Navigating the Political Environment
Ronald J. Hrebenar
After all, the chief business of the American people is business.
—President Calvin Coolidge, January 17, 1925, in an address to the United States Press Club,
. . . for years I thought what was good for the country was
good for General Motors and vice versa.
—Charles E. Wilson at his 1953 congressional confirmation hearings to become secretary of defense in the Eisenhower administration
Money is the mother's milk of politics.
—Jessie Unruh, speaker of California's state assembly quoted in Time magazine, December 14, 1962
On being a politician dealing with lobbyists. . . . "If you can't eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women and still vote against them, you have no business being up here."
—Jessie Unruh, quoted in Lou Cannon's Ronnie and Jesse: A Political Odyssey. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1969, p. 101.
U.S. business and government have always existed in a symbiotic relationship. Business needs government to provide the services, policies, contracts, preferments and, yes, the protection it needs to make the profits necessary to survive and prosper. Government (and more clearly, the politicians and bureaucrats that run the government) need business for election support in their political campaigns or for post-politics jobs. They needed each other in the 1800s, the 1900s and now, especially, in the 21st century. However, it would be true to note that the need for business to be much involved with governments on all levels of U.S. politics greatly increased beginning around 1900, when government began to be much more involved with business. Today, every business, no matter how small, has to deal with governmental regulations and concerns on an almost day-to-day basis. Clearly, the business of the federal government is business and that the business of Washington, D.C., is lobbying. Washington is filled with lawyers, and many of these lawyers are also lobbyists— lobbyists who mostly work for the world of business.
In addition, one can see this in a brief walk around the famous K Street in Washington, D.C., where thousands of corporations, trade associations, interest groups, and lobbyists have their offices.1 smaller versions of K Street exist around many state capitals and some city and county halls. Lobbying is a growth business in the United States even in these times of economic doldrums because whether the economy is good or bad, government and business remain intertwined.
This chapter addresses that essential relationship between business and government. Unfortunately, many, if not most, businessmen and corporate executives know little or nothing about how to deal with government and the people who make the decisions for the government. An MBA, although a wonderful degree to have on one's resume for leading a major corporation in the United States, does not prepare a business leader for making his or her claims on the city council, state legislature, or the Congress. Dealing with government from a businessman's perspective might seem to be very easy, but it isn't. Lobbying, the process of communication between the interest and government, can be very complicated. It's an art, not a science.2 Well, it seems to be more of an art than a science. It does have a large number of "dos and don'ts" which are so widely agreed on that they seem to approach the level of "laws or theories." Even if lobbying is studied by scholars from political science from colleges of social and behavioral science, the practice of lobbying is still considered an "art."
The nation is filled with an enormously wide range of interests who have concerns and demands to make at the various levels of the U.S. government. We do know that the great majority of these interests come from the world of business. At the state level, business dominates the debates in the legislatures and in the various offices of the bureaucracy. Compared to the other interests that may seek to influence public policy, business is the "300-pound gorilla" in state politics. No other interest comes even close to rival the power of the business lobbies