The other day I received a letter, as did some others, from Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, that set a new standard of debasement for the U.S. Senate. Beginning with a modest self-description (“As you know, I’ve led the tax and inflation battle all across our country during the last election”), Hatch invites us to a three-day “Seminar in Practical Politics for Business” next month.
The seminar is to be directed by the political consulting firm of Bishop and Bryant, Inc., and Hatch will be chief host. Other “congressmen, key staff members and successful businessmen” will be group leaders. All for $300 per customer.
It seems that Hatch is riding a trend. Turning Uncle Sam into Uncle Putty or Uncle Sugar for grasping business managers is to be reduced to a marketplace discipline. Hatch, Inc., will teach the seminar participants how to organize a Political Action Committee for each corporation and how to elect or re-elect senators, representatives and presidents sympathetic to their purchasers.
NOT TO BE OUTDONE by a mere senator, the American Management Association (AMA) is out with a blazing brochure offering its seminars in Chicago and New York on “Conducting the Company’s Government Affairs Program: A Course that will revolutionize your Approach to Dealing with Government.” Three days and $490 to non-AMA members. One tidbit offered for those who pay is intriguing advice on “how to voice your opinions on pending legislation — without actually attending hearings.”
These seminars are not designed for the giant corporations but for middle-sized businesses. The corporate goliaths are way ahead, having written the textbook on how to acquire Washington as a wholly owned subsidiary. But, even these mega-companies are refining their techniques to embrace what they call “grass roots lobbying” of their shareholders.
Atlantic Richfield (ARCO) puts out a slick monthly “Owners Action Program” newsletter. One recent issue urges its shareholders to oppose those members of Congress who advocate breaking up the oil giants’ ownership of coal, uranium, geothermal and solar energy industries. The same issue devotes two pages to the Alaska lands controversy and also profiles a member of Congress.
Gulf Oil Corp., writes letters to “royalty owners” and exhorts them to oppose or support pending legislation. Continental Oil Co., (Conoco) has a regular “Stakeholders Report,” complete with Infophone, a national toll-free telephone service giving the status of pending legislation and Conoco’s position on various issues. There are tips on how to write your senators or representatives and how to contribute to the company’s Political Action Committee.
Marriott Corp., solicits its shareholders on behalf of a so-called consumer organization that fronts for business interests against consumers.
COMPANIES ARE NOT neglecting state government either. They are pouring money into state legislative campaigns at record levels. At meetings of the Council of State Governments and the National Conference of State Legislators, corporate lobbyists are as thick as locusts and much more frequent.
Corporations have formed shadow organization with a parallel committee structure to this state legislator’s group. The business boys come to these meetings complete with hospitality services, credit cards and draft resolutions for the state government representatives to accept.
At a recent tax administrators conference, the corporate lobbyists easily outnumbered the public officials there. In such a climate, the voices of consumers and workers can seem faint, indeed, to these public officials.
All these business buildups run the risk of overplaying their hand. With the field largely to themselves, can ITT-like scandals be far away? To continue unabated, concentrated power requires a low profile, a subtlety in its use that past generations of big businessmen seemed to understand instinctively. The new wave of business overtly flaunting its influence may not be so smart over time. With more huckstering senators like Orrin Hatch, who needs muckrakers?