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A New Breed of Hired Hands C tivates Grass-Roots Anger By STEPHEN ENGELBERG

Date: 17 Mar 1993
Length: 2 pages

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Abstract

Consider Bonner & Associates, which occupies an entire floor of one of Washington's pricier office buildings. From a distance it looks like the boiler room of any telephone sales company, with freshfaced young men and women in narrow cubicles reading intently from typed scripts.

Fields

Named Organization
National Rifle Association (Aggressive pro-gun lobby in U.S.,)
The NRA was admired by Philip Morris management and often cited as a template for carrying out effective pro-industry activities in which a corporation itself could not legitimately engage; Formed the template for the National Smokers Association (PM's smokers' rights group)
New York Times
Senate
White House
Named Person
Bonner, Jack
Bush, George Walker (U.S. President (R) (2001-2009), TX Governor (1995-00))
Son of George Herbert Walker Bush.
Clack, R. Nancy
Clinton, Bill
Eller, Jeff
Engelberg, Stephen
Heinz, John
Pero, Ross
Date Loaded
18 Jul 2005
Box
6185

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Page 1: TI16290998
VOL.CXLII .... No. ~,273 c~,~,e,~:~,s~'~.,~,~, NEW YORK, WEDNESDAY, MARCH 17, 1993 A New Breed of Hired Hands C tivates Grass-Roots Anger By STEPHEN ENGELBERG Special to The New York Times WASHINGTON, March 16--The era of electronic vox pop, when radio talk shows help drive out a prospective Attor- ney General, has meant boom times for at least one species of Washington insid- er: consultants who deliver populist rage. Consider Bonner & Associates, which occupies an entire floor of one of Wash- ington's pricier office buildings. From a distance it looks like the boiler room of any telephone sales company, with fresh- faced young men and women in narrow cubicles reading intently from typed scripts. But these operators are not pitching Veg-O-Matics or life insurance. They are prospecting by phone for that most elu- sive of Washington commodities, the hometown pressure points that represen- tatives or senators are loath to resist. This company is among a new breed of Washington firms that has turned grass- roots organizing techniques to the advan- tage of its high-paying clients, generally trade associations and corporations. Unlike old-fashioned letter-writing campaigns, which rained easily identifi- able form letters on lawmakers, the new campaigns are sometimes intended to ap- pear spontaneous. Jack Bonner, who founded Bonner & Associates in 1984, says he always lets his targets know of his activities. But the rise of this industry has made it hard to tell the difference between manufactured public opinion and genu- ine explosions of popular sentiment. Or as they put it in the lobbying indus- try: is it grass roots or Astro Turf. The Zoi~ Baird Case The real thing helped bring down President Clinton's first choice for Attor- ney General, Zo8 Baird, when thousands of angry citizens, apparently without the benefit of outside encouragement, called their members of Congress to complain about her hiring of an illegal immigrant couple as a baby sitter and driver, and her failure to pay the helpers' social security taxes. But Bonner Associates specializes in seizing on unformed public sentiment, Continued on Page A17, Column 1 STORY RAN ON THE FRONT PAGE. TI 16290998
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rile teew runic r~Mes NATIONAL wzz~tces,gA ~ M,~,~CH lz, 19;1 AI7 Continued from A 1 Lobbyists Who marshaling local intere=t groups and rain- Ing faxos, phone calls and letters on Con- gr~ or the White House on a few days' notice. Some competitors rely more on a retail approach. They phone potentially Irate chlzens, deliver detailed briefings and then transfer the newly aggravated callers dtroctiy to the office of the rele- vant senator or representative. "The golden age of grass roots has ar- rived," Mr. Bonnet said. Fie has mobi- lized public opinion against limits on credit card interest rates when he was working for the banks, agains~ tougher fuel efficiency standards when he was on the s!de of the auto makers, and against triple-trailer trucks when he was hired by a railroad. Mr. Bonnet reports a surge in poten- tial clients In the ls=t two m th~ months. "In the past," he raid, "a lot of busi- neuos wouldn't go to the grass roots be- caus~ they thought they could contain their problems in D.C., either by lobby- htg or by George Bush vetoing anti- business legislation. Well, that veto isn't there any more. Through the early 1980's, environmen- tat groups and others on the fringes of the Washington establishment relied on latices, petitions and other manpower- intensive methods to counter the power and connections of big corporations. But by the cud of the d~cade, special- Ists like Mr. Bonner, as well as several Washington political consultants and lob- byists, had begun to co-opt the strategy, a trend that gathered even more momen- tum when Ross Pero! and Bill Clinton tapped into the electronic