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Glenn Simpson
Glenn Simpson
Dirty Little Secrets: The Persistence of Corruption in American Politics
ISBN: 0812924991
Dirty Little Secrets: The Persistence of Corruption in American Politics
Mr. Simpson talked about the book he co-authored by Larry Sabato, Dirty Little Secrets: The Persistance of Corruption in American Politics, published by Times Books. In the book the authors analyzed why they believe Americans are cynical about the political system. Simpson described various forms of corruption in Congress such as "street money" or "walking around money," which is the practice of paying community leaders to get voters to the polls, and the purchase of legislative favors through large political contributions
Dirty Little Secrets: The Persistence of Corruption in American Politics
Program Air Date: June 30, 1996

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Glenn R. Simpson, co-author of "Dirty Little Secrets," where did you get the title?
GLENN SIMPSON, AUTHOR, "DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS That was actually originally the subtitle. It was going to be something to the effect of "Corrupt Campaigning: The Dirty Little Secrets of American Politics." Lots of people use alliterations in their titles. In this instance we decided, I think with some advice from the publisher, that "Dirty Little Secrets" made a snappy title.
LAMB: How corrupt is American politics?
SIMPSON: I think there's a good bit of corruption going on, and I've sort of changed my thinking on this over the years. I've been covering Capitol Hill for about eight years, and I originally was sort of in the naysayer party, which there are many here in Washington. And over the years, having developed a liking for the muckraking journalism, I've seen too much going on to be blind to it anymore. Larry is, sort of, of the same school. We both feel that there's a lot of good people in politics and that politics is a very healthy endeavor. Larry has a button that he gives out to his students -- Larry Sabato, my co-author: "Politics is a Good Thing." We both are strong believers in political activity and strenuous political activity, but there are just too many things going on now that need to be talked about and exposed.
LAMB: Page 25: "At least 64 of the 87 men and women who first joined the US House of Representatives on January 3rd, 1995" -- this current Congress -- "faced not a cut in pay, but rather a raise and in many instances, a very hefty one."
SIMPSON: That's true. By and large, legislators are very well paid today, and I don't take issue with that. I think they should be well paid. But that speaks to our point in the book, which is that we need to update our definition of corruption. It is certainly true that people don't deliver sacks of money to congressmen anymore to get them to vote one way or another. However, that doesn't mean that corruption no longer exists. Our argument is that it has taken new forms. It oftentimes is legal corruption, such a sexchanging favors for campaign contributions, other insidious practices that have become very routine.
LAMB: You talk about street money.
SIMPSON: Right. Much...
LAMB: What is street money?
SIMPSON: Street money, also known as walking-around money, is the practice of paying community leaders to get voters to the polls. It's frequently found in cities, ethnic communities, minority communities. There's nothing per se wrong with spreading some money around to help people get to the polls, particularly if people don't own cars and otherwise wouldn't be able to afford to get to the polls. However, it's degenerated into something a lot dirtier, in which a lot of community leaders demand money as tribute and, in fact, don't spread it around in the community or spread only some of it around and pocket the rest.
LAMB: In Virginia, for example, a statewide Democratic campaign will budget at least $250,000 to $300,000 for a minority GOTV effort, or G-O-T-V.
SIMPSON: G-O-T-V. That's correct.
LAMB: What's that mean?
SIMPSON: "Get out the vote." And that money -- some of it will go to hiring vans. Some of it goes, well, you know, I mean, sometimes there are very petty, little compensations. In Virginia, they gave out gift certificates to people who went to the polls for a free Big Mac. And, you know, I mean, that's not terribly troubling. It's a little bit sad. What's much more troubling is when a community leader threatens to withhold support if a large amount of money isn't paid, and oftentimes this money will go into a church's fund or some other thing that doesn't really have anything to do with getting people to the polls.
LAMB: "When I speak from the pulpit of certain black churches, I have to pay $400 or so for the privilege." A Southern member of the US House of Representatives said that.
SIMPSON: Right. It's very common and it's not just in the South. You know, I mean, New Jersey is famous for the use of street money by Democratic Party organizations.
LAMB: Do you have any other examples of street money?
SIMPSON: Yes. One of the more striking is in Tennessee, where the Tennessee Democratic Party paid out in excess of $100,000 to a series of organizations with vague names like Third District Voter Committee that don't appear to exist. They're not registered as political committees. They're not registered as corporations. They don't have addresses or phone numbers, and we can't seem to locate them. So, you know, who are these people? Well, you go to the Tennessee Democratic Party and you say, "Look, I did all the research that I could, I checked all the public records. You know, under the law, these groups should be you know, registered. I can't find them. Can you help me find them? Can you tell me what this money really went for?" And they say, "Sorry, we can't help you. That's one of our political trade secrets."
LAMB: Who's Larry Sabato?
SIMPSON: Larry J. Sabato is professor of government at the University of Virginia, author of more than a dozen books on politics, some of them very well known: "The Rise of Political Consultants," "Feeding Frenzy," which was his most recent previous book about the press and how they cover political campaigns.
LAMB: Who's Glenn Simpson?
SIMPSON: Glenn Simpson is a reporter for The Wall Street Journal of eight months; previously of Roll Call newspaper of Capitol Hill for about six years, and finally, before that, I was at Insight magazine, The Washington Times magazine.
