For three years, the National Ocean Industries Association fumed as members of Congress pushed through amendments that bar offshore oil drilling in major coastal areas.
Now the trade association is fighting back with a "congressional monitoring program," a computerized evaluation of House and Senate lawmakers that includes numerical ratings and data on their family, religion, military service and ideological leanings.
While organized lobbying is nothing new in Washington -- it may be the city's foremost native art -- the NOIA plan adds interesting wrinkles.
In a bow to the technological age, for example, internal memos suggest that the group is concerned about the possibility of unfriendly fingers prowling through its microchips.
One internal memo warned of "the potentially sensitive nature of some of the information that might be accumulated . . . and distributed to unintended audiences." Instead, such details as ratings and staff contacts will not be fed into the group's computer but apparently kept in old-fashioned paper files, which "can be tapped as necessary on a need-to-know basis."
The plan, according to the group's internal memos, is "to poll NOIA Washington representatives on key member attitudes and/or position changes . . . . Where it appears that work lobbying is necessary on a member, either to influence or determine his position, contact would be made by NOIA staff . . . . "
Charles Matthews, president of the 300-member association, which represents oil companies, drilling contractors and mining and fishing concerns, said there is nothing nefarious about the plan.
"This is an open kind of thing," Matthews said. "It's the information on a member that you can find in a congressional data book or staff directory. So many of our people in Iowa or Oshkosh don't have this information.
"So often people get into trouble when they do this kind of thing because they want sub rosa information," he said. "Our records will always be clean as a hound's tooth. We won't put anything sensitive in there, like whether someone drinks too much or beats his wife . . . . I don't want to be embarrassed by something that comes out."
"The plan is fairly sophisticated," said NOIA Vice Chairman Stephen DeLaMeter, an executive with a Dallas oil services company, referring to strategy documents that outline state team leaders and targeted members of Congress. "How well it's going to work is another question."
The group was taken by surprise when the House Appropriations subcommittee on interior, chaired by Rep. Sidney R. Yates (D-Ill.), first attached a rider to the Interior Department's budget bill that barred it from leasing key tracts off the California coast for oil exploration.
"That caught the industry absolutely flat-footed," Matthews said. "We stood there with our mouths open. We'd never even thought about the appropriations committees. We had to find a way to counteract that."
Under pressure from coastal-state lawmakers and environmentalists, the appropriations committees have extended the leasing ban to more offshore tracts near California and Massachusetts. The association has responded with a "pro-leasing task force," which argues that offshore drilling is safe and that legislative riders are a poor way for Congress to make policy.
The lobbying work is starting to pay off; the leasing ban survived by a vote in the House Appropriations Committee last year.
The NOIA has worked up ratings of all senators on a scale from 1 to 5, depending on their stand on the leasing issue. It has also begun to assemble files on key lawmakers.
An internal memo on Sen. James A. McClure (R-Idaho), for example, says that he is a Methodist, served in the Navy during World War II and had a 5 percent rating from Americans for Democratic Action in 1982. It says McClure "has been one of the most outspoken proponents of deregulating oil and gas prices to encourage exploration" and "is a favorite of the National Rifle Association."
The memo on Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) calls him "a near pacifist on defense issues and an automatic vote against military spending" and says that "Hatfield's politics is shaped by a born-again religious conviction."
Toward that end, the NOIA recently held a fund-raiser in Houston for Rep. Walter B. Jones (D-N.C.), chairman of the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee. An internal document billed the affair as a "salute to the chairman" and said it "should provide a good opportunity to help the chairman erase his campaign debt."
"I tried to listen to their problems," Jones said. "I was very honored and flattered. But I made no commitments about legislation. I assured them I would look at all legislation objectively."