Lobbying the President and the Bureaucracy
Eric M. Uslaner
INTEREST groups and the executive don't go well together. We rarely hear much about how such groups influence the president and when we do, we wish we hadn't. The two presidents most closely connected to interest groups were Warren Harding and Richard M. Nixon. Harding's secretary of the interior signed over priceless oil reserves in Teapot Dome, Wyoming, and Elk Hills, California, to two oil company executives in 1921. In return the secretary received $125,000 in bribes. He was ultimately convicted of bribery in 1929. Harding died while in office in 1923, but people still remember how the interior secretary--and other administration officials --sold public policy for cash.
No one ever charged Nixon with either bribery or knowledge of it. But he was forced to resign--the only president ever to do so--because of his involvement in the Watergate scandal. The affair involved a 1972 burglary at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C. The bungled break-in was financed at least in part by illegal cash contributions to the Nixon reelection effort. We never found out what, if anything, the donors wanted for their money, or if they ever approached Nixon directly. But the amounts were, by the standards of the time, very large, and some contributions were made by friends of the president.
Lobbyists rarely get direct access to the White House. Interest groups and chief executives have fundamentally different styles. Lobbyists build support for their programs through informal contacts and the provision of information ( Milbrath 1963). Presidents have access to as much information as they need--often more than they can handle. They also have little