LAMB: Now you point out right away that this is unusual for a journalist and a college professor to write together. Why?
SIMPSON: Because they have different views and different standards. There's some overlap, but journalists tend to be more oriented toward muckraking and not quite as concerned with sort of high-tone academic style or standards.
LAMB: What do you mean by muckraking?
SIMPSON: Muckraking, contrary to what some people understand the term to mean, is actually generally a positive term which dates back to the early 19th century. You're literally raking the muck. You're digging through it. It's basically investigative reporting, where you're trying to kind of look beneath the surface of things and evaluate whether things are appropriate.
LAMB: Where is your home originally?
SIMPSON: I grew up outside of Philadelphia in a relatively small suburb, Valley Forge. It's a northwest suburb of Philadelphia.
LAMB: Where did you go to college?
SIMPSON: I went to George Washington University. That's where I got my degree. I started at the University of Delaware.
LAMB: Got it right in here in town.
SIMPSON: That's right. It was a great help in getting into the journalism business.
LAMB: Can you remember the first time where you saw something you thought was corrupt in politics?
SIMPSON: Well, I can remember the most striking thing, which was -- I covered the Charles Keating affair for Roll Call fairly early in my tenure there, and I found a lot of what was going on to be pretty appalling. And, in fact, we referenced the Keating affair as a sort of a signal event in recent history of corruption. It was appalling in a myriad different ways. Much of what I found to be very troubling was overlooked.
LAMB: What was that?
SIMPSON: Well, there was one particular example I can think of is that Jim Wright intervened with Fernand St. Germain, the chairman of the House Banking Committee.
LAMB: At the time, he was from Rhode Island.
SIMPSON: Right. And this was way back in the latter half of the '80s, to quash an inquiry into Keating's running of a savings and loan. We did a big story about it in Roll Call, and no one ever really lifted a finger, talked about it, made note of it or anything like that. There was a lot of involvement with Charles Keating by more than a dozen members of Congress. It wasn't just those five who were on trial in the Senate. And I found it very troubling that the focus seemed to be just on them. But, you know, their conduct as well was deeply troubling, particularly in the sort of the gyrations that the committee members went through to say that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with accepting a large amount of money from someone who was seeking a favor.
LAMB: Review what's happened to people who were caught up in the "Keating Five" scandal.
SIMPSON: Well, only one was really driven from office and that was Alan Cranston. John McCain has pretty much resurrected his political career and perhaps fairly. I mean, you know, he of the five indicated more than anyone that he had a lot of moral qualms with doing Charles Keating's bidding. Dennis DeConcini elected to retire, probably judiciously. He probably could not have won another term. Donald Riegle also elected to retire, although very late in the game when he realized he couldn't be re-elected. And John Glenn, for the most part, has resurrected his political career and has been re-elected. Charles Keating, of course, is in prison and shall likely remain there for quite a long time.
LAMB: And Bob Bennett?
SIMPSON: Bob Bennett. Bob Bennett has become the Edward Bennett Williams of the latter part of this century. He has kind of gone on to become a superstar lawyer. In addition to the notoriety he achieved in handling this case and the case of Senator David Durenberger, as the special outside counsel for the Senate Ethics Committee -- has gone on to represent numerous high-profile figures. Another achievement of his was in persuading President Bush to give a pardon to Caspar Weinberger, Ronald Reagan's former secretary of defense in the Iran-Contra affair.

He currently represents the president of the United States in the Paula Jones lawsuit, and recently had yet another coup of sorts in that he represented Dan Rostenkowski, when Rostenkowski was just beginning to get in trouble, and worked out a deal with the prosecutors which would have landed Mr. Rostenkowski in jail for about six months. Mr. Rostenkowski refused that deal and came back several years later and accepted a much worse deal that is going to force him to stay in prison for a lot longer.
LAMB: As a political scientist, you say you were studying the impact of the Keating Five hearings on political lives and personal lives. And do it from a standpoint of somebody that's saying, "Does the system work or not?" What would your conclusion be?
SIMPSON: My conclusion would be that the system worked in a squeaky way.
LAMB: Could this happen in any other country?
SIMPSON: Certainly.
LAMB: Well, I don't mean the corruption. I mean, could the system work in any other country like it does here?
SIMPSON: You mean, you know, you see around the world, and particularly in this hemisphere, an increasing sensitivity toward these sort of ethics issues. And sometimes public figures are forced out of office simply because of the shame of what has occurred rather than through any legal activity. I mean, this is basically the result of the Keating Five investigation, was that several of these senators were publicly disgraced, and that's not a terrible outcome. I mean, I think that, given what happened, it was a little bit light.
LAMB: You write that, "In 1907, 1910, 1911, Congress passed various pieces of campaign finance legislation forbidding corporations and national banks from contributing to congressional and presidential candidates, mandating disclosure of campaign expenditures and establishing spending limits for House and Senate campaigns. These rules were codified and expanded in the Federal Corrupt Practices Act of 1925." What happened?
SIMPSON: Not very much. Laws regulating politics are usually very difficult to enforce in this country because of the Constitution, which provides pretty broad protection, and because of the general political culture which encourages freedom of activity. And very little from those pieces of legislation had a strong impact. It really didn't stop people from collecting large amounts of money and spending large amounts of money. Increasingly through this century, you have seen a raising of public sensitivity towards spending large amounts of money, but that hasn't stopped politicians from doing it.
