Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Flashback: Building a Corporate Government Relations Program.

[Fifty-plus years in politics for my kids and grandchildren].

Although I was hired to be a political assistant to Robert D. Stuart, Jr., the then president of The Quaker Oats Company, my feeling from the standpoint of corporate self-preservation was that I should do something to earn my keep and begin a government relations program, although no one really mentioned this when I was hired. Stuart, obviously, was occupied with running the company when he wasn’t involved in state Republican affairs as the national Republican committeeman for Illinois and could devote minimal time to the project (and didn’t have the time to really provide definitive guidance as to what he wanted for government relations) …my immediate supervisor was a public relations exec who, frankly, didn’t have the first inkling of what a corporate government relations program should be…and his boss was a vice president-employee relations who really didn’t either and always gave me the idea that I should just keep it from becoming controversial. “And forget about getting people to wear buttons.”

The latter statement was mystifying. Moreover, as soon as I had been hired, a definite coolness about my employment wafted a chill breeze to me. The murmurs varied from complaints that I was going to politicize the company “once again”—whatever that meant…and that for some unaccountable reason I was going to “reprint buttons and make us wear them.” No one seemed to explain adequately. Finally my immediate boss did.

In the mid-1950s…fifteen years before I started, during the administration of Dwight Eisenhower…Quaker brought on board a tiny, feisty little grandma type of lady from Cedar Rapids to move to Chicago and handle the company’s community relations. Her name was Kay Metz and she had been a fiercely conservative Iowa state legislator. She melded into Quaker when John Stuart, the company’s CEO and uncle of Robert, had been inducted into the Hoover Commission, a citizens’ group called together by President Harry S. Truman and headed by the Iowa-born Herbert Hoover, the former U. S. president. The project acquainted John Stuart with the phenomenal waste that was—and still is—part of government expenditures. And it was duck soup to Kay Metz who became a kind of unofficial personal assistant to the man fondly known as “Mr. John.” She convinced Mr. John that the company should enlist its personnel to play a role in cutting expenditures by encouraging them to write letters to Congressmen and Senators. So far so good.

Enter the administration of Dwight Eisenhower who recruited the then CEO of Quaker, Donold Lourie, to be under-secretary of state for administration under John Foster Dulles. In his first term, Eisenhower launched a rather expansive spending program for foreign aid which may or may not have necessitated a hike in taxes; it is still unclear. His treasury secretary, George Humphrey, was privately opposed to expanded foreign aid but, in loyalty to his chief, could not come out and oppose the expansion. But he contrived to be asked a question in testimony before a House committee about whether or not expanded expenditures might necessitate a future hike in taxes. He said he didn’t think so but if taxes were raised unduly “you’ll get a recession that will curl your hair!”

The statement caused a mild furor with conservatives. Humphrey and John Foster Dulles were at polite odds as they sat in cabinet sessions over expanded foreign aid. Meanwhile, back at Quaker, with Lourie gone and Stuart coming up fast there was an interim president and c.e.o. but “Mr. John,” with retirement time on his hands had more energy to spend on the Hoover Commission. Which meant more attention for the firebrand Kay Metz. After one meeting of the Hoover Commission, Mr. John came back to be thrilled by a program that had been developed for his approval by Ms. Metz. It was to be a company-wide program to encourage federal thrift and in order to gain attention, centered on the prospect, vague though it may have been, of hiked taxes. Her program was called IGKAHT which stood for “I’m Going to Kick About High Taxes.” With her new clout she rammed her program through the company, signing up people from top to bottom in the company…from executives to those who worked in the mills…to wear IGKAHT buttons and write their Congressmen and Senators to hold down expenditures and fight a tax hike.

Pretty soon it was adjudged through her fervor…while the senior executives were busily running the company…that if you wanted to continue to get ahead at Quaker, you’d damn well better agree to wear an IGKAHT button and write letters of protest to your Congressmen and Senators. And if you were working in a Quaker plant and the manager wore an IGKAHT button, you’d better jolly well wear one as well. People began appearing on the streets of the small towns where Quaker plants were wearing the IGKAHT buttons which prompted news stories. And letters from Quaker employees to Congressmen, Senators and to the White House.The letters flowed in like an avalanche and photos of Quaker employees attending employee meetings and raising hell with the Eisenhower administration began to get covered by newspapers where Quaker had plants: Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Rockford, Illinois, Shiremanstown, Pennsylvania and so on.

The letters really produced a tide fooding into the White House. One day when Secretary of State Dulles was conferring with his chief, Eisenhower said, “Foster—don’t you have a man from Quaker Oats on your staff as under-secretary?” Dulles said yes. “Well,” said Eisenhower, “the Congress and the White House is getting flooded with letters all sounding somewhat alike zinging me for a subterranean attempt to raise taxes. And we checked. The letters are all traced to Quaker Oats in Chicago and the great flood of them come from Quaker employees in every town in which the company has plants. I don’t mind anybody having a say about taxes in this democracy but I would appreciate it if you’d have our employee, Don Lourie, schooled that we’re not going to raise taxes and to call off his dogs!”

