Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Thomas Jackson White Jr., March 14, 1986. Interview C-0029-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Lobbyists' role in Raleigh

White discusses his work as a lobbyist. If all lobbyists approach their job like White, they are an omnipresent and influential force in state politics. He describes also politicians' gall in asking for donations from his employer, and his concern that denying these requests puts his favored legislation in jeopardy.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Thomas Jackson White Jr., March 14, 1986. Interview C-0029-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

PAMELA DEAN:
That was something of a digression, an interesting one I think, but we were talking about your lobbying work for the tobacco industry. What sorts of things do you do as a lobbyist for them, as a representative of them?
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
I guess the thing to do would to talk about my responsibilities to my client. In the first place, you need to know what's going on and you need to know from sound sources what's going on. You need always to be aware of what's going on. You need to be abreast of any changes that are coming on and you have to be alert to the filing of any bill affecting tobacco and analyze it, and of course you report it to your client immediately, and you see who the introducers or signers of that bill are, and you may wish to go to see them. A lot of people sign bills maybe because the bill is being introduced by a good friend without taking the time to analyze the bill because the legislators don't have that kind of time here in the thick of things. So you need to see where that bill is coming from and try to evaluate its chances. And, of course, you report everything to your clients. Then you go to see members of the General Assembly and state whatever position you have about the bill and you ask them either to support the bill or to kill it, whichever would be desirable. You attend every committee meeting that time will permit which could have any effect on that bill. And you always want to know how the presiding officers feel about the bill. There are lots of things you don't do like you don't harangue people; you don't take too much of their time; you don't bust in on a legislator when he'd dictating his morning mail.
PAMELA DEAN:
So knowing sort of the routine of how a legislature works, I would assume from all of your experience with that, makes you more effective. You know when and where to approach somebody.
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
I've lived a long time and I have come to the conclusion that almost everything that any of us has to deal with is a matter of either economics or timing, or both. You can think about that a long time and you won't get away from the truth of that. Of course, there's a book in the Bible which says there is a time for everything; I don't know which one it is but I've read it. A time for this and a time for that. It takes some men longer than others to discern which is the best time to do and which is the best time not to do and the things to do and the things not to do. Nowadays, about the first thirty days of every session down here, the poor legislators can't get their work done for having to go to all these damn parties that are given for them by organizations. They don't make contributions to any legislators. They pay me a salary. And yet I have even legislators come to me for contributions. And they'll come to me for contributions to pay off the debt of some politician that ran and didn't win. You'd be amazed at what they ask for. I was going down a hall in a hotel in which there was a meeting going on, a group assembled to raise money for some state official who happened to be running for governor, and I heard one of the group say, "Here comes old Tom White. He represents all these tobacco companies. He'll give us $25,000." He came on out and jumped on me. I said, "Well, that would really be nice to be in that position. But my clients have people like me in fifty states. In some of those states they have two people like me. They have to pay them. They'd be out of business if they had to make political contributions to folks like you in every state or anywhere." It just doesn't work that way. But you'd be surprised at the gall of people who ought not to be asking for contributions that'll ask you for a contribution anyway.
PAMELA DEAN:
Do a lot of companies or organizations make those kinds of contributions? Do you know?
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
Yes. Some of them are afraid not to. They get in a situation occasionally that they feel that they have a choice of making the requested contribution or their cause goes down the drain. [END OF TAPE 2, SIDE B] [TAPE 2, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 3, SIDE A]
PAMELA DEAN:
This is side A, tape three. We were talking about contributions and about the fact that, at the very least, if you don't make the requested contribution you can't really depend on the person who is asking for it really being receptive when you ask him for favorable consideration of a bill or something.
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
I would not want to give the impression that legislators of any kind would toy with the idea of putting a price on their votes. But it stands to reason that if anyone is displeased by what you do it does not make them, to say the very least, look with favor on what you want them to do. So it's just that sort of a psychology. You have to avoid getting in situations like that as much as you can.
PAMELA DEAN:
How do you turn down a request for a donation to some cause, campaign, what have you, without creating that kind of….
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
Well, it's pretty difficult to do. If somebody asks you for a donation they don't like to be put off. They'd almost rather be turned down than to be put off because if you say, "Well, let me think about that and see you later," then they'll get at least the notion that you are turning them down but you just don't have the courage to say no flat out, which isn't healthy either.
PAMELA DEAN:
So it's better to just say no?
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
Well, there isn't anything good about it so you can't say anything is better. [Laughter] So you just have to make a judgment about it and if you are not in position to do it then you don't give them any canned story, you just tell them what the facts are about your situation, and then you can add, if you wish to, "I hope you understand." But if they don't get the money they don't understand. It's just about that vicious. [Laughter]