LAMB: Did you worry when you wrote your book about partisanship, being accused of taking on one side or the other?
SIMPSON: We worried a great deal about that. Neither Larry nor I is particularly ideological, but we took great pains to be as bipartisan as possible. I mean, you know, theoretically neither of us is partisan at all, but recognizing that not everyone knows who we are or believes that we're, you know, nonpartisan, we took pains to make sure that we had material in there that dealt with both parties, and, in fact, that's the truth. I mean, the corruption that exists in Washington and in American politics generally definitely knows no ideology or partisan coloration.
LAMB: Chapter eight is about perks, and one of the people you talk about right away is Senator Frank Lautenberg.
LAMB: What's the point?
SIMPSON: Well, there's several points. One of the points with Senator Lautenberg is that there has developed a sort of a system on Capitol Hill -- and it may be less strong today because of the Republican takeover -- but there had developed a system where people who served for a fairly long amount of time managed to build up these little fiefs where they were the absolute ruler, and Mr. Lautenberg was chairman of the Transportation Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee. So he doled out all the transportation money, and he used this as a tool to get himself re-elected, used it pretty adeptly and sometimes quite brazenly. And we lump this in with a lot of perks, a lot of things that legislators provide themselves with that help them get re-elected at the expense of the larger public.
LAMB: You point out that in 1967 House members had a total of about 4,000 personal staff, and senators about 1,700 total -- that would be 5,700 personal staff members. Ten years later, the number was 7,000: 3,300 for the Senate increases -- no, 7,000 for the House, 3,300 for the Senate, increases of 75 percent and 94 percent, respectively. And by 1989 there were nearly 18 employees for each House representative, and 38 for each senator.
SIMPSON: Right. It's pretty amazing. What you find, if you look at what those people do is that only a small number of them are devoted to the actual practice of legislating, of helping to write laws and research things.

The vast bulk of the increase pertains to constituent service, which means, you know, you have a legion of staff members running around calling the Social Security Administration or the Federal Housing Administration, trying to get help for their constituents. In fact, many of them are now based out in the districts. This kind of thing doesn't go very far towards what I consider to be the kind of ultimate purpose of Congress, which is to make laws, but it does go a long way towards helping members of Congress get re-elected.
LAMB: You talk about a ethics manual that says you can't use your staff in campaigns, but you go on to show differently.
SIMPSON: Right. Right.
LAMB: How's it work?
SIMPSON: Well, most of the admonitions in the ethics manual are not very strong, and this is not very well regulated. This is what Dan Rostenkowski got in trouble for, though, and there's no question that, if you do it brazenly enough or -- and if you get caught, you're in deep trouble. Basically, a lot of these staff members are either compelled or encouraged to assist in political campaigns. Sometimes there is a technical observance of the law because these people go on vacation and then work for the boss, but I mean, you know, one of the questions we ask in the book is: How can all these staff members not be like normal Americans and want to take a real vacation rather than go out to the district and, you know, stomp for somebody in all their spare time?
LAMB: How do they hide it, though?
SIMPSON: Well, I mean, they don't hide it that much. People just aren't looking. I mean, that's one of our points, is that you can see from the records. The records that are published on a quarterly basis by the House and the Senate show that, in the two weeks before the election, many House members will take their Washington staffs, fly them out to the district on the government tab, and, you know, clearly they're out there campaigning. And then the day after the election, they fly them back.
LAMB: Explain this chart right here.
SIMPSON: That is a chart of the increase in trips to the district by congressional staff for selected members of Congress between an off-year, and an on-year. In 1993, you know, somebody will send their staff out to district twice, and in '94 they'll send them out seven times. It's just amazing, some of these members of Congress -- I mean, how much that their behavior changes in an election year, and so it's painfully obvious that millions of dollars in taxpayer money is spent by these members of Congress to get themselves re-elected.
LAMB: Under the headline -- subhead, "We Deliver For You" -- I'll quote a couple things here, and you tell us what this is. "I'm writing to you on an airplane returning from the Middle East." And then below that you say this individual, this senator, writes, "I'm writing to you on an El-Al flight from Israel."
SIMPSON: Right. Well, this is one of the more brilliant uses of federally financed mail and computer technology by Senator Alfonse D'Amato, who has a large Jewish constituency, and has been quite adept at sort of pulling a large number of them away from their traditional Democratic base. What he did in this instance was he went to Israel just prior to the Gulf War. He went to the Middle East, excuse me, and he was writing -- in that case, he was writing to his constituents on the airplane coming back, but he wanted to basically talk out both sides of his mouth. So for his non-Jewish constituents he wrote a letter that said, "I'm on an airplane coming home from the Middle East." To his Jewish constituents he wrote, "I'm on an El-Al flight" -- which is the Israeli national airline -- "coming back from Israel." And, you know, computer technology makes it very easy for him to figure out who his constituents are demographically, and send them the appropriate letter.
LAMB: Well, you go on to show the difference further. "As a United States senator from New York, my going to the Middle East to visit our troops would send a clear message of commitment, compassion, and concern," he wrote in one letter. Then later on you show him saying, "As a United States senator from New York, my going to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem would send a clear message of commitment, compassion, and concern."
LAMB: Do these kind of things work?
