Interview with Congressman George Miller (D-CA)

© 1996 Hedrick Smith Productions, Inc.

Congress & Lobbyists: The Inside Influence Game

MILLER: What Project Relief was about, what the Thursday Group was about, what their whole relationship with the special interests, with the lobbyists, with campaign contributions, what that is about is really the most comprehensive and complete assault on the basic regulatory laws in this nation: the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, forced policies, because the special interests who have been regulated by the people of this country not to pollute the streams, not to pollute the air, not to clear cut the forest, now knew this was their day, and so you just had a hand-in-glove operation. What the Republicans demanded from the special interests was money, and what the special interests demanded from the Republicans were amendments, and they both got their way. They have raised money at a record rate unprecedented, and the amendments that have been offered without hearings, without discussion, that's unprecedented. So, it was a great deal for them.

HSMITH: Well, are you saying that there was something done that was fundamentaley different than what had been done ever before, and if so, what?

MILLER: There was a very exacting quid pro quo. Congressman DeLay and the press accounts of this are legion, you know, where are you on this list of contributors? Have you given to Republicans? Have you hired a Republican lobbyist? If you haven't done these things, you couldn't get in the door.
Then the amendments weren't suggested by members of Congress who had an interest in the issue who had been working on the committee. The amendments were brought forth by lobbying firms, by the lawyers from downtown on K Street. They were given to the members in many instances, if there was a hearing the morning of the hearing with no chance for cross examination, no chance for any checks and balances, no chance to find out what the impact was because, again, the industry couldn't stand the light of day. And what you were presented with the Republican members offering amendments that they couldn't explain. They would admit, they would say, "Well, gee, I just got this amendment and the people who drafted it --." They couldn't answer the questions. They couldn't answer the questions. In many instances they weren't part of the equation. They were the vehicle.

HSMITH: Who drafted the amendments?

MILLER: The special interests, the lawyers from K Street, from downtown, from the chemical industry, from the paper industry, from the forestry industry, from the mining industry. I mean, you name it. This was their opportunity. The election of a Republican Congress was their chance to either gut or repeal the basic laws that they didn't like. They don't like complying with the Clean Air Act, with Clean Water. what is different, is that lobbyists and lawyers and others have been making legislative suggestions around here for as long as the Capitol has been here. But, those ideas then were open to scrutiny. You had hearings on pieces of legislation You had cross examinations. You interrogated witnesses back and forth. You may have asked for an outside review by the National Science Foundation or you asked the Chamber of Commerce or you asked the Sierra Club, what are your views on this, and then the legislators worked their will. Not in this process. Not in this process.

HSMITH: Was it different in the 100 days than it has been subsequent to that? I mean, was there something about the railroad tempo of that that made things operate differently?

MILLER: What's different now with the Republican takeover of the House and the Senate is that the old fire walls that you used to honor and the separation between special interests, lawyers, lobbyists who are pleading their case before the Congress, there was a separation. There were fire walls you didn't go beyond in doing business. You might take a suggestion and say, "Let me look at this. Let me have my staff review it. Let's have the committee take a look. Let's have a hearing." There were those sort of dignities of the process in terms of you were working for the people and these other people were working, in many instances, for very narrow special economic interests in some cases. All of those fire walls have been taken down. All of those distances have been collapsed, and so we now see the lobbyists sitting on a formal, weekly arrangement around a table with members of Congress, monitoring and suggesting and making arrangements for the progress and the changes in legislation. We now see lobbyists being brought into offices and being scolded for not contributing enough or not taking the right position in the office of a member in the leadership and power structure of the Republican Party.

The Tobacco Lobby: Money, Grassroots, and Telemarketing

MILLER: I would tell them to be very careful because just before the election last November, a year ago, a poll was taken and the question was, "Who do you think the Democrats represent, people like you or the special interests?" And more people thought we represented the special interests than people like them. The Republicans already are strongly identified with narrow special interests and conflicts of interest that are contrary to the best interests of the people of the United States. That's how you lose an election. We did some of this, no question about it. We paid a very dear price for it because we traded representing the people for trading the special interests. It was very bad advice our party got many years ago and we made a very bad Faustian bargain and we paid the price.

HSMITH: What do you say to Republicans who say, "Look, what Tom DeLay is doing is just taking a leaf out of the book of [former Democratic leader] Tony Coehlo"?

MILLER: That's a terrible mistake. It was bad advice for us then when Tony gave us that advice. It was the short fix. You become addicted to it, you can't get away from it, and eventually it beats you. It's like any other addiction. Campaign money can become that and special interest money can become that and eventually you lose your identity with the American public, you lose your identity with the ideals of this nation and you'll be out of office.
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© 1996 Hedrick Smith Productions, Inc.