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Novak Zone: Interview with Tommy Boggs

Aired November 29, 2003 - 09:30   ET


CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the HBO drama "K Street" looks at the inside workings of Washington politics. But is all of the wheeling and dealing on television really true to life? We'll find out, as super-lobbyist Tommy Boggs joins Robert Novak in this week's edition of The Novak Zone.

ROBERT NOVAK, HOST: Welcome to The Novak Zone.

We're at the law offices of Patton Boggs in Washington, D.C., talking to its senior partner, super-lobbyist Thomas Hale Boggs, Jr., Tommy Boggs.

Mr. Boggs, HBO has just finished a fictionalized version of lobbying called "K Street," starring my friends James Carville and Mary Matalin. A lot of back-stabbing, foul play going on. Is that the way lobbying really is in Washington?

TOMMY BOGGS, PARTNER, PATTON BOGGS: No, Bob, it's not. The -- I think most people respect other people's clients in Washington, whereas "K Street" sort of portrayed an image of lobbyists stealing people's clients and doing all kinds of shenanigans to get clients. I don't think that's a real realistic view of how it works in Washington.

NOVAK: How do you get members of Congress and members of the administration to do what you want? Do you take them out to big, fancy dinners, or do you take them on trips, or give them gifts, or do you take them to your hunting lodge on the eastern shore? How do you do it?

BOGGS: I think, first of all, the idea that members of Congress like to be entertained is also a fallacy. And they get invited to two, three, four, five, things a night. Most of them would rather go home, visit with their families.

So in terms of it being a lobbying technique, it's not a very effective lobbying technique to entertain. That's not to say that friends don't join with friends, but not necessarily for the purpose of lobbying. And I certainly have dinners with friends who happen to be members of Congress or members of the administration. But rarely do we talk business on those occasions.

NOVAK: But certainly you do help these people out with financial contributions. BOGGS: Oh, fund-raising is a very important coin of the realm, there's no question about that. It's become more important, which is kind of ironic, since McCain-Feingold. Prior to McCain-Feingold, the lobbyist's role was sort of demoted, because the levels of soft money were so high that members of Congress picked up the phone and called the CEO of a company, as opposed to a Washington lobbyist. Now with retail fund-raising back, the lobbyist's role is up again.

NOVAK: Awhile back, Morley Safer on "60 Minutes" interviewed you and referred to you as the king of the hill. Now, is it -- is that still true, now that we have a Republican president in, and you're a famous Democrat?

BOGGS: Certainly there's a difference between being a Democrat or being a Republican in this town today as opposed to four, five years ago when we had at least a Democratic president. But lobbying has become not only who you know, but what you know. And I think this firm probably knows more about the process of government and more about how things work than any firm in Washington.

NOVAK: Tommy Boggs, you're the first American governor of Louisiana, C.C. Claiborne was an ancestor of yours.

BOGGS: That's true.

NOVAK: Your father, who I knew well, Hale Boggs, was majority leader of the House. Your mother was in the House and was ambassador to the Vatican. Your sister, Cokie Roberts, famous radio and TV commentator. Why did you go into lobbying with that background?

BOGGS: Somebody had to make the money in the family, Bob. You know, it came naturally to me. I love Washington. I love politics. But I really like this side of the political aisle versus the elected side of the political aisle.

And I have great respect for members of Congress, having grown up in a congressional family. Happen to think you take 100 senators, and they're better than most 100 board members of any major corporation.

NOVAK: You grew up in this town, in a nice house in Bethesda, Maryland, in the suburbs. How is the capital area changed since you were a little boy growing up here?

BOGGS: Well, it's still two towns. There's still sort of social Washington and political Washington, and that hasn't changed very much over the many years that I've been here. What has changed is, political Washington has gotten far more unfriendly. I mean, 15 years ago, Democrats and Republicans actually liked each other, socialized with each other, got along with each other. In the last few years, it's gotten very hostile between the two parties.

NOVAK: But on the other hand, I notice that there was a fund- raiser for your fellow lobbyist, Haley Barbour, running for governor of Mississippi as a Republican, fund-raiser a few weeks ago in Washington, and I looked down the list of hosts and I found one Democrat, and it was Tommy Boggs. Does that get you in trouble with your fellow Democrats?

BOGGS: Well, I certainly primarily support Democrats. But whenever I see a Republican who I think is very competent and very good, particularly one who's a good friend of mine, like Haley Barbour, I tend to try to help them. Mississippi's going to have one heck of a governor in terms of a fellow that can get something done in Washington.

NOVAK: Tommy Boggs, you're a quintessential Washington insider. But the Washington insiders have not done very well running for president, and an outsider, former Vermont governor Howard Dean, looks like he is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Do you think he's got a leg up on that because he's an outsider?

BOGGS: I think it's clear that the outsiders do tend to do better. I'm surprised that John Edwards hasn't done better, because he's not that much of an insider in Washington, and he's a very attractive candidate. Wesley Clark did well when he first announced. He has yet to demonstrate whether he can get some delegates.

So, yes, I do think there's a tendency to be anti-Washington out in the country. And that's -- you know, we've only elected one senator of the United -- for president of the United States. That was Senator Kennedy.

NOVAK: Do you have a choice this year?

BOGGS: I don't yet. I think there are four or five very good Democratic candidates. I think any one of those candidates will give President Bush a real run for his money.

NOVAK: Now the big question for Tommy Boggs.

Mr. Boggs, your friend and associate, Haley Barbour, proved you can go home again. He went back to Mississippi, won election for governor. Are you tempted to do the same thing, go home to your roots in Louisiana and run for governor or something else?

BOGGS: No, I'm not, Bob. I have loved Louisiana, and I go back as often as I can. My mother lives on Bourbon Street and enjoys it, even though she's -- I won't say how old she is. But, no, I have no intentions of going back and running for office.

My friend Billy Tauzin did say that Louisiana has had smart governors and had honest governors. It's really had a combination of the two. And I hope our new governor will prove that that's -- that she's a combination of the two.

NOVAK: Tommy Boggs, thank you very much.

And thank you for being in The Novak Zone.



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