February 20, 2009
Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff still reigns for many as the public face of a corrupted Washington, D.C. But a new book from WASHINGTON POST reporter Robert G. Kaiser recounts the rise of one of Washington's most powerful yet less known lobbyists, Gerald Cassidy, who over the last 30 years helped evolve the now infamous processes of lobbying and earmarking that Abramoff briefly exploited.
Kaiser tells Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL about Cassidy, a complex "self-invented" man, who escaped a poor childhood to amass a huge fortune in the influence industry, "To me, the Cassidy story is wonderfully illustrative of how Washington became a venue -- in my time and your time -- a venue for the great American pastime, which is not baseball, but making money."
Kaiser's is not a tale of heroes and villains, but of people ambitious for wealth and power exploiting the system on behalf of monied interests of all kinds, from universities to major corporations. While cautioning that the U.S. government has never been perfect, and that lobbying is protected by the first amendment, Kaiser argues that the system still could be improved.
It can be much more transparent than it's been. We can see people, what they're doing, much more clearly than we've been able to do so far. There are reforms that are possible. But we're never gonna make people into pure, you know, Christian gentleman. It doesn't happen that way.
Kaiser explains that as long as Washington is a center of money and power, it will tempt some people. He illustrates his point with the story that titled his book:
I went to [lobbyist Bob] Strauss, and I said, "Explain to me why the lobbying business has boomed so, in the years that you've been in it, 35 years." And he thought about it for a minute, and he said, "You know, there's just so damn much money in this."
For more on the story of Gerald Cassidy and rise of lobbying, read Kaiser's 27 part series in the WASHINGTON POST, "Citizen K Street."
Robert G. Kaiser
Robert G. Kaiser is associate editor and senior correspondent of THE WASHINGTON POST. He has worked at THE POST since 1963, when he worked as a summer intern while still a college student. He has served as a special correspondent in London (1964-67), a reporter on the city desk in Washington ('67-'69), foreign correspondent in Saigon ('69-'70) and Moscow ('71-'74). He returned to the national staff in Washington and worked as a reporter for seven years, covering labor, the U.S. Senate, the 1980 presidential campaign and the first Reagan administration.
In 1982 Kaiser became associate editor of THE POST and editor of OUTLOOK, a Sunday section of commentary and opinion. He also wrote a column for the section. From 1985 to 1990 he was assistant managing editor for national news. From 1990 to 1991 he was deputy managing editor, and from 1991 to 1998 served as the paper's managing editor. He began his current assignment in September, 1998.
Kaiser is the author or co-author of seven books: COLD WINTER, COLD WAR (1974); RUSSIA, THE PEOPLE AND THE POWER (1976); GREAT AMERICAN DREAMS (with Jon Lowell, 1978); RUSSIA FROM THE INSIDE (with Hannah Jopling Kaiser, 1980); WHY GORBACHEV HAPPENED (1991); THE NEWS ABOUT THE NEWS; AMERICAN JOURNALISM IN PERIL (with Leonard Downie Jr., 2002) and SO DAMN MUCH MONEY, THE TRIUMPH OF LOBBYING AND THE CORROSION OF AMERICAN GOVERMMENT (2009). THE NEWS ABOUT THE NEWS won Harvard University's Goldsmith prize for the best book of 2002 on politics and the news media. Kaiser's work has also appeared in the NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, ESQUIRE, FOREIGN AFFAIRS and many other publications. He has been a commentator on NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, and has appeared often on television, on MEET THE PRESS, the TODAY show and other programs. His dispatches from Moscow won the Overseas Press Club award for best foreign correspondence of the year in 1975. In 2003 he won the National Press Club prize for best diplomatic reporting of the year.
Born in Washington, D.C., Kaiser graduated from Yale College in 1964. He received a masters degree from the London School of Economics in 1967. He is married to Hannah Jopling, an anthropologist, and has two daughters, Charlotte and Emily.
Published February 20, 2009.
Guest photo by Robin Holland.