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The Hollow Core: Interests in National Policy Making.

The Hollow Core: Private Interests in National Policy Making.

John P. Heinz, Edward O. Laumann, Robert L. Nelson, and Robert H. Salisbury.

Harvard University Press, $39.95

Just over two years ago, a large group of top government officials sequestered themselves in a converted bar at the Officers Club of Andrews Air Force Base. Theft purpose was to negotiate in complete secrecy the sensitive details of what would later become the 1990 deficit reduction act.

But one enterprising lobbyist was able to break their isolation. Frederick Graefe, a partner in the law firm of Baker & Hostetler, was a former marine who still had friends in the military. One of them was an officer at Andrews, who, at Graefe's request, told the guards at the main gate to allow Graefe onto the base whenever he wanted--ostensibly to play golf. What the lobbyist did instead was wait in the Officers Club parking lot for his friends on lawmakers' staffs to come out and brief him on the talks. Just in case he was caught, Graefe always kept his golf clubs with him.

As this story illustrates, lobbying knows no bounds in the nation's capital. It also operates almost completely without regulation. Indeed, professional lobbying is one of the last rogue industries in America. With revenues in the billions of dollars and participants numbering in the hundreds of thousands, lobbying is a big business getting bigger all the time. But thanks to official inauention, the four separate lobbying registration laws on the books are toothless and ineffective. Lobbyists like Graefe ply their trade free of serious scrutiny by either government or the public at large.

Now comes another book that tries to pull back the veil on lobbying. The Hollow Core: Private Interests in National Policy Making, is a serious, academic examination of how lobbyists operate in Washington. It isn't the kind of book that anyone other than a graduate student in political science would ever want to cuddle up with in front of a fireplace. And its main message isn't very sexy: Lobbyists struggle to get their way in a highly uncertain and ever-changing policy environment. But, perhaps inadvertently, the book also helps shed some light on the important and, until recently, almost completely furtive business of influence peddling.

Buried in over 400 pages of thick analysis, The Hollow Core contains data compiled over several years that quantifies how pervasive and sophisticated modern-day lobbying has become. In effect, the book concludes that lobbyists these days are much different than their caricature. They aren't fat, cigar-smoking men who shove $100 bills into the pockets of compliant legislators. They are economists, advertising executives, telemarketing specialists, and even accountants.

One chart helps tell the tale. From a sample of 316 lobbying organizations, the authors detail precisely how often the groups prepare testimony and draft legislation and regulations. It also shows lobbyists doing more typical things, such as contacting congressional committees and executive branch agencies. "As you can see," the authors admit, "we are inclined to want to count things."

Many Americans should want to keep a better count of what lobbyists do as well, and The Hollow Core is in an odd way a lengthy argument for changing the nation's laws to help make that possible. The authors downplay the notion that lobbyists are decisive in policy battles. Hence the title. The authors see lobbyists more as circling around policy choices rather than being central to their development.

But a reader cannot help concluding that the line between those inside and those outside of government isn't clearly drawn. The circle that lobbyists form around this hollow core is extremely adaptive and useful to the people who make and implement the nation's laws. Even if they don't always win, lobbyists are obviously a permanent and influential force that has to be reckoned with in Washington.

This seemingly simple conclusion took the four top-flight academics who authored this book many years to document and convey. It shouldn't take that long. And President Clinton, for one, wants to foreshorten that process. He is pressing this year to enact the first truly thorough lobbying disclosure law so that others can learn quickly and with relative ease how lobbying works. And his sentiment--if not his specific proposal--contains a lot to be commended. Finding out the many things about lobbyists that now go undisclosed would enormously enhance our understanding of government. An effective lobbying law might have revealed, for example, that lobbyists representing such corporate giants as IBM and Hewlett-Packard, including former Carter administration adviser Stuart Eizenstat, sat together with senior congressional aides and essentially wrote the version of the tax credit for research-and-development expenditures that passed the House of Representatives in 1989. A tougher lobbying law might also have disclosed that a group of former congressional staffers-turned-professional-lobbyists have for years bankrolled an annual skiing trip to Vail, Colorado, to woo their successors on Capitol Hill.

No one can be sure what effect such extra information about lobbying might have on policy making. But surely there would be some. For instance, the forces that wanted to cut the tax on capital gains a few years ago, led by lobbyists Charis Walker and Mark Bloomfield, probably would have been damaged had it been known than that they spent $50 to arrange each of 708 telephone calls from big campaign contributors to key members of the House Ways and Means Committee. And efforts by mutual life insurance companies to block a tax increase would have been set back were it public earlier that one of their lobbyists, Clifford Gibbons, had lobbied his own father, Rep. Sam Gibbons of Florida, the second ranking Democrat on Ways and Means, on their behalf.

