President Reagan’s attempt to rewrite the U.S. tax code is shaping up as one of his toughest political struggles. Even as he stumped the country this fall, rallying support for his radical reform plan, Washington’s occupying army of lobbyists was making the rounds on Capitol Hill—seemingly determined to prove that tax deductions, like death, remain one of life’s unalterables. If many of the nation’s 7,590 registered lobbyists have their way, the new tax code will look just like the old, at least as far as their special-interest clients are concerned.
With billions of dollars in credits and other legal loopholes at stake, corporations and trade associations have put lobbyists to work and invested millions of dollars this year to defend their tax benefits. “It is clear that whoever has the most money gets the most time, “says Joseph Minarik, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank. “We ought to be looking at all the competing claims, but unfortunately it doesn’t happen that way.”
The massive fiscal overhaul is under consideration by both House and Senate committees, but the President’s hope that a bill might be passed this year is likely to be dashed. Many lobbyists are skeptical that Congress will come up with a bill soon. “This could drag over to next year, an election year, and then nothing will happen until ’87,” suggests lawyer-lobbyist Bob McCandless.
However long the debate lasts, lobbyists will be putting in their clients’ two cents. Lobbying is “as old as the Republic, if not older,” says Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a public policy research group. The days of the fat-cat lobbyist making back room deals have largely passed, claims the new breed. Expert in legal technicalities and economic subtleties, they make their cases in brisk meetings with members and their aides. A look at some of today’s wheelers and dealers of influence follows:
His backwater Texas drawl and his backslapping style are reminiscent of Lyndon Johnson, who once called him “an SOB with elbows.” At 61, Charls (no “e”) E. Walker is the godfather of Washington lobbyists, a onetime college economics professor with a politician’s savvy. After Congress recesses he usually retreats to Possum Kingdom Lake, Texas and returns to the Hill refreshed, in a chauffeured limousine. Walker has mastered the art of commanding attention. “Suppose I want to see Congressman X from Podunk, and he doesn’t know me and may be antibusiness,” says Walker. “If I’ve got a client who has a plant that hires 1,000 people in that district, the congressman—if he’s on his toes—will know that and he’ll take my call.” Congressmen are now hearing from Walker on behalf of his host of corporate clients, who stand to suffer higher taxation rates under Reagan’s plan.
Walker has been called the “Talleyrand of the tax code” and has played a key role in almost every significant revision of it since 1959, the year he came to Washington as the 35-year-old chief economic adviser to President Eisenhower’s treasury secretary. When he left a position as deputy treasury secretary in the Nixon Administration in 1973 to open his own lobbying firm, Nixon reportedly joked, “You’ll still be doing what you’ve been doing, but now you’ll be making money at it.”
Such giant clients as AT & T, CBS, Ford, Du Pont and Alcoa reportedly pay Walker up to $400 an hour to plead their causes. When in Washington he shares a lush three-bedroom home in Potomac, Md. with his wife, Harmolyn. “I want to keep doing this as long as I’m mentally able to,” says Walker. “I’m deathly afraid of sticking around too long, where I reach the point that I lose my effectiveness.” Walker can rest assured: Fellow lobbyists say he is still on top of his game.
High heels clicking, black mane flying, cigarette dangling from the corner of a mouth working a piece of gum, the whirlwind that is Liz Robbins comes flying through the corridors of power shouting “Senator!” or “Mr. Chairman!” Says one legislative aide: “I’ve known members who see Liz coming and run the other way. Here comes this woman running after you like you’re wild game or something.” But Robbins, 39, believes her bustling style is the only way to do business. “You can’t be too aggressive or too pushy to do this job,” she says. “We’re pound-the-marble lobbyists. We don’t just limousine up to the Hill from somewhere, make a phone call and go away.”
Robbins’ style goes down fine with her clients, who range from the cities of New York, Berkeley, Denver and San Francisco to Radio City Music Hall, Lawrence Welk and a host of investment banking firms. Together with five lobbyists employed by Liz Robbins Associates, which started as a one-woman operation in 1977, she is jawboning members in hopes of preserving the state and local tax deductions threatened by Reagan’s plan. Robbins typically puts in 12-to-15-hour days when Congress is in session, charging about $135 an hour. “Public sector clients couldn’t afford one-third that fee,” she says, “so it just depends on what we have agreed on.”
Robbins owns a Capitol Hill row house, but she makes her home in New York, where she maintains a Manhattan apartment, and has a house on Long Island. “I like to keep my personal life away from Washington,” says Robbins, who is single. But she revels in the tax fight. “I live on lots of coffee and adrenaline,” she says. “And you know what? I can’t stay away.”
Shortly after President Reagan unveiled his tax reform package, Bob McCandless arranged a friendly meeting between officials of his most loyal corporate client and one of his Washington, D.C. neighbors. The executives were impressed that McCandless was on such casual good terms with the influential man living just two doors away in the Watergate apartment house: Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. “Nobody really knows what kind of dips and turns the tax legislation will take before it gets into Dole’s hands in the Senate,” says McCandless. “We hope our problems will get taken care of in the House. If not, we wanted to at least signal him.”
McCandless, 48, is an old-style lobbyist, short on the technical talk and long on the wining and dining. He is known around the Hill for his “theme gifts,” such as the 200 pumpkins stuffed with candy he has given out on Halloween. He and his fiancée and No. 2 lobbyist, Marie Figueroa, host innumerable dinners in McCandless’ two-bedroom apartment, where the house rule is “no talking business.” Says McCandless: “The main thing is to get to know the member.” Weekends, when McCandless retreats to a 300-acre farm in the Shenandoah Mountains, he often invites politicians down for a few days of fishing.