SIMPSON: I think that they do work. I don't think that they're necessarily determinative. I think that that was part of a larger strategy that Senator D'Amato had to play to certain groups in the electorate and was one effective piece of that strategy.
LAMB: What's 499?
SIMPSON: That's the limitation in the House of Representatives on how many pieces of mail can be sent out in a batch in the weeks preceding an election. There are all sorts of silly, kind of convoluted rules that Congress has come up with to make it appear as if -- or to try and prevent the use of mail for electioneering. One of these rules is you can only send out 499; you can't send out 500. However, you know, again, computers make it quite possible to send out 25 batches of 499 each, which basically makes the rule meaningless.
LAMB: "Reach out and slime someone."
SIMPSON: This is probably the chapter which has gotten the most attention in the book. It's about the use of the telephone to smear one's opponent in a negative, underhanded way. There are kind of all sorts of permutations of this, but the basic, most pernicious use of the phone these days is something that's come to be called a push poll, and a push poll, a very simple example...
LAMB: It's P-U-S-H P-O-L-L?
SIMPSON: Correct.
LAMB: Push poll.
SIMPSON: Right, and basically what it is calling voters under the guise of a poll to persuade them to vote one way or another, and the worst example of this is you say, "Good evening, Mr. Jones. I'm from the National Research Center. We're conducting a survey in the 3rd Congressional District to see how people are voting. If you knew that Congressman Smith was a wife-beater, would that make you more likely or less likely to vote for him?"

And you go through and you say a bunch of bad things about Congressman Smith under the guise of a poll. If it works well, the voter thinks that he's been polled by a legitimate survey research organization, and has had with him planted negative information, frequently untrue information, about Congressman Smith. Typically these aren't legitimate polls. They are financed by Congressman Smith's challenger. It's very underhanded. I mean, there's several levels of deception. Sometimes the questions are untrue, and then there's the deception of leading someone to believe that they're participating in a poll, when, in fact, all it is a negative phone campaign.

The term "push poll" originates in legitimate survey research. There is a lot of legitimate campaign pollsters will put questions into a survey that are called push questions, and it's considered fair to ask someone how they'd vote if they knew a certain piece of information. "Would you be more or less likely to vote for Bob Dole if you knew that he supports a constitutional ban on abortion?" Well, you know, I mean, that's a legitimate thing for Bill Clinton's pollster to want to know, and if Bill Clinton's pollster identifies himself and otherwise acts appropriately, I don't think anybody should object to that. So pollsters kind of get leery of the use of this term "push poll" to describe something that's really not polling at all.
LAMB: You wrote this: "Eric Fingerhut received much the same treatment." Quote, "I'm single, and I kept getting reports about the push polling calls that would ask anyone who said they were for me, quote, `Would you still vote for him if you knew he was gay?'"
SIMPSON: Right, and that was a particularly difficult charge to answer. You know, he said, "Well, what was I supposed to do? Call a press conference and announce that I'm not gay?" That's the sort of thing, and interestingly enough, this tactic appears to originate with Richard Nixon, the father of dirty campaigning, who in 1946, in the race against Jerry Voorhis in California, ran an operation in which they had a boiler room, a bunch of people making calls in the evening, and they would say, "Psst, this is a friend of mine -- this is a friend of yours. Did you know that Jerry Voorhis is a Communist?" Then they'd hang up the phone. There was no real polling going on there, but it was the same process of spreading rumors anonymously by using the phone.
LAMB: What's the story about John Baldacci?
SIMPSON: Baldacci was the victim of a similar slander, which was, "How would you feel if you knew that John Baldacci hadn't repaid his student loan?"
LAMB: Now, who is he?
SIMPSON: He's a congressman from the 2nd District of Maine, the more rural of the two districts.
LAMB: Who did it?
SIMPSON: It's believed to have been done by a labor organization in league with the National Democratic Party.
LAMB: Do these things work?
SIMPSON: I think they work some. I think that as people become more aware of what's going on, they're going to have a backfire effect. When people get caught using them, and the press makes a big deal about it, it's going to hurt the person who's doing it. However, it clearly works. The most interesting recent case, where I'm convinced that it was very effective, was in the Iowa presidential caucuses, when Bob Dole used a push polling operation against several of his rivals, but most significantly against Steve Forbes, and suggested, under the guise of a polling organization, that his flat tax policies were going to hurt farmers in Iowa.
LAMB: You talk in the beginning of this about history. Did you do the research on history?
SIMPSON: Some of it, yes. I'm sort of a student of that. But we really shared a lot of the research duties.
LAMB: How, by the way, how did you two divide up your functions?
SIMPSON: Well, it sort of depended upon the section. There were certain things that I knew best that I stuck to, such as the history of Newt Gingrich's financing of his campaigns. And then there were other things that Larry was particularly familiar with, including push polling. So we divided that up, and then we would again divide up the writing, and you know that he's in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I'm here in Washington, but technologies really eliminates the difficulties there. I mean, you can just e-mail each other back and forth huge portions of text, and it really makes for a very genuine, up-to-the-minute collaboration.
LAMB: Which of the Credit Mobilier or the Teapot Dome or any of the scandals of the past are you most interested in?
SIMPSON: I'm much more interested in more recent scandals like Watergate and things like that. He's much more familiar with the older ones than I am.
LAMB: What about Newt Gingrich? And you have two things you write about, GOPAC and -- is it CHOPAC?
