Inside the Beltway: From whiskey to golf to grass-roots to cash, there’s more than one way to sway a politician

In the beginning there were lobbyists. The word itself had a bad connotation - rather like beer - conveying in the US a cartoon image of a fat, coarse-faced, table-thumping guy with a disreputable hat, demanding the member of Congress vote his way.

In the beginning there were lobbyists. The word itself had a bad connotation - rather like beer - conveying in the US a cartoon image of a fat, coarse-faced, table-thumping guy with a disreputable hat, demanding the member of Congress vote his way.

In the beginning there were lobbyists. The word itself had a bad

connotation - rather like beer - conveying in the US a cartoon image of

a fat, coarse-faced, table-thumping guy with a disreputable hat,

demanding the member of Congress vote his way.



In the nineteenth century, most people believed that stereotype of the

lobbyist, and as with most stereotypes, it was largely a true

picture.



With enough whiskey and enough free golf, it was thought, any member

would yield.



Then, along with radio and chain newspapers, came the advent of what was

called public affairs, the attempt at suasion of politicians by a

demonstration of overwhelming public opinion. First came multiple

mailing - with thousands of identical printed penny postcards - a

technique, one imagines, that lost its effectiveness after the first

week or so but nonetheless continued until fairly recently.



The technique transmogrified into multiple identical phone calls,

usually from paid callers in whose voices - as the memorable radio

put-down goes - one could hear the acne. But the more sophisticated

eventually prevailed, and ’grass-roots’ campaigns gradually took

over.



This kind of lobbying was a full-scale effort designed to sell

candidates and their opponents on the idea that there was a large number

of supporters anxious to see the passage of a favorite piece of

legislation. This concept of ’public affairs,’ a quite legitimate

marshalling of pre-existing support, operated for a time rather

effectively. It proved a good way to persuade a legislator to support

the lobbyist’s client, either because it seemed the will of a sizeable

group of constituents or because it offered welcome support in the

future for a vote the member conscientiously wanted to cast anyway.



Now, alas, we’re back to money. Even copious quantities of whiskey won’t

do the trick, and golf will hardly do (well, maybe a coveted country

club membership somewhere). Just by way of example, when some

businessmen wanted to meet with a Democratic ranking member of an

important committee - who was virtually certain to be chairman next year

- to support a bill of theirs, he agreed to meet them - at a

fund-raiser!



The cost of campaigning - really, the cost of television - has risen so

sharply that legislators, especially senators, must spend a major part

of every day on the phone, calling lists of political donors. ’Hello,

Bill, it’s ... . How’s ... , that adorable wife of yours? And did your

son/daughter ... get into Yale/Harvard/Stanford? Bill, as you know, the

other party has targeted me, and I’d sure appreciate any help...’



Is it any wonder issues have disappeared?



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in