Current lobbying laws are supposed to compel lobbyists to report these sorts of activities. But the laws don't work. Instead, they serve to conceal more about lobbying than they reveal, and at the same time bury lobbyists under a blizzard of paperwork. This is true for all sorts of lobbyists, not just the corporate kind who are most often fingered as the "bad guys." Consumer advocate Ralph Nader and his minions can--and do--camouflage their sources of financing with the same impunity as any of the most insidious business or labor lobbying groups.

In recent years, lobbying registrations have ranged from silly--one lobbying finn disclosed quarterly payments of $1.31 to one of its employees--to outrageous--in 1989, 10 big lobbying firms with authoritatively estimated revenues of more than $60 million disclosed less than $2 million of lobbying receipts. There are also plenty of things to learn beyond mere dollars and cents. It would have been useful to know, for example, that the author of the tax bill that passed the House in 1989 was not only Democratic Rep. Ed Jenkins of Georgia--as was widely reported at the time--but that he was assisted almost daily by his former tax aide and then real-estate lobbyist, James Rock.

Lobbyists know they can flout the current system of disclosure because enforcement of the diffuse lobbying laws is all but nonexistent. As a result, nearly 10,000 of the 13,500 individuals and organizations who list themselves as lobbyists in a book called Washington Representatives don't even bother to register under the Federal Lobbying Registration Act. And of those who did in 1989, 62 percent of their filings were late and 90 percent were incomplete, according to a survey by the nonpartisan General Accounting Office.

The only reason many lobbyists register at all is to prove to potential clients that they are "legitimate." For a professional lobbyist, being able to say that he or she is registered with the U.S. Congress carries some panache and is tantamount to hanging out a shingle to do business in Washington. But even with this allure, only a fraction of lobbyists ever register. American University's James Thurber estimates that at least 80,000 people are directly involved in lobbying in Washington. In addition, many thousands of others around the nation routinely participate in the grassroots kind of lobbying that involves telephone calls and letter-writing to government officials.

After years of talk and no action about these shortcomings, 1993 might finally be the time when a new lobbying law is written. Disdain for lobbyists and their special power in Washington is key to President Clinton's critique of government. He routinely bashes lobbyists as a way of promoting his hard-hitting economic package. While exaggerated, such assaults do have a ring of truth. "The real problem," Clinton has said, "is the government only works for the very wealthy and the special interests. It doesn't work for anybody else."

Almost no one believes that lobbyists shouldn't be regulated better, including the lobbyists themselves. There is a remarkable consensus among people both inside and outside of government that lobbyists should be required to disclose precisely what they are lobbying for, the source and amount of their lobbying fees, and the names of the government officials they contact, either directly or indirectly.

Regulations such as these wouldn't reduce or limit lobbying. And that is the only way it can be: The right to petition government for redress of grievances is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. But that leaves lots of room for reform.

Of course, it is also true that some of Clinton's closest advisers have been lobbyists--including three members of his own cabinet. In addition, nothing that Clinton or anyone else will do is likely to diminish the influence of lobbyists. Indeed, Clinton's anti-lobbyist rhetoric has led to a boom in Washington lobbying. Interest groups are hiring every lobbyist they can find to protect themselves against the Clinton onslaught.

But an overhaul of lobbying regulation is a big part of the administration's drive to make government more accessible to the American people, and a proposal developed in recent years by Senators Carl Levin of Michigan and William Cohen of Maine is gaining prominence as part of that effort. To help the lobbyists, the legislation would ease the paperwork burden and create a single federal office to enforce the new law. To help the public, the legislation would require anyone who is paid to lobby the government--either directly or indirectly--to register.

When they register, lobbyists would have to disclose the names of their clients, the specific issues they lobbied, the overall amount they spent on lobbying, and the federal agencies and congressional committees they contacted. The registration would also disclose any governmental job the lobbyist had held in the previous two years. Failure to make complete disclosure would leave them subject to stiff civil penalties.

The Levin-Cohen proposal in general has been embraced not just by lobbying foes but also by lobbyists, giving it a strong chance of passing this year. Even the likes of Thomas Hale (Tommy) Boggs Jr., one of Washington's premier corporate lobbyists, has testified on Capitol Hill that lobbying regulations are in desperate need of updating and has praised the modest proposal of Senators Levin and Cohen as a good start.

No matter what the details, few would disagree with Howard Marlowe, a former president of the American League of Lobbyists, the industry's major professional organization: "Lobbying ought to be regulated--it ought to be regulated more effectively-if for no other reason than to help to increase public confidence in and understanding of our representative form of government. People have a right to know who is trying to influence what in the policy-making process and how much they are being paid.

"And obviously," Marlowe adds, "the current law is woefully inadequate in accomplishing that objective." And if the law is finally fixed, more than the few intellectuals who wrote The Hollow Core will be able to keep an accurate count of Washington's burgeoning influence industry.

Jeffrey H. Birnbaurm covers the White House for The Wall Street Journal and is the author of The Lobbyists: How Influence Peddlers Get Their Way in Washington.
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Author:Birnbaum, Jeffrey H.
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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