Getting a Grip on Influence Peddling

December 15, 1989

Report Outline
Special Focus


Influencing the government now takes place on many different levels. “Lobbyists” advocate their positions before Congress and federal agencies. “Consultants” steer clients through the government's bureaucratic maze. “Public relations” people seek to influence the government indirectly by influencing public opinion. And then there are the “influence peddlers,” whose lobbying or consulting is based on political contacts rather than knowledge of a subject. Today, the size and complexity of the government has blurred the lines between these endeavors, making it difficult to separate legitimate from illegitimate activities.

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After leaving his Cabinet post with the Reagan administration, former Interior Secretary James G. Watt did what a lot of former government officials do: He became a private consultant.

In this capacity, Watt lobbied the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on behalf of a private developer who was seeking federal subsidies for rehabilitating low-income housing. Watt, who admits he is not a housing expert, has said that he made several phone calls to HUD Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr. and set up a 30-minute meeting with him. For this work and for his success in obtaining a HUD grant for a Maryland housing development, Watt told a congressional panel investigating political favoritism at HUD he was paid $300,000. In response to hostile questioning from Democratic members about the ethics of his activities, Watt conceded, “If I were a Democrat, I would say that Jim Watt engaged in influence peddling.”

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Jul. 22, 2005  Lobbying Boom
Dec. 26, 1997  Regulating Nonprofits
Dec. 15, 1989  Getting a Grip on Influence Peddling
Jun. 20, 1986  Think Tanks
Sep. 26, 1980  Special-Interest Politics
Jun. 30, 1978  Corporate Assertiveness
Dec. 13, 1950  Revision of the Lobby Act
May 08, 1946  Congressional Lobbying
Mar. 07, 1928  Regulation of Congressional Lobbies
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Lobbying and Special Interests