LAMB: CHOPAC? What is it? What is the difference?
SIMPSON: Well, the fundamental difference was that CHOPAC played by the rules and GOPAC wrote the rules.
LAMB: What was the first one?
SIMPSON: CHOPAC was a normal political action committee. It operated just like any other political action committee in town, of which there are thousands, observed the federal regulations limiting the amount of money you can raise and the amount of money you can spend and, you know, registering with the Federal Election Commission and disclosing all of its activity.

GOPAC observed none of those rules for much of its existence, didn't observe limits on fund-raising, didn't disclose its activities -- and it was a sort of a quantum breakthrough for Newt Gingrich, because at the time that he was trying to organize this Republican revolution during the '80s, there were not a lot of people out there who were willing to give him money. There were a few people out there who were willing to give him a lot of money. So if you can find a way to accept a lot of money from a few people, you've got an enormous advantage.
LAMB: In the chapter, Part One, you start off with "Revolution." You quote Leon Trotsky as saying, "A revolution breaks out when all the antagonisms of society have reached their highest tension."
LAMB: Why did you use that?
SIMPSON: Well, it's my feeling that Newt Gingrich's brilliance was his ability to tap into and exacerbate the antagonisms of our political age. I mean, it was clear to me, covering Congress for, you know, the last eight years, that things were building up. The public was becoming increasingly resentful of the way Congress was managing its own affairs and the affairs of the country, and that sooner or later this was going to bubble over.
LAMB: The next section you quote Trotsky again.
LAMB: "A revolution is always distinguished by impoliteness."
SIMPSON: Correct. And I think that's an important lesson. Revolutionaries tend not to be polite people, and this is exactly what Gingrich was. I mean, he was the definition of impoliteness.
LAMB: The Education of a House-Wrecker -- did he wreck the House?
SIMPSON: Well, he has famously said that the only way to save Congress is to destroy it, and in some senses, he did. I mean, he certainly wrecked the old order. He absolutely destroyed it. He dismantled it.
LAMB: You quote a former aide of his, L.H. Kip Carter, as saying that the Gingrich campaign tactic in those days: "Phony letters to the editor, bogus pickets, secret alliances, planting nasty questions during radio interviews." How do you know he did that?
SIMPSON: From some of his old campaign materials, and from talking to people like Kip Carter. Some of his old minutes from his campaigns make very clear that they, you know, talked about doing some dirty tricks. I don't find this particularly, you know, morally offensive because it's so common in politics. I mean, you know, it's something that none of us should approve of, but it's not particularly impeaching, except for the fact that Newt Gingrich has always in his career posed as a real reformer, you know. He got up in his very first campaigns and said, "We can never run a closed campaign because it'll be impossible to have open government afterwards. I will always be open and honest, all my records will be available." Well, he never practiced that.
LAMB: You quote a letter that he wrote in 1982. And I bring it up because it involves this network. It says, "A frank mailing by Gingrich in December 1982 carried an item headlined, quote, 'Watch Congress on TV. Did you know that Congress is televised on cable now? Eleven million homes -- American homes -- and schools are hooked up to C-SPAN, the network that televises proceedings of the House of Representatives.'" Why did you use that?
SIMPSON: Because it's indicative of his attentiveness to what new technologies and what changes in communications could do, the changes they can -- that could be wrought through the use of these things. Later on in there we quote from a strategy paper that he wrote in which he said that there are several key factors that are present in all realigning elections, all watershed elections. And one of the things, throughout American history, that has been present in watershed elections is the emergence of new technologies or new modes of communication.

And you can see -- and I think that Gingrich is a brilliant politician and a strategist -- and you can see that before anybody else he recognized the emergence of some of these technologies. C-SPAN is particularly interesting. As you know, it's sort of lore in Washington how Gingrich and several other young House conservatives managed to use the cameras on the House floor to get out their message, and this led to one of the greatest public relations coups of Gingrich's career, which was to so antagonize House Speaker O'Neill that House Speaker O'Neill said some things that were against the rules in the House, and he was disciplined for it.
LAMB: You then have a chapter "The Old Order."
LAMB: And you bring Frank Lautenberg up again.
LAMB: And it's Frank Lautenberg and Bob Carr.
LAMB: Why so often with Frank Lautenberg? What is he doing wrong?
SIMPSON: To me, he is a great example of the average. The whole point in selecting him for this particularly microscopic examination is that here's a guy who -- he's a decent man, he's not a genius, he's not a great orator, he's not Ted Kennedy or Bob Kerrey or Bob Dole. I mean, he's very average. He's, you know, at the mid-level and what we wanted to show was that when you find instances of what we believe is corruption, it's not out of the ordinary -- it's the ordinary. And this is a great example of an ordinary person who engages in things that I think we should all find troubling.
LAMB: Give us an example.
SIMPSON: Well, a great example that actually may not even have made it in the book was there was a small town in New Jersey that was Bergen. It's actually not a small town, it's a big town. There's a newspaper in New Jersey -- the Bergen Record -- was very worked up about the fact that there was a cloverleaf highway that needed construction work and it was causing traffic jams, and they wanted Senator Lautenberg to fix it.