Of course Dulles zoomed back to the State Department as soon as he could. The mailings, traced to a club called IGKAJTs at Quaker Oats, worried him that the thing could get out of hand and kill the foreign aid increase he wanted. So he needled Lourie who in turn got on the phone from Washington to Chicago and nixed the IGKAHT program. This was before I got there by several years, but I understand there was some back and forth between Lourie and Mr. John—Lourie arguing for the Eisenhower position and Mr. John riled up by Herbert Hoover’s commission and Kay Metz. The program was killed but the bad vibes of Quakers having to wear IGKAHTs buttons or possibly not looking good to the company’s bosses gave any future idea of government relations a kind of unsavory compulsory reputation—which was why I was treated coolly at first…especially with my deep conservative Republican background…as the putative successor to Kay Metz and her buttons. And that was why no one including Bob Stuart gave much of a positive reaction when I suggested that I earn my keep by trying to implement a Quaker government relations program. They thought of IGKAHTs.

Nobody at Quake cared that I was helping Bob Stuart on his Republican business but they worried greatly that I would be force-feeding them Republican politics. Well, I couldn’t help being the successor to Kay Metz but I decided that while working in partisan tandem with Bob Stuart, I had to put a definite bipartisan caste to company’s government relations program. The first thing I did was to go to Washington frequently and start off visiting all the Congressmen and Senators from states where Quaker had plants. Believe it or not, House Speaker Sam Rayburn himself represented a Quaker district (at Sherman, Texas). A whole collection of fairly prominent and powerful lawmakers did—and it was no trick at all to get in to see them, representing a company with employees in their districts. Of course I had to ward off the memory of IGKAHTs. I did it by bringing Democratic Congressmen from plant areas to Chicago to speak at luncheons and to encourage Illinois Democratic lawmakers as well as Republicans to speak as well. Pretty soon the memory of IGKAHTs was gone.

It was a whole lot of fun going to Washington as a representative of a then mega-million-dollar company. No more would I have trouble sitting for hours in the anteroom including the anteroom of Ted Kennedy when he was informed that a representative of a company with an extensive plant in New Bedford wanted to see him. Or Paul Douglas of Illinois whom I had never met anyhow and always wanted to. And almost as important was building a rolodex of staff-members of the lawmakers who could be reached fairly quickly and give first-rate, off-the-record assessments of legislation we Quaker should be interested in. One was crotchety old Bill Colmer, the reactionary southern Democrat chairman of House Rules from Pascagoula, Mississippi where we had large cat-food plant…and his aide-de-camp, eager-to-please Trent Lott whom I never really cottoned to but who later became Republican Congressman, Republican Whip, Republican U. S. Senator, Republican majority leader, then demoted to Republican Whip of the Senate.

Obviously I would extend the visits to a state where we had no plants, Minnesota, where my entrée was fairly warm anyhow, but representing an Illinois company generated the thought that perhaps a plant could be induced to locate there. And to the office of the Vice President where I met my old one-time friend then adversary and now an official about whom I could truly say I was neutral: Hubert Humphrey.

The trips took a good deal of time. In all, about forty or so plants were scattered throughout the country and I compiled not just a list of the Congressmen and Senators but distributed memos to the key executives who might want to utilize my office as a kind of resource, linking our views up with lawmakers who served on various committees. The compilation of so-called Quaker congressmen and Senators was the first step in the government program. The program received a major boost when in 1966 I got a new boss who was highly sophisticated about government relations and gave me the kind of backing up front that provided great impetus to the program. But this was 1964-65 and I was making up the program as I went on. My acquaintanceship had expanded: to having lunch frequently with Billy the Kid…former governor, two-time Congressman-at-Large, two-time state treasurer and frustrated presidential candidate wanna-be…who could still offer me great advice…ascertaining what could be done to upbuild the Republican party of Illinois…and expanding my knowledge of the bipartisan players on the Hill.

I remember arriving at my hotel in Washington one evening and having a note from Everett Dirksen’s office in my box. I knew him fairly well, having ridden with him on some campaign forays in the very early days of my tenure at Quaker…but what he wanted to see me about was a mystery.

So bright and early the next morning, I was in his office and waited an unconscionable time until the tousle-haired, wheezing uncrowned leader of the Senate…he was Republican minority leader with a far greater reach than just the GOP but by influencing southern Democrats, really ran the joint in his old pal Lyndon Johnson’s presidency…came in wearing a suit that looked like it had been slept in.

