The ink isn't even dry yet on the results of the 1982 elections. But the not-so-subtle courtship of the congressional class of '82 has already begun. It is a biennial ritual in this city of influence. The courters are professional lobbyists whose lucrative livelihoods depend on their access to those in power.
Lobbyists have been known to call up newly elected legislators, offer their congratulations and ask solicitously whether they need any help in paying off their campaign debts. In the days ahead, lobbyists may well make follow-up phone calls full of friendly advice on where to find a suitable home in Washington or how to hire the best congressional staff. For congressional freshmen, lobbyists serve as a sort of unofficial Welcome Wagon.
But when the 98th Congress begins in January, things will become a little different. Suddenly that friendly fellow with two extra seats at the Kennedy Center will be dropping by your congressional office asking whether you might cosponsor H.R. 1337, a small bill that just happens to provide tax credits for reducing salons and fat farms. Welcome to the wonderful world of quid pro quos.
Each senator and representative must reach a private accommodation with the flocks of lobbyists who nest on Capitol Hill. Some trade votes for campaign contributions as avidly as 9-year-olds swap baseball cards. Others keep their distance. Here, two members of the congressional class of 1980 offer their views on lobbyists.
With his bushy mustache, pink shirt and maroon tie dangling loosely from his neck, Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.) looks the part of the young embattled chip-on- his-shoulder liberal Democrat that he is. Gejdenson, 34, was elected to the House in 1980 after two terms in the Connecticut legislature. He is near the bottom in seniority on the House Foreign Affairs and Interior committees. Nonetheless during the 97th Congress, Gejdenson, like virtually all his House colleagues, has been besieged by demanding constituents and high-priced lobbyists. "I see everybody," he said with a certain populist pride. "Any constituent, any lobbyist, anyone who comes into the office we see. We may not be able to see them for more than two or three minutes, but we see them."
Political Action Committees: "I think we went through the sinister stage of lobbying in the old days where there probably were bags of money being exchanged, or favors, or God knows what. Then came the semi-clean stage. And now we have the PAC stage of lobbying. And that's probably the most dangerous and most destructive to the democratic process.
"When the Realtors or the insurance people or whoever comes in here, they're not just lobbying on the issue, but they are also saying, 'If you vote with us, you'll get campaign money.' If you're really dumb and don't understand that, they wear buttons. The buttons are very large and they say, 'I gave to Blank-PAC.' That says, 'Mr. Congressman, in case you're not too perceptive, in case somehow you haven't figured out the connections between campaign contributions and the way you vote, we're explaining it to you. We give to this PAC. If you vote with us, we give you money.'
"Now that's not illegal and it certainly would be very difficult under the present (campaign spending) law to find a way to deal with this issue. But it's frightening because what happens is that those people are coming in here and affecting legislation to a greater degree than ever."
How Individual Companies Lobby: "If you listen to the industries that come before Congress -- whether it's someone doing defense stuff or someone making pharmaceuticals or plastics -- you'd get the feeling that the only reason these companies are in business is to protect jobs in your district.
"The argument that I've heard around the House about the B-1 bomber is that it is the best-designed weapons system in the history of the country because it's made in more congressional districts than any other weapons system. So when a company comes in to lobby congressmen on the B-1, they say, 'Hey, Charlie Brown, if you vote against this bill, you're voting against jobs back in your district.' And that's politically unacceptable to most congressmen. I was able to vote 'no' on the B-1 and part of it would be built in my district."
How Lobbyists Invent Issues: "Lobbyists want to keep their jobs. So unless there's something to lobby for or against, they'd be in big trouble. Recently, the national lobbyist for the pharmacists came in here with a couple of pharmacists from my district in tow. The lobbyist said, 'We want you to support a bill that would make it a federal offense to rob a pharmacy. These guys are being robbed all the time and we need something to make them a little safer.'
"I thought for a second. Maybe it was one of those days where I was a little less restrained than I ought to be. And I said, 'I can see it now. The director of the FBI calls Lew Erskine -- the guy from the old FBI show -- and he says, "Lew, we've got trouble in Connecticut. We've got the Hartford National Bank hit. They've hijacked a couple of trailer trucks. And, oh yes, the pharmacy in Norwich, the drug store on Main Street, was also robbed." If that were a federal crime, you'd never see the FBI guys. You're better off with local and state police protection.'
"But here's a guy from the pharmacists just trying to create a job for himself by saying, 'Oh, my God, we've got to make robbing a pharmacy a federal crime.' On the priority list of the FBI, pharmacists are going to be at the absolute bottom. By the time I got finished, I think half of the pharmacists from back in my district agreed with me."