babble of dis- sent that is talk radio and television. °'What some of those trade organiza- tions are asking now is: How do we find these Perot-type people and get them to speak out on our issue?" ~eid R. Nancy Clack, vice president of a political con- ~ulting company called The Clinton Group, which has been operating since Specialize in Big Public Displays of Emotion the 1960's and has no ties to the current Administration, "How do we fit into this talk-radio democracy?" Jeff Eller, director of media affairs at the White House, who is one of the Clin- ton Administration officials responsible for keeping a finger on the public pulse, said he had a practiced ear for detecting stage-managed campaigns, Mr, Eller said that on an average day, 65,000 people weigh in by telephone with their opinions about President Climon's economic plan, and another 700 a day use computers to send electronic mail. "You can tell if you listen to the phone calls and read the mail which is prepro- grammed and which comes from the heart," he said. "If a bunch of phone calls saying the same thing come in at the same time, you know." Or do you? Ms. Clack said The Clinton Group used computer data banks to identify people with specific leanings. Her com- pany generally works for Democrats and can set in motion a wave of sincere, unscripted phone calls. The technique, called "patch through," works like this: Say, for example, the National Orga- nization for Women opposes a nomina- tion to the Supreme Court because the candidate has equivocal record nn abor- tion rights. The Clinton Group will take the mem- bership rolls of the group, and match names to phone numbers. It might also use its computer to cross-reference maga- zine subscriptions, data on personal pur- chasing habits, and precincts with partic- ular voting and income profiles, to come up with a bigger list of sympathetle people. At the company's phone bank in Louisville, Ky., a computer dials the numbers. When someone answers, an operator comes on the line and explains NOW's position, offering to transfer the caller, at no charge, to the White House switchboard or local member of Congr~s. "Progressive groups have got to do this," Ms. Clack insisted. "The right wing doesn't. They've got the Christian Broadcasting Network, the 700 Club and about 1,200 radio outlets. All they do is print a press release, read it on the air." The quality of this kind of briefing is crucial Mr. Bonnet, 44 years old, who was a political aide to the late Senator John Heinz, a Republican from Pennsyl- vania, employs as many as 200 "issue junkies" to explain matters to a local business or interest group. He often asks the people he called to call him back after they are through talking to their Congres- sional office, to test whether any unfore- seen questions arose. Mr. Bonner's 12,000-square-foot of- flees occupy an entire floor, through which he walks with the pride of a high- tech craftsman. He shows off the million- dollar phone system, which can keep 300 lines humming at once, and walks a visitor past rooms of phones. Methods of Enlistment Mr. Bonner tries to enlist local people, Sometimes it is a straightforward matter of getting local bankers or small business- men to call their Congressman. Other times the connection is a bit more oblique, like the time he persuaded local handicapped groups to attack proposed fuel efficiency standards for auto makers. (Smaller cars would be arguably harder for handicapped people to get into.) His services do not come cheap. A campaign aimed at a handful of lawmak- ers on a subcommiltee could cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, but one trade association in an uphill fight on the Senate floor paid $3 million for a single monlh~s work. Prodding of public opinion, whether by talk show hosts or Washington ex- perts, has touched off its own backlash and complaints that the reborn demo- cratic spirit is being subverted. "Give me a break," Mr. Bonner re- plied. "Most communications to the White House 0t the Hill are prompted. Whether by ihe Sierra (21ub, the National Rifle Association or th~ American Auo, ciation of Retired P~ople i~ not the point~" At the White Houae,!the switchboard has already been equipped with th~t f~vorite high-tech wrinkle of corporat~ America: the voice mall system, which allows callers t0 register views by press- ing numbers on phone~. "Thank you for ea~lin~ ibe White House we appreciate your call "inton¢~ a man's voice. "If you would like to make a comment or ¢xpcess your opin- ion, please press one now," There's not a lot of room for nuance. "Do you support or o~ose the Pred. dc~t's cconomtc p ograqh the message begins. The ~e~l ~hreeSelecti0ns allow vo~ers to assess the Climon plan for its size of deficit reduction, cuts hi Govern, ment spending and the faFness o~ the t~x burden proposed for upper Income tax, payers. In each case, th~ choice~ range from "too far" to "nol far eaougb" to "about right," C~lers are invited to ta~k whh an oper. ator if they have furlher thoughts.

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