“Special Interests in Washington” Are All of Us

   When the A. F. of L.-C.I.O. was able to get a piece of legislation through a House vote, sending it to the Senate for final approval the entire retail industry panicked. The new law, if passed, would permit union agents to organize workers within the confines of stores. Also a simple majority vote would win an election for representation. Don’t know why I was picked but four of us from the discount indusry found ourselves, along with others selected from other retail groups, arranging to meet at the airy office of Endicott Peabody – attorney and former Governor. There we were given badges that would allow entree to the Russell Senate Office Building so that twenty of us could try to see one hundred Senators in one day.

   Timing was critical as a filibuster was already in progres on the Senate floor in an attempt to squash a vote for the union bill. It was up to us to convince the Senators to allow the filibuster to continue; by so doing they wouldn’t be on the Congressional Record  pro or con, thereby not antagonizing their union constituents by having to vote against it. Confusing? Definitely! Once we knew which way each Senator leaned we were to call Peabody’s office where the tally was being kept whether we were winning or losing.

   For the first time I learned that our government is not run as II had envisioned it to be! Senators had from twenty to seventy aides; the number determined by the size of their state population-wise, by the number of Committees they are a member of, and by his seniority and ranking among the Senate’s leaders. To my horror I founf that Senators don’t read the thousands of bills that will, in a single session, cross their desks unless they have a special interest in one. I could understand that it’s an impossiblee task for one person to digest that many. Instead , the aides read the legislation, suggest what position should be taken by their boss and, unless the Senator cares to get further involved – that is the position that he will automatically vote for or against when it reaches the floor.

   Who are these young men and women that actually controlled our country’s destiny? Generally they weren’t weathered politicians nor were they experienced in our economic workings, and they knew little of their state’s history or of their industries. They were recent graduates from elite Ivy League schools or Stanford, and totally lacking in business or social welfare experience.. Certainly they came well qualified in schoolbook theory -bright and clever I had no doubt.

   Breaking for lunch we boldly seated ourselves in the private U.S. Senate Restaurant  surrounded by Senators at adjoining tables. I recognized Scoop Jackson at the next table. Only then did it dawn on me that we were in the midst of power – indescribable intoxicating power permeated this dining room, it glazed the dome of the Capital just outside the windows, and it coated the Congressional office buildings, an aura that had an infectious influence on us – if only for this day. I could feel it! It wasn’t alludedto in any articlles I’d read but now I understand what made many elected officials believe that they are above all man-made authority, above the laws like mythological Greek gods. Nixon as an example; while a rare few asumed this mantle of power and reacted instead with a Lincoln humility. It was certainly a potent brew.

   By late afternoon Peabody’s office advised that we had garnered enough support to keep the filibuster going. Our job was done!

   Much has been debated that lobbyists are evil and should be eliminated – that they buy votes and destroy the democratic process.Yet, if we hadn’t gone to Washington as lobbyists Union influence would have prvailed with poorly conceived legislation. The scary part was that this was only one of thousands of laws passed on congressmen’s watch mostly unread, perused only by neophytes. If honest and sincere lobbyists did not exist – I emphasize the word “honest” – who else would alert Congress to all sides of a particular issue? Perhaps partially by their aides. I must comment that the media, and even politicians running for office refer to “special interests” as being a curse, a threat. Isn’t every bill considered by Congressional legislation dealing with some “special interest” of a group of citizens? Therefore every bill is for a special interest. What if Congress paid every registered lobbyist their sole salary? Would go a long way to keep them, the corporations  and citizen groups they represent honest. Too expensive you say? Nope. Congress would actually be spending less. Wasting less on ill-conceived bills. With that said, I know that little will be done to rectify this problem. Laws will continue to be spewed out with little concern of their consequences and we’ll call it the ‘American way”.