Though he now boasts four blue-chip clients, McCandless’ fortunes sank to a low in 1973, when he went to bat for then brother-in-law and Nixon White House Counsel John Dean. (McCandless is twice divorced.) While he was trying to get Dean’s Watergate revelations heard in Congress, McCandless’ law partners forced him out because the firm had a list of clients friendly with the Nixon Administration. But McCandless remained faithful to Dean and expects the same loyalty from his friends in Congress. “Once I get to know these people,” he says, “I’m not going to accept, ‘I’ll look into that.’ I expect more.”
Bob Juliano’s hands start tossing in the air, mixing up words as if they were a plate of spaghetti in his mama’s Italian kitchen on Chicago’s West Side. “If you give me a damn issue,” says Juliano, “and I’ve got the merits on my side and you have only the politics, I am dumb enough to believe I will kick the—— out of you.” The union that Juliano represents likes that kind of unvarnished talk from its man in Washington. A college dropout, Juliano, 44, went to Capitol Hill 12 years ago to speak for the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union “without the slightest idea what a lobbyist does,” he says. Today he’s considered one of labor’s most outspoken and effective pitchmen.
This session, Juliano is battling on behalf of 400,000 hotel and restaurant employees to defend the three-martini lunch. If he fails, and the tax deductions for business entertaining are taken away, says Juliano, it will mean the loss of 30,000 to 40,000 hotel and restaurant jobs. To make his case, he is putting in his usual 80 hours a week bouncing through the halls of Congress and jawing on the telephone. “What it boils down to is synthesizing in 60 seconds what you have picked up in 10 years,” he says. “If a minute shot is all ya got—or 10 minutes for a very in-depth conversation—I’ll take it.”
Juliano lives alone in a two-bedroom D.C. duplex stocked with 20 cases of California, Italian and French wines. He quit Loyola University of Chicago in 1961 after “I did a little research and discovered that half the self-made millionaires didn’t even finish grammar school,” he claims. Going to work as a clerk at a Chicago hotel, he rose to personnel director in five years. In 1973 newly elected hotel union president Ed Hanley tapped him as the union’s first lobbyist. Hanley’s hunch paid off. In the past 10 years Juliano has blocked four attempts to tamper with the three-martini lunch.
Let other lobbyists make the endless circuits of Capitol Hill, wearing thin whatever welcome they ever had with harried congressmen. Thomas Hale Boggs Jr.—tagged one of the 100 most powerful lawyers in America this year by the National Law Journal—lets a staff of 100 attorneys in his firm of Patton, Boggs & Blow do the legwork. He enters the picture only after the small talk is over. “Members of Congress would much rather talk to you on the phone,” he says, “if they know you. It saves their time and yours.”
Boggs, 45, did his share of running through the halls of Congress at the side of his father, the late Hale Boggs—the Louisiana Democrat and onetime House Majority Leader who perished in a 1972 plane crash. These days Tommy Boggs has a standing invitation to drop by anytime at the office of his mother, Rep. Corinne “Lindy” Boggs, elected 12 years ago in her husband’s place.
The slow-talking Boggs won entry to the lobbyists’ hall of fame as the principal architect of the Chrysler bailout, a classic example of special-interest pleading. Chrysler still ranks high on the lengthy list of Fortune 500 clients that Boggs is speaking for in a typically methodical campaign to hold down the corporate tax rate. His record as a prodigious fund raiser does not hurt when he buttonholes the lawmakers for a favor. Last year he helped bring in campaign contributions for 80 percent of the Democrats in the Senate and more than 100 members of the House.
Boggs worked his way through Georgetown University as an elevator operator in the Capitol building, then served as an economic aide to a congressional committee from 1961 to 1965 while attending Georgetown law school. After a year as a junior assistant to Lyndon Johnson, he co-founded the firm he’s been with ever since. Boggs says he never considered running for his father’s seat. Ever mindful of appearances, Boggs says, “I never try to lobby my mother,” then allows, “I guess if I was down and needed one vote I’d try her.”
“I’ve probably seen as many lobbyists come through my door as anybody around,” says Denise Bode, who was a legislative aide for Sen. David Boren, D-Okla., before she started knocking on congressional doors herself. “You really get to know what’s good and what’s bad in dealing with people. You have to do your homework and make a credible case—you can’t just good-ole-boy it any more.” Bode was still working in the Senate three years ago when she showed her mettle. Exhausted and eight months pregnant, she helped shepherd the 1982 gas tax bill through the Senate. As the vote dragged on to 2 a.m., solicitous senators kept asking if she wanted to go home, but, says Bode, “I didn’t want anybody to say I couldn’t handle it because I was a woman.” Today, after nearly a year with Gold and Lieben-good, Inc., Bode, 31, has helped lift the young firm to the top ranks of lobbyists.
Her tax clients include Phillips Petroleum, Marriott Corporation, the Oil Investment Institute and the Texas Cattle Feeders Association—an impressive “A” list for a first-year lobbyist charging $200 an hour. “I try not to win my case based on friendship with a member,” she says, “but on the merits of the case and a hometown interest.”
Bode, who admits to being an over-achiever, left the Hill to become a lobbyist after tiring of the long hours and frenetic pace. Husband John is now an assistant secretary of agriculture. The next generation is already being steeped in congressional politics. Bode now circulates at Hill receptions with 2½-year-old toddler Sean, walking, talking and learning the family trade.