Thursday, May 22, 2008

Personal Asides: Lobbying as a Moral Vice…and Immoral Hypocrisy.


Lobbying as Moral Vice.

I first started as a lobbyist…for Quaker Oats…in 1964 and continued until retirement in 1991. The beautiful thing about that job was the first day I started the CEO asked me to tell them what the company should be lobbying for or against. I drew up a list which, surprisingly, squared with my conservative values…and theirs. First, the company should lobby against high price supports in the farm bill which would cut the cost of the grain they bought but also coincided with consumer interest.

Second, it should oppose creation of ever-more regulatory agencies. Third it should oppose an industry plan to allow creation of a eunuch so-called Consumer Protection Agency, the 38th such body designed to protect the consumers—but a CPA that would have very little power to protect consumers and would be toothless, so as to be a sop to public relations and the public misconception that we were progressive and make a hit with Ralph Nader. Some companies sign up for a tough regulatory bill in order to get good press and a salute from Naderites and then behind Nader’s back reach out to conservative lawmakers and have them eviscerate the agency and pass it as a shell in name only.. For a company to acquiesce in creation of an impotent agency at a cost of $125 million just to make the world think we were progressive would be immoral.

Third, the company should take an even greater role in personal participation in politics by its executives including Democratic politics if the executives were partisan Democrats. But the overwhelming number of them were Republican—so across the company, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa to Rockford, Illinois to Pascagoula, Mississippi and throughout the 28 states we were engaged in, our managers would take the initiative to invite members of Congress from their districts to the plant, have lunch with the executives and share their views with them.

Fairly innocent beginning. Now I am amused that Sen. John McCain is ridding himself of anyone on his staff who has an interest in lobbying. How in the world can a presidential candidate understand the private sector unless he has access to lobbyists? I can understand why a staffer should not at the same time be a lobbyist…for he cannot serve two masters…but I tell you I am sickened by the rank hypocrisy of Barack Obama who raises his hands in holy horror about lobbyists. He ought to discover that David Axelrod has a unique shell company that is run under the aegis of a shill that lobbies extensively in Chicago using the contacts Axelrod has cultivated by electing candidates to office. Axelrod is now not just the image guru of the Obama campaign but the one who along with Michelle Obama, Valerie Jarrett and Obama himself runs things entirely. This Obama hypocrisy has got to stop.

Another duplicitous thing. Obama makes a big swoon about how he refuses to take PAC checks from corporations and other special interests. But he takes private checks from corporate executives who belong to the same corporations that have PACs. One reason I am so cynical about reformers is that when I ran a PAC I would hear from federal candidates all the time thusly:

“Tom, my friends are holding a fund-raiser next Monday at the Madison Hotel but I can’t take PAC checks. Why not? Oh the damned reformers are howling and my opponent is watching me like a hawk. Can you do this for me? Can you get a guy who is ready to kick in to your PAC and tell him to hold off and give it individually to me instead? Make it payable to `Citizens for--.’ Thanks old buddy and anytime you want to talk about legislation, give me a call. You know what I mean?.”

I well remember the latter day reformer Ralph Metcalfe, the 1st district congressman who was also Democratic ward committeeman…who would announce that PACs and donations from corporate executives were not acceptable to him…but would call up and say this:

“Tom, my ward’s Democratic committee of which I am committeeman as you well know, is holding a fund-raiser this Wednesday. You can give corporate money to it which can be used for the benefit of the Democratic party in the ward and the spending will go to organization which will help me almost as directly as giving it to me by check with the added benefit that you won’t have to announce you’re giving to Metcalfe and I won’t have to say I’m getting it from Quaker Oats, you see what I mean? I hope you can make it and if you can we can talk about legislation, you know what I mean? “


  1. All lobbying is not created equal. I am sure Quaker Oats is quite benign.

    To refresh your memory, I suggest you read the Washington Post's web page about Charles Black Jr., McCain's "maestro," a former lobbyist for dictators, some of whom were not at all benign.

  2. elizabeth alexanderMay 23, 2008 at 8:01 AM

    I have been surprised that you haven't found McCain's association with Hagee deplorable in view of what the preacher at the mega-church has said about Catholicism, which is vile and unacceptable.

    Along with the increasing emphasis on some of the lobbyists in McCain's campaign, how can you not mention some of his problems?

  3. Tom,

    I don't comment very much, but this is just a quick note to let you know that I appreciate your insights into politics which you share with the rest of us in your blog.

  4. I believe that McCain has addressed the Hagee problem very quickly and appropriately. The McCain/Hagee association was nothing like the 20 year Obama/Wright association.