On May 22, 1985, I was summoned to the White House for a meeting with Debbie Steelman, the newly-appointed assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs. I was in the process of being appointed as a special assistant to the president and Ms. Steelman was to be my immediate superior. Her call was a cry for help. She had a very big job to do and no one to help her do it.
Since my appointment was imminent… I was informed repeatedly that I was “the only candidate on a list of one” for the appointment… I was asked what issue I was most interested in pursuing once I arrived on the scene. I replied that, since the national debt had just passed the $2 trillion mark in April 1985, and since the debt and the deficit were a ticking time bomb that threatened to destroy us all, my principal interest was in developing an intergovernmental program that would attempt to identify every major area of overlap and duplication in federal, state, and local bureaucracies… what one writer had referred to as “picket fence federalism.”
I explained that, in order to successfully attack the problem it would be necessary to use the full power and influence of the White House to enlist the cooperation of every major industry trade association, business organization, and professional society in the country. Each of those groups would be asked to form a task force charged with the responsibility for cataloging every type of government regulation that their members were subjected to, at all levels of government, as well as the identity of the regulatory agencies involved. Once that was accomplished, it would be possible to negotiate, relying on 10th Amendment principles, which level of government should be made principally responsible for every form of regulatory activity.
The proposal was very well received. I was told that what I suggested was “the most creative idea to come in the front door of the White House since Ronald Reagan became president.” However, because of an unfortunate episode of political “horse-trading” on the part of the White House Chief of Staff, my job as a special assistant to the president was traded off to a member of Congress on the very day that my appointment was finalized. The “picket fence federalism” project never got off the ground; duplication, waste, and over-regulation were never attacked; and today we have a national debt of nearly $17 trillion.
I mention this unfortunate episode just to point out that nothing ever changes in Washington. Unless We the People decide to take back our government, whatever problems exist today will exist forty or fifty years from now. They’ll just be bigger and more threatening to our freedoms.
For many years, one of the best-selling books in Washington bookstores was a directory… twice the size of the Washington telephone directory… which listed every major law firm, lobbying group, and registered lobbyist in the city. In many cases the directory described the career path of individual lobbyists, including their occasional ventures into and out of government service. The directory was a complete listing of who’s who in Washington lobbying circles, and with a bit of study it was possible to learn exactly who was doing what to whom in Washington.
It’s no secret that Washington is awash with lobbyists. But what few Americans fail to realize is that the Washington law firms and lobbyists are not there to help their clients solve problems. As Washington lawyers see their role, their job is to see to it that the problems brought to them by clients remain unresolved. Rather, their principal job is to muddy the waters. After all, if a client’s problem is eventually resolved, the monthly retainer checks stop coming and that is the ultimate no-no in Washington.
At some point in the early 1980s I decided it was time to start pointing the American business community in a new direction. On September 14, 1982, I delivered a speech before the National Association of Business Political Action Committees at the Plaza Hotel, in New York, and three days later, on September 17, I delivered the same speech before a meeting of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association in Chicago. The title of the speech was “New Directions for the Business Lobby.” And if the number of requests for copies of the speech are any indication of the interest it generated, it was by far the most successful speech I’ve ever delivered.
I recommended that the U.S. business community undertake a new five-point strategy:
I recommended that businessmen in all industries, from the largest multi-nationals down to the smallest mom-and-pop proprietorships, become actively involved in recruiting the very best conservative, pro-business, candidates for the state legislatures.
I explained that, while the size of the average ego in the halls of Congress is quite large, very few legislators at the state level spend any time at all worrying about what a member of Congress might think on any issue. However, members of Congress should care a great deal about what state legislators think. If a member of Congress is out of step with the thinking of people in his home district, it is from the ranks of the state legislature that his/her next Primary or General Election opponent will most likely come.
I recommended that businessmen should redirect a major portion of their political dollars away from the expensive federal campaigns and use them to fund state and local races.
In 1979 I predicted before a roomful of corporate board members that the amount of money spent in all federal races in 1980, presidential and congressional, would approach $1 billion. They nearly laughed me out of the room. The amount of money spent in all federal campaigns in 2012 was well over $6 billion. It’s okay to play a good defense in Washington, but that can be done for a third of what corporations now spend. Most of what is spent in Washington would be far better spent in state legislative races, political campaigns that are closest to the people.
I recommended that businessmen should upgrade the overall quality of their lobbying representation in the state capitals.
It is not uncommon for a corporation to spend between $2-3 million, annually, to support a small Washington office staff of eight or ten people. It is not a cost-effective use of funds, and never has been. In my own experience, two or three of my best state capital lobbyists contributed as much as $40-50 million to the company’s bottom line each and every year. We were a major profit center; the Washington office staff could point to no bottom line contribution that they were solely responsible for. They were pure overhead.
I recommended that businessmen make a firm commitment to the political effectiveness of their principal state-level trade associations and general business organizations.
The state Chambers of Commerce, along with manufacturers’ associations and other pro-business organizations, play an essential role in the state capitals. Many corporate executives feel as though they’ve done their duty in the state capital when they’ve paid their annual membership dues. That’s not enough. They need to assign senior executives as liaisons and those individuals must become actively involved in state affairs.
And finally, I recommended that businessmen organize their natural constituencies – employees, shareholders, customers, and suppliers – to be effective advocates on political issues.
It takes time and effort, but the process of turning corporate constituencies into effective political advocates is primarily one of effective communications. As any legislator will confess, when the cards and letters start coming and the telephone rings off the wall, they take notice. Numbers count.
Republicans now control both houses of the state legislature in 27 states and one house of the legislature in five additional states. Thirty-one states now have Republican governors. But what is most telling about Republican trends in state government is the stark contrast between the successes of Republican governors and Republican-controlled legislatures and the failures of Democrat governors and Democrat-controlled legislatures. Compare what is happening in states such as California, New York, and Illinois… all economic “basket-cases” run by Democrats… to what is happening in Texas, Oklahoma, Indiana, and Ohio, states run by Republican governors and Republican legislatures. Even former Democratic strongholds such as Wisconsin and Michigan, now run by Republicans, are experiencing major economic revitalization.
But aside from redirecting the political focus of business interests, there is a much larger problem that must be addressed, and it is this: Without a free and impartial press and without fair and honest elections, it is impossible to have a free country. As matters now stand, the United States has neither. It’s time that business leaders took their heads out of the sand and began to address these problems by directing their advertising dollars only to news organizations that report the news fairly and impartially, and by insisting that Republican lawmakers make vote fraud the civil rights issue of the 21st century.
What greater public service can a corporation provide than to insure a free press and to take a leading role in protecting the civil rights of its employees and shareholders?