“What I want to ask you,” he said, coughing up a lunger into a rather grey handkerchief (not too edifying at 9:15 a.m.) while the other hand balanced an unfiltered cigarette between nicotine-stained fingers, “is if you would ask Bob for me to introduce this resolution at the Republican National Committee meeting here next week?”…and he handed over a very pro-forma commendation of the work he and House leader Gerry Ford were doing to cut expenditures in a make-believe war with the White House. The resolution was so routine that I wondered what in the world I was summoned personally for…but then the real purpose came.

“I have been talking with Billy,” he said, referring to former governor Stratton, “who says he is a good friend of yours. If he is correct in that assumption, you will regard this conversation as confidential. As you probably can surmise, I have enough work around here to keep me busy without considering what is likely to happen with the governorship the next time it comes around. But I am told that Mr. Ogilvie has a great interest in the job and that very possibly he will be running for president of the Cook county board in ` 66, and if elected will run for governor in `68. Of course I am totally disinterested and unobservant as to the likely consequences of such action…”

Of course.

“But there are two things which I would like you and Bob to consider which should not be shared with anyone other than yourselves. My great friend from Peoria is John Henry Altorfer who can be persuaded to run for governor—a man far better, may I say, in character and personal integrity than Dick Ogilvie with whom I have had some…”

Another coughing spell lightened up by his dragging heavily on his cigarette. (John Henry Altorfer was a very wealthy businessman and civic leader, a gentle, refined and personally very likeable Peoria native who had political ambitions, yes, but was motivated to philanthropy and Republican support by a genuine desire to contribute some good to the process. He was already a close friend of my boss, Bob Stuart who privately favored him for governor although it was not my prerogative to tell Dirksen that).

“…some disagreeable blandishments and with whom Harold [Rainville] has had notable difficulties on the matter of judgeships. In fact I can tell you I have never been particularly close to my colleague [Paul Douglas] but we have worked out a kind of gentleman’s agreement with Lyndon on judges, since the president feels I have been supportive on such issues as Vietnam, only to have it nearly sabotaged by Dick Ogilvie…and his kind. His kind which seem to want to build a machine similar to Dick Daley’s but in which none of us downstaters would play much of a part. Therefore, I would like to talk with Bob when he is here for the National Committee meeting about the possibility of his supporting, even at this early date, John Henry for the nomination rather than Ogilvie.”

The statement required nothing more than assent. So I assented.

“Now another thing and this is just for you to consider. Billy has lunch with you fairly often. He is thinking about running for governor again. No one has been a better governor than Billy and I did what I could to swing the jury against his conviction which thanks be to Almighty God worked out and he went free. But Billy should not run again for governor and perhaps you can gently, diplomatically, dissuade him since I am not in a particularly advantageous position to do so through my association with John Henry. He cannot possibly win the nomination because of his earlier legal troubles and he is kidding himself if he thinks he can. Billy will just take enough votes to possibly defeat John Henry and nominate Ogilvie which I believe would give impetus to the building of a Republican machine with all the machinations of Len Small. Well…if you can bring it up subtly and later get back to me…personally, not through anybody else, even Harold… as to what he says that would be helpful. Is there anything I can do for you while you’re here?”

No, but the thought of that offered gratuity from one of the great U. S. Senators in U. S. history would linger for years.

And it also was a horrendous verbal blow at Ogilvie. Lennington Small (1862-1936) was, to say so advisedly, undoubtedly the most corrupt governor in the history of Illinois (George Ryan notwithstanding since Ryan’s conviction had nothing to do with his governorship but from his god-awful sale of commercial drivers’ licenses as secretary of state). Small was by common consent an ogre: indicted and acquitted of extortion—but even worse, one who used his executive pardoning privileges to turn law-breakers and in even one instance a murderer back on the street for which, we are likely to surmise, some hidden financial benefit. Nothing Ogilvie had done or was able to do could even arise to a miniscule comparison to Small and Dirksen was unduly exaggerating—but Dirksen’s concern was a Republican machine mobilized from the Cook county president’s office which would defeat him for re-nomination in 1968 when Ogilvie would run for the gubernatorial nomination.

I said: Senator, it may be that Ogilvie will have trouble getting elected president of the Cook county board: after all, there has only been one Republican in that post in modern times.

“It may be so,” he said, “but I fear the alliance between him and Clem Stone who has unlimited…unlimited…money. There is already the makings of an alliance between Daley and Ogilvie on a good many things. These things are not easy for one like me to stop. After all, how many jobs do I have? How much of what I say means anything to Dick Daley? But that is my task and nobody else’s. However with respect to John Henry, you have my feelings on that. He should have a clear shot at the Republican governorship if at all possible and for God’s sake your boss ought not to be for Ogilvie if we can help it and Billy Stratton should not gum up the works by running for governor. None of these things can be changed except by a bit of coordination. I hope you understand these things are confidential.”

I do and did. I passed along the intelligence then, forty-two years ago and with two of the principals long dead, I do so in these notes.

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