many of them use that privilege?
BIRNBAUM: Most try to avoid going onto the floor, because it's bad taste.
LAMB: But they can do it?
BIRNBAUM: They can do it, and some do do it. I've seen them do it. But they more often use the special privilege of going into the House gym, which is holy of holys, if you will, where there is a lot of lobbying that is done. There is even one lobbyist I'm aware of who is a former member of the House who can be reached in the House gym at almost any time of the morning or afternoon when he isn't at lunch at the Democratic Club, which is his other hangout.
LAMB: During the summit that was held at Andrews Air Force Base where the members of Congress and the White House went out to debate the cutting of the budget, you tell a story about a lobbyist who used his military friends, because he used to be in the military, to get in there. Can you tell that whole story and how that worked?
BIRNBAUM: Sure. It's a fun story. The moral of the story is that lobbyists are everywhere, all the time, and that's what lobbying is really about. The lobbyist's name is Fred Graefe, and he still is a lobbyist here at Baker & Hostetler, a law firm downtown. He is a health industry lobbyist. Back during the important budget summit negotiations in 1990, Graefe, who is a former Marine and still had friends in the military, imposed on one of his friends to allow him to have access to Andrews Air Force Base, where these budget summit negotiations were going on -- these supposedly top secret budget summit negotiations.
Nobody from the outside was invited or was supposed to be there, but Graefe had this special pull, and on one day -- this was a multi-week negotiation at a converted officers' club on the Andrews Air Force Base, which is not far from here -- he went golfing with his friend on the Andrews Air Force Base which has a golf course on it. He kept coming back to Andrews Air Force Base with his golf clubs and wearing his golfing outfit but did not go golfing. Instead, he went to the parking lot of the converted officers' club and waited for some of his friends who were staffers in the budget negotiations to come out and talk to them about what was happening inside. He was, as far as I know, the only lobbyist to get so close to these supposedly top secret negotiations.
LAMB: How did you find this out?
BIRNBAUM: I had heard that there was one lobbyist who was able to break the veil of secrecy, and I kept asking. This was a very late anecdote that I was finally -- I just needed to know who it was. I knew that there was a good story there somewhere, and there turned out to be.
LAMB: What's the Congressional Research Service?
BIRNBAUM: It's an arm of the Library of Congress that does research for members of Congress on a variety of subjects.
LAMB: You talk about a point in here where a lobbyist asked a member of Congress to get a study done by the taxpayers'-supported Congressional Research Service for the benefit of a lobbyist client.
BIRNBAUM: Yes, well, to study a proposal that the lobbyist was making. That's right. That's not unusual, I don't think. It goes the other way, too; that is, where the lobbyists actually pay for such studies for the benefit of their client. But this one has a little more zing to it.
LAMB: The Greenbrier.
LAMB: Where is it?
BIRNBAUM: It's about four hours or so out of Washington by car; maybe five. It is a resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. It's famous for those sulphur springs, and it's a place where a lot of corporate executives go to relax. In 1989, however, it was the place where the House Democratic caucus went to relax. They took a special train there for what was then an annual issues retreat.
LAMB: How many House members?
BIRNBAUM: There were over 200 or so -- 245, if I'm remembering correctly.
LAMB: All Democrats.
BIRNBAUM: Yes, well, it wasn't just members of Congress. Their families went, a few reporters such as myself tagged along, and the lobbyists who paid for most of the event were also, of course, in attendance.
LAMB: How much did it cost?
BIRNBAUM: It was at least $250,000. The more I think about that published figure, though, that seems a little low. But there was a group of lobbyists who were in the business, basically, of making sure that this issues conference was funded and was a lot of fun for the members of Congress. For their efforts the lobbyists were treated to a weekend of personal contact with some of the most important people in Washington, these Democrats who controlled the House of Representatives.
LAMB: Who paid for the members' trip and their families'?
BIRNBAUM: I suppose some of them might have paid out of their own pockets, but there was a ruling by a lawyer in Washington that they could also pay for it out of their campaign coffers, so their campaign contributors paid for this weekend of skeet shooting, of bowling and swimming, of ice skating and a dance, a sock hop, one night.
LAMB: Are the participants public? Do you have any trouble finding out who paid what, and does that all have to be published?
