Lewis Anthony Dexter. Influence . . . information . . . intelligence.
According to the Washington representatives quoted at the beginning of the last chapter, they can provide their clients with "guidance . . . information . . . influence." The phrasing is neat. But it is an oversimplification.
For, in fact, it is only on rare occasions that Washington representatives can really "provide," or "offer," that is to say, sell or rent influence. The notion, however, that this can frequently be done is common; it confuses clients, employers, potential clients, journalists, and a good many observers of government.
The best way to show the irrelevance of the notion to most Washington representation is to start out with a discussion of some typical occasions when influence is actually supposed to have been sold or rented. This provides a contrast with the more characteristic and realistic ways in which Washington representatives can help clients exert influence: by discovering for the clients facts and techniques which permit the focusing and orienting of previously unexercised sources of influence.
Reflections about the discovery of such facts and techniques lead directly into consideration of the kinds of information which a Washington representative can usefully provide his client or employer. In summary, the Washington representative must select, process, and handle information so that it becomes "intelligence," in the sense in which that word is used in military planning. For, in one way or another, clients and employers are concerned with actions or contemplated actions; and information is only useful to them if it affects plans for action.
Influence can be most effectively sold or rented--from the client's standpoint, purchased--when the issue is that of awarding a specific favor. A contract is given to a corporation. A pardon is granted so-and-so. A tax decision benefits such-and-such a company. Broad issues of policy do not ordinarily arise on such matters. People who are, chiefly. concerned with them are not (in the sense in which the terms are used in this book) as such engaged in "Washington representation" or "government relations."
Nevertheless, of course, a good many Washington representatives spend part of their time on issues of policy and the rest on contracts, favors, special awards. Does it pay a client to try to hire somebody who has special influence, if part of the work in Washington is to get special favors?
Obviously, the answer to any such general question may vary with specific cases. But, ordinarily, it is of dubious value to the client.
First: There is rarely any way of telling whether influence or "pull" really did make the difference. The requirements of bureaucracy and the insistence upon honesty in government operate so that there is no clarity on the matter. Even if a decision is made on the basis of pull, the client cannot be sure at all that this is so--the decision- making official will not furnish any proof to that effect.
Second: We hear a good deal about ways in which special interests mislead public servants. There is also the reverse situation. Public servants may mislead--and do mislead--special interests in the following way.
They indicate to an organization that they will pay unusual attention to such-and-such a former employee or political supporter or relative. So, the organization hires the person. But, in fact, its claims are handled on their merits, just as they would have been anyway. With perhaps one additional handicap: some subordinates in the executive agencies, dealing with the organization are careful to lean over backward, because they foresee that if the political climate changes, some allegation of scandal may occur. So the organization, if anything, loses on the deal.