These interests initiated their current lobbying program more than a year ago, putting up a substantial ante in 1978’s political campaigns. In fact, the combined home-lending and building industry was one of the top three contributors to legislative campaigns last year, donating at least a million dollars through its various political action committees and at least that much again in contributions by individual executives. The industry invested heavily, for example, in Sen. Bill Meier of Euless, who now turns up as sponsor of the lenders’ rate-increase billthe savings and loan political action commitMeier’s campaign last spring, the largest sum the S&Ls contributed to any candi date, and the realtors’ committee \(TREwhich was the most they gave to any legislative bid. ‘After the elections, and well before the Legislature convened, the industry launched alow-key campaign to set the stage for introduction of its legislation. George Christian and Jerry Hall, two George Christian the lobby’s Mr. Big By Jo Clifton Austin George Christian, 52, former newsman, press secretary to President Lyndon Johnson and to Goys. Price Daniel and John Connally, now calls himself a public affairs consultant. He counts among his clients the Texas Association of Taxpayers \(which is made up not of common taxpayers but of about 2,000 corporate members such as Exxon, Dr. Pepper and Rockwell panies, the Texas Savings and Loan League, and the Texas Ophthalmological Association, as well as the Motion Picture Association of America and the Associated General Contractors of America. Christian’s office, 18 floors above Austin in the garish-gold American Bank Tower, is that of a journalist turned richit’s not ostentatious, but conspicuously expensive. Seven enormous window panes form two walls of his office; mementos from various clients and from his years with LBJ accent the room. An old manual Royal typewriter sits in an honored position close to his constantly ringing telephone. During an hourand-a-half interview, Christian took calls from Mark White, Robert Strauss, Austin pollster George Shipley, and Tom Hagen, a former Christian employee now on the staff of U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. This consultant is as well-connected to the Democraticestablishment as anyone in Austin, and such connections are his primary stock in trade. Indeed, no member of the Texas House or Senate is as well-connected as George Christian, and when he calls one of them, it’s almost flattering, and plenty effective. . Christian, who quarterbacked the successful fight for coalslurry pipeline legislation during tht last session of the Texas Legislature, doesn’t like to think of himself as anything so crude as a lobbyist. “I do so little lobbying,” he says, and he is surprised the Observer considers him as such. But we do. Not the old breed, to be sure, but the epitome of the new breedthe sophisticated, low-key “Austin representative.” In fact, Christian is at the head of his class. He tells other lobbyists what to do, gathers them in his office and advises them, coordinates the efforts of various business groups trying for the same goal, as he did in the coal-slurry fight. Although he refuses to say how much his clients pay, he smilingly concedes that he is making money. Mostly, he says, he charges his corporate clients by the hour, just as lawyers do. But also his fee depends on what he has to do to persuade the media and the Legislature that his client’s position is the one they should embrace. The cost depends on “how many points I use up,” he says. “Most of what I do involves newspapers,” and he clearly cannot run down to the Austin American-Statesman every day on every account without losing the attentive ear of its editorial writers. So Christian gauges how much of his political capital he must expend and charges accordingly. And if he must actually contact a member of the Legislature, then the price goes up. In 1977 Christian’s point man for direct lobbying Was Hagen, now press secretary to Senator Bentsen. Companies like Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical firm that opposes passage of legislation allowing pharmacists to substitute generic drugs for brand-name remedies, have their own individual lobbyists, Christian says, but bills like the one proposed last session by then-Rep. Mickey Leland “bring out a team effort,” so there are many lobbyists united either for or against such measures. It’s hard to understand how anyone, except a drug company, could oppose a bill allowing substitution of less expensive drugs for more expensive brands when all companies must meet the same federal minimum standards for quality. Christian admits that at first “it looks like a rip-off. That would be my reaction if I didn’t know anything about it.” However, he says that once he has analyzed all the pros and cons, it’s generally “not all that difficult to accept the client’s position.” So this year, he probably will be involved again in an effort to prevent drug substitution bills from being approved by the Texas Legislature. Christian’s personal feelings? “I personally feel the way my client feels,” he states matter-of-factly. He says he doesn’t represent clients if he disagrees with their philosophy or what they’re trying to accomplish. He also refuses to engage in losing battles and won’t represent clients whose interests might be in conflict with the goals of his number-one account, the Texas Association of Taxpayers. Thom as D. Ble ic h FEBRUARY 2, 1979 4
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