BIRNBAUM: No. It was. The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal did publication, did find out by asking who some of these contributors were, but it didn't have to be disclosed. In fact, almost nothing about lobbying needs to be disclosed. The lobbying disclosure laws are in tatters.
BIRNBAUM: There are four lobbying disclosure laws now on the books, but with the exception of one, which is the Foreign Registration Act, they are almost completely toothless. Anyway, there is no enforcement mechanism. This year, under Clinton's instigation, there may be an attempt finally to put some teeth into those laws and to force lobbyists to disclose who they lobby, who they are lobbying for, and how much are their fees.
LAMB: You have a quote from Wayne Thevenot in the chapter on the Greenbrier. You say he says, "I gave up the idea of changing the world. I set out to get rich."
BIRNBAUM: Yes. I mean, his example is played out hundreds of times or has been played out hundreds of times over the years -- people who came to Washington to work on the Hill and to try to do good, and they ended up in many ways doing well or by necessity, or so they thought. They came and they found that they couldn't make a go of it on a government salary when their kids were going off to college. That's often the cut-off point and was for Thevenot, and so he had to find work that would pay him more. He found that there was plenty of it downtown, off the Hill, as they say, in the lobbying world.
LAMB: La Quinta in Palm Springs, Scottsdale, Maui, Palm Beach. Pat Schroeder, you say, leads the way with 98 trips, 101st Congress. I'm looking at pages 238 and 239 -- 2,696 groups paid almost $9.5 million to members of Congress that year. That was honoraria from 1989. How much of this travel with families for speechmaking is still going on?
BIRNBAUM: We don't really know yet. There has been a change in the law so that members of Congress cannot get special-interest paid vacations and honoraria. They cannot accept honoraria anymore, for the most part. But I suspect that those sunny spots that you mention there still will be frequented by members of Congress on the tab of narrow interest groups.
LAMB: How does that work? In other words, what does it take to get a member to travel to one of these places?
BIRNBAUM: I wouldn't be surprised if there will be fund-raisers held at those places. There will be trade association gatherings where lawmakers can meet with groups whose industries they affect directly and they want to speak to them. There may be legitimate reasons for them to speak to groups. Member of Congress, of course, speak for a living for the most part, in addition to voting.
LAMB: Did you change your mind on anything from the time you started this project until the time you completed it?
BIRNBAUM: Yes. Even when I entered the project, having been in Washington for a long while and having written one book about legislation, I didn't realize how extensive, intricate and well considered lobbying programs and campaigns are. I didn't realize how much went into even the smallest change in tax law, that Washington was an entire industry bent on influence.
LAMB: You dedicated this book, "To the people with real influence, my beloved parents and family." Tell us about that. Where are your parents?
BIRNBAUM: Thank you. My parents are in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where I was born. My family is with me here just outside of Washington in the Maryland suburbs.
LAMB: What do your parents do?
BIRNBAUM: My father is retired and was a lifelong civil servant. My mother is the head of a nursery school and has been for a long time in the Jewish community center and also for many years was the head of the day camp of the J.C.C. -- a teacher in town.
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
BIRNBAUM: I went to the public schools in Scranton and went on to the University of Pennsylvania.
LAMB: What did you study?
BIRNBAUM: I was an honors English major, so I'm lucky I have a job.
LAMB: And where did you go after school?
BIRNBAUM: I went first to the Miami Herald for a brief while. I was an intern for the Wall Street Journal in Philadelphia, then I went to the Miami Herald for 15 months in two places. The Wall Street Journal then took me back into the New York bureau, and I've been with them ever since. Along the way I did some graduate work at New York University while I was in New York for the Wall Street Journal.
LAMB: How many years have you been with the Wall Street Journal?
BIRNBAUM: Fourteen years now.
LAMB: You co-authored with Alan Murray the Gucci Gulch book?
BIRNBAUM: “Showdown at Gucci Gulch,” that's right.
LAMB: How did it do?
BIRNBAUM: It's still doing, I'm happy to say. It has become a staple in many college political science courses that teach how a bill becomes a law.
LAMB: Your family, how big is it?
BIRNBAUM: I have two children. I have a son Michael, who is 7, and a daughter Julia, who is 4.