Unfortunately, that's really a state matter. They determine which particular project gets priority. You know, it's Frank Lautenberg's job to steer money to New Jersey, but he doesn't have much power on these individual matters. Well, the newspaper refused to accept this explanation and hinted that he was not going to get the endorsement if he didn't take care of this problem. So he used his clout on Capitol Hill to see to it that this particular project was funded. And, that's sort of a really irregular way of doing things, enabled by, you know, the systems the Democrats had set up that really, I believe, is not an appropriate use of your office because you're really using your office for a very explicit re-election purpose, and spending a lot of money that's not paid by the citizens of New Jersey. It's paid by citizens of every state in the country.
LAMB: Who's Bob Carr?
SIMPSON: He is the opposite number, or was the opposite number of Bob Lautenberg in the House of Representatives -- I mean, of Frank Lautenberg in the House of Representatives.
LAMB: "Carr's experience in the early 1990s showed what a difference a subcommittee chairmanship can make to a career politician." Is Bob Carr still here in Congress?
SIMPSON: No. No. He ran for the Senate in 1994 and was defeated.
LAMB: You say, "He collected a relatively modest $397,000 in campaign contributions, including $150,000 in gifts from individuals and $208,000 from political action committee." What did he do, and I guess it's in relationship to the L.A. subway?
SIMPSON: Not all of it.
LAMB: I mean, no, but that's one of the stories you tell here.
SIMPSON: Yeah. Well, basically what he did was, he was doing just what Lautenberg was doing. When he was in a position -- when he was the heir apparent to the chairmanship, and when he became the chairman, he went around the country to various cities and states that were looking for federal transportation money to finance subways and bus projects and airports, and collected campaign contributions from all the engineers and the local boosters. And everybody who stood to benefit from these construction projects he would hit them up for campaign money.
LAMB: Is it legal?
SIMPSON: It's totally legal.
LAMB: And so then do these chairmen then deliver to these people that have given money to them?
SIMPSON: Well, that's the point of great dispute. How frequently does giving this money get you what you want? What we try and show in there is that frequently it does.
LAMB: You also have another one where: "Carr next picked up an infusion of $16,000 in late April from the construction and engineering community in Houston." What was the purpose of that?
SIMPSON: It was sort of odd. The mayor there, Bob Lanier -- they were trying to build several different projects and fund a bus system.
LAMB: $28 million for a bus system.
SIMPSON: Yes. But what was really going on a lot of the time in Houston was that the mayor wanted to use federal transportation money for things like more cops to help himself get re-elected and basically solve some budget problems. This is not technically allowed under the rules. I mean, if you get money for transportation, you're supposed to spend it for transportation.
LAMB: Who's Eve Lubalin?
SIMPSON: She is Senator Lautenberg's top aide and generally runs his campaigns as well as his Senate office.
LAMB: You quote from a paper she wrote?
LAMB: I better read it so folks know. She's a Harvard grad?
SIMPSON: That's right.
LAMB: How long has she worked for him?
SIMPSON: About a decade, I think. It's most of her career.
LAMB: She has something called an "ambition theory." At what point in her life did she write this?
SIMPSON: She wrote that as a graduate student after serving an internship with Senator Bayh of Indiana.
LAMB: Have you talked to her about your book, by the way?
SIMPSON: No, I have not. I wrote some articles concerning her previous to this book.
LAMB: For Roll Call.
SIMPSON: Yes, and her aggressive fund-raising practices.
LAMB: How aggressive is she?
SIMPSON: Well, according to the people who know her well, she's very aggressive. You know, she's very mindful of the connection between fund-raising and policy-making.
LAMB: I gather, back in the 1970s -- ambition theory, she wrote, "assumes that as politicians go about fulfilling their daily responsibilities and meeting the minimal requirements of their jobs, their first priority will always be to concern themselves with the extent to which their current activities optimize their chances for achieving their office goals." What does that mean?
SIMPSON: Well, it's a sort of a high-minded way of saying that politicians do everything with an eye toward getting re-elected, which in a way seems obvious. Speaking conversationally or maybe to the average guy, they're cynical enough to think these days that, of course, politicians do everything with an eye toward getting re-elected, but in social science theory, this is actually not a dominant explainer of politicians' behavior. There's lots of other ...
LAMB: Do all politicians elected to Congress go about taking the taxpayer money and moving it around to benefit their fund-raising activities?
SIMPSON: No. What we find disturbing is that it's fairly routine and common. That certainly doesn't mean that everybody does it. It just means that there's not much of an impetus against it. There's really very little opprobrium within the body itself heaped upon people who engage in this sort of activity.
LAMB: Voters' guides.
SIMPSON: Voter guides. I consider this one of the real pernicious developments in recent years -- the Christian Coalition uses voter guides to rate candidates. Voter guides have a long and fairly honorable history in politics. Basically, you're an interest group, and you know you've got supporters out there, and you say, "Well, there's 10 issues we care about, and this is how Congressman X stands on these 10 issues."

The Christian Coalition took this legitimate practice and souped it up and expanded it. Instead of distributing a few thousand of these, they distribute tens of millions of them. Instead of grading everybody on the same scorecard, they would manipulate the scorecard as they saw fit, for the most part, and the clear tendency was what we allege in our book, is that the manipulation overwhelmingly benefited Republicans. Now they admit to manipulating these guides. In one guide, you'll rate them on the balanced budget, and in another, you'll rate them on term limits. They admit they do that. They say they do that because they only look for issues that provide contrast between the two candidates. What we found is that if the Republican has an unpopular stand on an issue like term limits, they won't rate him on that position.
