Big Business / Lobbying

Birnbaum, Jeffrey H. The Lobbyists: How Influence Peddlers Get Their Way in Washington. New York: Times Books - Random House, 1992. 335 pages.

Jeffrey Birnbaum is a political reporter who has covered Washington for the Wall Street Journal since 1982. Without the WSJ connection, it's doubtful that the dozen or so lobbyists profiled by Birnbaum would have put up with him for three years -- the limousines and dinner parties are stressful enough without being puppy-dogged by a thirty-something reporter.

Birnbaum got away with it, and his book hits the stores just as lobbyists are gearing up to pick Clinton's proposals to death. The main issues pursued by Birnbaum's lobbyists are tax breaks for big business; these include capital gains cuts for corporations, pressure from trucking associations to keep the gas tax low, and sundry esoteric loopholes for special interests and industries. All lobbyists earn huge salaries, as a tiny change in the tax code can mean megabucks for the corporations that employ them. So the lobbyists spread around even more money -- to pay think- tank professors to produce studies proving their positions, and for PR to disguise the effects of proposals. (For example, capital gains cuts are not tax breaks for the wealthy, but simply a well-intentioned effort to put more into research and development so that America doesn't lose its technological advantage.) Plenty of money is also used to buy access to congressmen; these, of course, are called "campaign contributions."

Choate, Pat. Agents of Influence. New York: Simon & Schuster (Touchstone Edition), 1991. 307 pages.

Pat Choate is a Texas farm boy who earned a Ph.D. in economics and went on to become a talking head on economic and trade policy. His interest in declining American competitiveness, and awareness of DC hardball politics, soon evolved into a critique of Japan's lobbying practices. He knew that Japan had the best competitor intelligence, the deepest pockets, and the perseverance to get anything they wanted from U.S. business in general, and from Washington in particular. But he didn't know that even before the book came out, Japan would put the screws on TRW, Inc. (where he worked as an analyst) and get him fired.

Lee Iacocca said that the first part of this book "made me mad; the last part made me scared." The first part describes the revolving door between U.S. officialdom and lobbying on the Japanese payroll. An appendix (pages 216-257) lists over 200 registered foreign agents who are former officials, along with the firms that employ them and the foreign clients they represent. (NameBase counts 60 names from this book who are also found on the membership roster of the Council on Foreign Relations, for what it's worth.) But what's scary is the sophisticated and pervasive influence- buying, propagandizing, politicking and lobbying by Japanese companies and officials. It makes Pearl Harbor look like a bathtub.

Lewis, Charles. America's Frontline Trade Officials. Published in 1990 by the Center for Public Integrity, 1910 K Street NW, Suite 802, Washington DC 20006, Tel: 202-223-0299. 201 pages.

Founder Charles Lewis, a former investigative reporter, describes CPI as a "nonprofit organization examining public service and ethics-related issues in Washington, with a unique approach combining the substantive study of government with in-depth reporting. The Center is funded by foundations, corporations, labor unions, individuals and news organizations."

This publication examines the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, created in 1962 as part of the Executive Office of the President. It is not a study of trade policy, but rather a study of the career patterns and conflicts of interest of USTR officials. Since 1974, nearly half of former senior USTR officials have registered as foreign agents since leaving office, three of the top four current officials worked for foreign clients prior to entering USTR, and some individuals even serve foreign interests simultaneously with their USTR consulting.

Most of this monograph consists of career profiles for 80 officials who served at USTR since 1974, each ranging from several pages to one paragraph in length. These were compiled by using FOIA requests, going through staff directories and newspaper indices, and conducting numerous interviews.

Silverstein, Ken. Washington on $10 Million a Day: How Lobbyists Plunder the Nation. Monroe ME: Common Courage Press, 1998. 251 pages.

These days, politicians vote huge sums for corporate welfare in the form of tax breaks and special favors, and then come up with new tricks to yank the social safety net from the rest of us. CEO salaries and benefits in 1996 are up 54 percent, to $5.7 million, while workers' salaries rose about 3 percent. Big-time journalists never have a discouraging word about NAFTA, GATT, or WTO, and they never mention the impending MAI. Have you ever wondered why? It's because they've all been bought off. Cokie Roberts collects five figures for a speech at some corporate convention, her brother Thomas Boggs gets $550 per hour as a lobbyist, and Peter Jennings or Lesley Stahl attend (but never report on) a secret meeting of the Bilderberg Group (an off-the-record, invitation-only annual gathering of the world's most powerful people from both sides of the Atlantic). Meanwhile Newt Gingrich, who also supports global capital to the hilt, recommends that we prepare for the future by reading novels about the decline of the Roman empire.

This book is about lobbying, lawyering, and public relations in Washington, and how Beltway insiders and fat cats have completely corrupted the process. Not all of the above examples are from this book (no one book can cover it all), but they do capture the flavor of this hard-hitting investigative work. Highly recommended, and we hope to see more like it.

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