Ke it h Dan nem iller the state of Texas, plus the governor, the U.S. senators, what have you. Sometimes there’s one person or two or three assigned to that contact responsibility. The first contact reponsibility would of course be the lobbyist in Austin Ward Wilkinson, Charly Ege, Joe Bailey Patton. They would get together with other interests compatible with Bell and form a so-called block lobby, a united front. Then of course you have the local lobby, headed by the district managers. So the local folks would be working on them at home and the paid lobbyist would be working on them in Austin. Then, you have other people in Austin who are on retainers, like Claude Gilmer. He’s got an open-ended expense account with Bell. He lobbies in their behalf and just bills them whatever he feels his services are worth. [Gilmer was speaker of the House in 1945. Since the early 1950s he has lobbied for Bell and other interests. Latest available figures show that Southwestern Bell paid him $33,687 for his services in 1974, a year the Legislature was not even in session. Ed.] OBSERVER: How many freelancers like Gilmer are on retainer? ASHLEY: It’s hard to tell. There would be several attorneys in Austin who are on fees, and I would say there would be five to six fulltime Bell in-house lobbyists active all the time. OBSERVER: When you were an assistant vice president, weren’t you behind some of the lobbying? ASHLEY: Yes, I would have met with the fulltime professional lobbyists. Say a key bill comes up. Bell lobbyists would get with birds of a feather and plot strategy. I would have met with them and we would have decided what influence we would want to bring to bear to get the legislators to vote in our favor. I in turn would harness all of the back home folks. All of a sudden district managers from Lubbock, Corpus Christi and all over would be in Austin, probably a hundred Bell people in at one time, wining and dining their local legislators and saying, “This is what the folks back home feel, John.” I would get our friends back home too key suppliers who did a lot of business with us who would be influential in talking to representatives bankers, powerful people that we had in tow. You see, executives in my category were taught how to use all the resources of Bell to create a climate favorable to Bell. I mean, Bell is not without substantial resources. In my job I deposited $350-360 million a year in various banks. I decided where it went. Then you had another $300 million that was spent on cables, poles, supplies, buildings, architects. That’s a whale of a lot of purchasing 8 The Texas Observer power. In the whole state of Texas, you’re talking about spreading about a billion dollars a year. Where do you put it? OBSERVER: You’re saying the ability to choose banks and suppliers and contractors gives you power to move them around politically? ASHLEY: It’s not just a weapon, it is almost the ultimate weapon. If you’ve got a small businessman that’s key in a certain community and 60 percent of his business is to Bell, I don’t really think you get a very objective view from that guy. you placed ness with politics in mind. ASHLEY: You’d be surprised to find out how many of the legislators do business with Bell. We purposely gave business to legislators back home. For instance, if we had a key senator that had a printing business or a janitorial service, we would do a lot of business with him. If we had a mayor that was in the outdoor sign business, we’d do a lot of sign business with him. That sort of thing. If we had a mayor who was a builder, we put him on a bidding list. OBSERVER: Can you give us some names? ASHLEY: Well, I know them. I wouldn’t like to comment on them just at this time, but they’re substantial. We had a city councilman in San Antonio [Alvin Padilla] you’ve probably read some publicity about this that was given a contract by [AT&T subsidiary] Western Electric during a rate-increase battle there to influence his vote. That contract was a third of this business for a year. OBSERVER: Was it assumed that political contacts were a part of your job? ASHLEY: Not assumed. It was very specifically defined and monitored. Political contacts were one of my major functions. What you do is maintain a climate whereby you can get the politicians to do what you want them to do. So you’ve got them wined and dined. And you’ve got them programed, then you get the message from maybe it’s from St, Louis on a policy matter within the southwestern region, or maybe it’s from Texas, or maybe it’s from New York on a matter related to the entire system. The function of my people [district managers] way to be sure that the proper political climate was maintained with key politicans, so that anything Bell might be involved in would be given favorable consideration. OBSERVER: What was the role of political contributions? ASHLEY: It was underground. It’s absolutely illegal, as you well know, for corporations to contribute corporate funds to politicians. Bell decided that the fifthlevel management people, up there at policymaking rank, could be trusted to make illegal political contributions. So, the evolutionary process was that for a long time every month a certain guy in San Antonio or elsewhere would say, “each of you guys got to kick in $50 a month or $100 a month.” The guys would kick it in, then they’d make up vouchers, showing meals for people or whatever. But when the IRS cracked down in 1965, and you had to provide receipts and everything, then Bell granted all their fifth-level management people a raise of a thousand dollars apiece, designed to net them $50 a month, which would be $600 a year after taxes. OBSERVER: How many people? ASHLEY: Oh gosh, several hundred. It was quite a little fund. Of course, the major source of political contributions was [money from our] big suppliers, indirect contributions. Cost-plus buildings, for instance, and inflated legal fees to lawyers. How do you trace those? OBSERVER: Were these funds put into the Bell coffers, or were they just separate piles of money that Bell controlled? OBSERVER: So Bell busi `It’s illegal, as you know, for corporations to contribute corporate funds to politicians. Bell decided that the fifth-level management people, up there at the policymaking rank, could be trusted to make illegal political contributions.’
You May Also Like
The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.