LAMB: Who manages or who controls whether or not a 501, C-3 or C-4 corporation, tax-exempt, gets in or does not get into politics? And where is the conservative -- I mean, the Christian Coalition? Are they rated by the IRS?
SIMPSON: They are a C-4, which is the less restrictive of the two frequently used tax-exempt statuses. When you set one up, you apply for tax-exempt status, and it is granted provisionally with the assumption that later on it will be formally granted. It's my understanding that the Christian Coalition received provisional C-4 status, and whether they will formally be granted it has never come down. The IRS has a long history of tangling with Pat Robertson and his various organizations, and they also have a long and, I find, less-than-honorable history of not bringing any of these cases to resolution in any sort of public way. I mean, we still don't know in many regards whether the IRS has passed on the legitimacy of various organizations in Pat Robertson's empire.
LAMB: Let me go back to that "Dirty Tricks" chapter. Jim Hunt, governor of North Carolina.
LAMB: Cellular phones.
LAMB: What's that story?
SIMPSON: There was a Hunt supporter who was scanning the cellular phone waves -- this happens fairly frequently, actually -- and picked up a bunch of conversations by the opposition, and some of these found their way back to the Hunt campaign. It all came out and was an eavesdropping scandal. It was sort of like the scandal, similar scandal in Virginia, when a supporter of Senator Chuck Robb's overheard Governor Wilder talking in less-than-flattering ways about Senator Robb, and those tapes were eventually leaked to the press, and that was an eavesdropping scandal as well.
LAMB: Barbara Cubin of Wyoming.
SIMPSON: I find that one particularly revolting. Somehow they broke into her adoption records and obtained the records of her adoption and leaked those to the local press. Why anyone cares that someone's adopted, I don't know, but it's pretty offensive that something as private as that could find its way into a political campaign.
LAMB: What about the Fisher campaign in Texas? Fisher's campaign manager, Robin ...
SIMPSON: Oh, yeah. Robin Rorapaugh. Well, this is kind of a funny story. He was running against Kay Bailey Hutchinson, whose husband was deeply involved in her campaign. Robin was on a Southwest Airlines flight from Austin to Dallas, I think, and happened to be sitting right next to the enemy camp, and overheard them boasting that they had a spy in Mr. Fisher's organization who was feeding them all the inside information. Human spies in campaigns are actually very common. You hear about it a lot. Someone'll be interning, and they'll say, "Stevie, why don't you go over and join, you know, Governor Jones' campaign and tell us what's going on over there?" It's actually fairly frequent.
LAMB: You have a fairly long story that Joe Trippe, the Democratic consultant to Walter Mondale, tells in here. Can you remember it?
SIMPSON: No, you'll have to refresh my memory a little bit.
LAMB: "I was running Pennsylvania for Mondale in 1984 primary against Gary Hart. We had this huge `Mondale for president' dinner with 4,000 or 5,000 people there. Then after dessert I see out of the corner of my eye that all the waiters are bringing out plates of fortune cookies, and it hits me about 10 minutes later that I never ordered any fortune cookies. To my shock and horror, Mondale gets up to give his speech, grabs a cookie, opens it, and it reads, as they all did, `Hart wins Pennsylvania.' Mondale got this horrid, pale look on his face, but we won Pennsylvania by 14 points anyway."
SIMPSON: Political pranks have a long and glorious history. I can't say I find that to be offensive. I find that just funny.
LAMB: Three hundred and three interviews?
SIMPSON: Right, at least.
LAMB: Fifty-one of them, or 57 of them wanted it off the record?
LAMB: And in the back, you have a whole list of people and who they represent and who you interviewed. Why do people go off the record? What was the point?
SIMPSON: Well, a lot of people -- I mean, you're writing a book, basically, about the kind of seamy side of politics, the dark underbelly, and so you ask a lot of questions about things that people don't want to be seen talking about. A lot of people don't want to admit that they know anything about any of these practices.
LAMB: But why, then, the list over here? And I'll show the audience what it looks like. You start here and just list everybody that would go on the record.
SIMPSON: Right. Well, this goes back to the methods of political scientists and journalists. Larry is a stickler for documentation, and he always publishes an interview list. He publishes an interview list, he likes to have an immaculately footnoted text. I'm a fan of footnotes. The interview lists -- that's fine with me. I don't have any opposition to it, but ...
LAMB: Who wouldn't talk to you at all?
SIMPSON: Geez, innumerable people. You know, we tried to get Senator Lautenberg, and many campaign consultants and various other figures just didn't want to talk, sometimes just because they didn't have the time or they weren't inclined to do so.
LAMB: You have in the back a whole list of program for reform.
LAMB: Why did you as a journalist feel the need to put reform suggestions in the back of the book?
SIMPSON: Well, it was a difficult consideration, but I felt that if you are going to write a book which argues that things are worse than they seem, and that some sort of action is necessary, that there's a certain impropriety in not being willing to go ahead and suggest some changes. This is also not a newspaper. This is a book. It's full of opinions and analysis, and, therefore, prescriptions, I didn't feel like, were necessarily at odds with my career position as a journalist. It's not the kind of thing that I would do in a newspaper, obviously. The other thing is, they're very sort of non-ideological solutions. They don't strike me as the kind of thing that someone would read and think that I was not able to write a fair newspaper story.