On Being Courted by Super-Lobbyists: "They're good because they're credible. They've got a reputation on the Hill of not trying to sell you something that's going to get you killed back home. They're not going to set you up. They're going to be honest with you and you know that they're not going to take your time up with a lot of insanity that you can't afford to waste your time on. They're good, they're professional, they're succinct and they know their arguments. What I always do is to say, 'Okay, now I'm going to see what the other side has to say and get back to you.'
"I was called on one bill, I forget which one, by Anne Wexler. Anne Wexler worked in the White House for Jimmy Carter. She started me in politics back in Connecticut when I was a kid knocking on doors. She got me in charge of a region for Joe Duffey's U.S. Senate campaign back in 1970. So when Anne Wexler calls us and says, 'Sam, I'd like you to talk to three people,' I'm going to make time on my schedule to do it because it's Anne Wexler. I may not vote with her on the issue -- as a matter of fact I think I didn't. But it's like anything else. When a friend calls you up, and that's what many of these lobbyists are, you're going to make time."
Hardest People to Say No To: "Anne Wexler and my wife's cousin who is a lobbyist here in town."
With his wiry build, longish gray hair and sincere manner, Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) comes across as the Senate version of Henry Fonda. In 1980, Gorton, then attorney general of Washington, pulled off a major upset by defeating veteran Senate power Warren Magnuson. Unlike most other freshman GOP senators elected in the Reagan landslide, the 54- year-old Gorton is a Republican moderate. Although he is chairman of the Senate Merchant Marine Subcommittee and serves on the Budget Committee, Gorton insists that he has had remarkably few encounters with high- pressure lobbyists during his first two years in Congress."
Personal Philosophy: "When I was first elected to the Washington state legislature more than 20 years ago, I leare argumentned very early that the best way to avoid a lot of time and pressure is to make up your mind firmly and early on issues when you can do so. Let your position be known and under those circumstances most people will let you alone."
The 1981 AWACS Vote: "Obviously, from a constituency point of view I had a bias in favor of AWACS because it is made by Boeing. Interestingly enough, Boeing's lobbying on the issue was, I thought, quite reasonable. I only saw Boeing people in the office here once, at the beginning of it when everyone from (Boeing chairman) T. Wilson and on down was here. I expressed my concerns, which were foreign policy concerns rather than technical concerns relating to AWACS. The response of Boeing was, 'We can't help you with that. We're here to talk to you about whether or not it can be properly protected and the like, but the foreign policy questions you've got to settle for yourself.'"
Pressure: "I really don't like having a bunch of people, up to and including anyone in the White House, calling me and saying, 'You got to do this for thus-and-such a reason.' The president did not call me in September on the veto override. Again, I had said very early that the veto was wrong and I was going to vote to override it."
The 1982 Tax Hike: "I was a supporter of the tax bill. But I had a strong constituent interest in the safe- harbor leasing provisions of the tax bill because of Boeing and the airlines that are purchasing from oeing. (Senate Finance Committee Chairman) Bob Dole's decision in that case was, essentially, to cut safe-harbor leasing in half, which was appropriate, so far as I was concerned.
"But when the actual words of the proposal came out, it cut about 90 or 95 percent of leasing as far as aircraft was concerned. So I had to persuade Bob Dole to see to it that leasing should only be cut in half as far as aircraft were concerned, too.
"I did not get from Boeing the suggested, specific amendment which would reach the goal that I told them I could reach. They wanted all of leasing to stay in for aircraft. It turned out that the amendment that reached that goal was written on the back of an envelope around 1 in the morning. The amendment was written by me and by Tom Korologus, the lobbyist representing Eastern Airlines.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Korologus as one of the Washington insiders and high-priced lobbyists. I have a feeling with him that I can say, 'This is what I'm trying to do -- help me do it,' and that's what he's going to do."
Being a Subcommittee Chairman: "I think I managed to get through the whole 1980 campaign without getting a single contribution from a shipper, a carrier or a union. And I think there was a certain degree of panic among all of them when not only was I elected but I ended up as chairman of the merchant marine subcommittee.
"In the first six months, we saw everybody who wanted to come into the office on merchant marine subjects because it was part of my education. I saw domestic carriers, foreign carriers, subsidized carriers, non-subsidized carriers, large shippers, small shippers, freight forwarders, custom-house brokers and all the unions. It was a lot of fun. I am sure there are a number of lobbyists who sent good bills home for the time they spent with me and my staff on it."
Good Lobbyists: "With a really good lobbyist, you can sit him down and ask him to argue the other side. And he'll do it for you without leaving anything out."