LAMB: And your wife?
BIRNBAUM: My wife is an editor. Her name is Deborah and she is an editor for the National Journal magazine.
LAMB: We started out by talking about the people -- Mark Bloomfield, Thomas Donohue, Stuart Eizenstat, Robert Juliano, Kenneth Kay, James Rock, Kenneth Simonson, Wayne Thevenot and Charls Walker. Of those nine that you followed around, which one was the most interesting?
BIRNBAUM: First I should say they were all wonderful and generous people to this project. There would not be the book in your hand without them. The most interesting is like choosing among family members. I would really rather not.
LAMB: The most unusual.
BIRNBAUM: Well, Juliano is the most unusual because he works for both business and labor interests, and he is also among the most colorful. He's a very flamboyant dresser, and he is probably the most enigmatic of them. It was hard for me to figure out exactly how he lobbied. It took me quite a while to understand that. The way he lobbied is basically information gathering. He really knows how Congress works, and he knew personally the people. A lot of what he did was unspoken rather than spoken.
LAMB: There is a lot we haven't talked about, a lot of scenarios that you carried through the entire book. Of all the chapters in this book, which one do you think gives people the most insight, or do you have to read the whole book?
BIRNBAUM: You should read the whole book, but maybe we should explain that the book is a narrative. It is not one chapter on each of these guys. Each of these people, I tell their story over a two-year period, chronologically. It's written as a novel basically, and each of these people is a character in it. We get to know each of them, and we follow their lobbying campaigns over this two-year period.
LAMB: We've been showing some of the pictures during the interview from this article, which I assume is a take-out from the book itself.
BIRNBAUM: Yes, this was an excerpt from . . .
LAMB: The Washingtonian Magazine. How is all the publicity on the book doing? How much interest is there in this?
BIRNBAUM: Oh, there's a lot of interest in lobbying and lobbyists. I'm on vacation now this week, but I am spending a large part of this particular week doing some interviews like this one and others on radio. Because Ross Perot and then Bill Clinton made such a big issue of lobbyists this time around, people are curious, I think, what lobbyists really do, and here's a book that explains it.
LAMB: Seeing the process up close, as a citizen and not as a journalist, what do you think?
BIRNBAUM: That's hard. Can I answer the question as a journalist?
LAMB: Should the average person be very happy about this thing up close?
BIRNBAUM: No. The average person should not. Just by definition lobbyists are out to get more of the pie for their clients, and therefore they oppose the more general interests, and so the average person needs to look askance at these efforts. I think as a journalist -- this was the answer I was going to give -- people need to know more about lobbying. Lobbying is very important to understand how the government works, and because in large part the current lobbying registration laws are dysfunctional -- they don't work -- people don't have a chance to know what lobbying is going on, who their congresspeople are meeting with or what they're voting for. C-SPAN is a huge effort in the direction that I advocate for lobbying. It's rare that you could put a camera and watch a lobbyist go around, but I think a lobbyist should be forced to disclose more. I think the more people know about what lobbyists do, the better choices they can make in voting for legislators or voting against them or deciding on policy directions. In effect what I'm saying, it's the same theory that is behind C-SPAN; that is, giving access to the average people to find out what's going on. I think it should be applied to lobbying, and it would help the democratic process.
LAMB: Did you find any cynicism among lobbyists?
BIRNBAUM: In what way, cynicism?
LAMB: About this process.
BIRNBAUM: Oh, yes, in particular on the issue of campaign finance reform. If you were to take a poll of lobbyists, you would find a vast majority of them would like to see less money in the system; that is, they would like to see political actions committees reduced. They would love to see money leached out of the system. The group that's behind on that are the American people, basically, because they don't want to pay for political campaigns, and that is the other major alternative to the system we have now.
LAMB: We're out of time. Is there anything special about that picture right there?
BIRNBAUM: No. They just put it on the jacket of my book, but it does say something. That is the long shadow of lobbying, I think. It's a little piece of artwork. It's a lovely jacket, but I don't know who those people are.
LAMB: Jeffrey Birnbaum of the Wall Street Journal. This is what the book looks like. It's called ”The Lobbyists,” and we thank you very much for your time.
BIRNBAUM: Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1993. 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.