LAMB: Which of the reform ideas do you like the best?
SIMPSON: Well, I think the most important one is the recognition that the proliferation of rules and laws in politics has had a sort of perverse effect, creating a sort of a loophole-oriented political culture where, rather than abide by the spirit of these things as well as the letter, people set out to violate the spirit and comply with the letter of the regulations. It's kind of silly to me that, in a deregulatory age, we keep talking about writing more and more rules for how politics is conducted. I mean, this is a core First Amendment activity we're talking about here, the exercising of politics.
LAMB: Thumbprint scanners?
SIMPSON: That's one suggestion for a way to prevent what we see as a rising incidence of vote fraud all around the country.
LAMB: Photo identification card?
SIMPSON: That one is not one that I'm wild about. A lot of people in this country don't feel comfortable with the idea of a national ID card, and I share some of that reticence.
LAMB: "Voters should also be asked at registration to give a number unique to them -- a Social Security number, a driver's license." They aren't now?
SIMPSON: Infrequently. They're not, no.
LAMB: Motor-voter -- you like that idea?
SIMPSON: I like the idea of encouraging people to vote. I don't like the idea of turning a blind eye to what such encouragement can lead to, which is fraud. I mean, anytime you liberalize all of these rules, it certainly is good, insofar as it encourages people to vote, but it also opens up opportunities to people who have less pure motives.
LAMB: Roll Call for how many years?
LAMB: What is the newspaper?
SIMPSON: The Wall Street Journal?
LAMB: No, the Roll Call. I mean, for people that don't read it.
SIMPSON: Oh, it's a small Capitol Hill newspaper, circulation of, you know, 10,000 to 15,000, which is designed primarily to be read by members of Congress and their staffs, as well as the community in orbit -- the lobbyists, the journalists who cover Capitol Hill.
LAMB: Why did you leave them to go to work for The Wall Street Journal?
SIMPSON: Well, it was a nice offer. I loved working at Roll Call. I probably had the time of my life and my career working there, but The Journal is a bigger paper, has a wider audience and also has more of the resources that I was looking for to do investigative work. Roll Call is a small paper, and so it doesn't have the sort of the clout of The Journal when it comes to digging stuff out.
LAMB: When did you first notice that you were working for a different kind of a publication -- at what point after working for The Journal?
SIMPSON: Like, maybe -- I won't say it was the first hour, but it was probably the first day. It was really was the first time I tried to write a story, and they showed me their style, which is much more sort of cramped and formalistic than Roll Call's and cut my story down significantly. The Journal, unlike The Washington Post or The New York Times, has a pretty tight space consideration for Washington news and runs things in a very compact fashion, sort of -- I think of it sometimes as a USA Today of the business world. I mean, it's very concise and brief, with the exception of a couple of large features a day.
LAMB: What's your charge there?
SIMPSON: I cover the Justice Department, and with the Justice Department, the independent counsels who are nominally employees of the Justice Department. This has meant, for most of my tenure, a heavy emphasis on Whitewater.
LAMB: How did you meet Larry Sabato?
SIMPSON: When I first came to Roll Call and I was sort of trying to figure out Washington, I went out and bought a lot of books about politics, and I found his books to be the most informative and readable and also the most sensible when it came to talking about things like reforms and what was good about politics and what was bad. I came to rely on him for advice and quotes for my stories. And we got to be friendly, and he invited me down to UVA to speak to some of his classes, and I invited him up to address my newspaper staff, and we just started up a friendship in that way.
LAMB: And how's the book? I mean, what's it like to write a book like this? Is this your first one?
SIMPSON: It's agony. Yes. It's agony. It's hard. It's just nothing but hard work, and you're never going to -- by the time you're done, you're convinced that you're absolutely never going to do this again, until the book comes out, at which point you say, "God, you know, that wasn't so bad. I think I'm probably going to do that again sometime."
LAMB: Why was it agony?
SIMPSON: Well, for me, of course, it was agony in part because I was in the dark about how to go about doing it, and there was such uncertainty and such fear, and there's also no gratification. Newspaper reporting, there's a lot of instant gratification, semi-instant. You write a story tonight, you see your name in the paper tomorrow, you get compliments by that afternoon -- a very short cycle there. This is, you toil away for a long time, you don't know how well you're doing, a lot of uncertainty about how things are going to come out, the only feedback you get is from your publisher, and usually that's in a critical form because they're trying to improve the product. So that's the difference.
LAMB: When it's all done, will you have made money off of this?
SIMPSON: Well, that's still to be determined. I didn't expect to make a lot of money. Political books, you know, do well -- well enough that there's a lot of them published, but very few people, you know, become multi-millionaires based upon their political books. The real exception this year has been James Stewart's book, which is, of course, still on the best-seller list.
LAMB: Anybody mad at you after this book?
SIMPSON: Oh, plenty of people, but that's ...
LAMB: Have you heard from any of them?
SIMPSON: A few. I haven't gotten any really sharp complaints -- no threats or anything like that, but there have been criticisms.
LAMB: "Dirty Little Secrets." Show the audience what the book looks like. "The Persistence of Corruption in American Politics," co-authored by our guest, Glenn Simpson, and University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato. Thank you very much.
SIMPSON: Thanks, Brian.
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