Gerald S. J. Cassidy has left his job on Sen. George McGovern's nutrition committee and joined a colleague, Kenneth Schlossberg, in a Washington consulting business. After a difficult beginning, he and Schlossberg begin to find paying clients.
By Robert G. Kaiser
In the summer of 1976, a famous nutritionist named Jean Mayer responded to the mass mailing that Kenneth Schlossberg and Gerald Cassidy had sent to nearly everyone they knew, offering the services of their new Washington consulting firm. Mayer's reply changed the course of history.
An exaggeration? Consider the situation: On July 1, 1976, the French-born Mayer had become the president of Tufts University. He had wanted to be president of Harvard, where he had become famous as a professor in the School of Public Health. But Harvard chose someone else. Tufts, a more modest university located a few miles from Harvard in Medford, Mass., picked Mayer. He was determined to make a mark there.
He hoped to find money from the federal government to help him achieve his first two objectives: establishing a center on human nutrition and aging, and creating New England's first school of veterinary medicine. He wondered if the new firm of Schlossberg-Cassidy could help.
When Mayer put this question, to Schlossberg, he recalled, the newly-minted young consultant replied: "I don't know what I could do, but for $10,000 I'll take a hard look."
He and Cassidy set to work. Within two years Congress appropriated $27 million for the nutrition center, which stands today in Boston's Chinatown neighborhood -- the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. And soon afterward, Congress appropriated $10 million more for the veterinary school. In effect, Mayer, Schlossberg and Cassidy had hit upon a new technique for extracting federal dollars for a "special interest." Within a generation their discovery would transform the way the federal government spends money.
Those appropriations for Tufts' human nutrition research center constituted a new kind of modern "earmark." Members of Congress had always voted for projects that "brought home the bacon" -- "pork barrel" spending meant to help their home states or districts, and by extension to help members politically. Bridges, highways, post offices, water projects -- these were traditional pork, often included in "earmarked," or specifically designed, appropriations items. Presidents supported such spending as well, sometimes for crass political reasons, sometimes to promote economic development or to satisfy the needs of executive agencies.
The line items for Tufts were new and different. They were appropriations directed by Congress to Tufts because Tufts wanted the money, not because any element of the federal government or, initially, any member of Congress had proposed them. The recipient sought the money through friendly members of the House and Senate.
And -- another first, apparently -- Tufts paid outside consultants, lobbyists, to help secure these spending provisions. Because Schlossberg-Cassidy charged a monthly retainer, and the objective required two years to achieve, all the parties profited handsomely from this enterprise. In the subsequent 30 years, earmarks grew like topsy, from scores a year to thousands. The government would dispense billions of dollars on these line items for non-governmental institutions, and lobbying for such appropriations would become an enormous business.
The combination of Schlossberg-Cassidy and Mayer did not have the power to extract millions from the federal government by themselves. They needed collaborators on Capitol Hill, members of Congress who could actually pass legislation to provide the money. Mayer had an idea for how to find such allies. The district of Rep. Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, then the majority leader of the House, included Tufts. O'Neill attended a celebration of Mayer's inauguration and told the new president that he had a soft spot for Tufts because he and his brother had sneaked onto its athletic fields as boys to play ball. O'Neill told Mayer he'd like to help him -- let me know what I can do for you, he said. Mayer recounted this to Schlossberg, and asked if he and Cassidy could figure out what O'Neill could do.
The consultants met with O'Neill, who assigned a member of his staff to work with them. Cassidy found a law that had been passed some years earlier that could be read as authorizing the creation of federal centers for nutrition research under the Department of Agriculture, a good beginning. (Ordinarily, Congress must authorize a project, then separately fund it in an appropriations bill).
Cassidy and Schlossberg met with the department's agricultural research service, run by a Democrat they both knew who once worked with them on Capitol Hill. The USDA was "receptive to the idea," Schlossberg remembered. They met with other members, particularly Rep. Silvio Conte, a Massachusetts Republican, a friend of O'Neill, and the ranking Republican member of the House Appropriations Committee. They took the proposal to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who offered support as well.
The nutrition research center was funded in three line items in agricultural appropriations bills. The first, for $2 million, provided a planning grant to design a new center to be owned by the USDA but run by Tufts. (view the bill [pdf]) A team from Washington visited Tufts' medical campus in downtown Boston to study the feasibility of the idea and made a positive recommendation. "Then we went back [to Congress] and got funding to build" the center, Cassidy remembered. Ultimately their Massachusetts allies won approval in both House and Senate for two additional line items that provided $20 million to construct the new center and $7 million to fund its initial operations. These were included in the agriculture appropriation for fiscal 1978. (view the bill [pdf])
The experience was educational. "The biggest thing was O'Neill's relationship with Jamie Whitten," Schlossberg said. Whitten, a conservative Mississippi Democrat, was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Members of the post-Watergate "Class of 1974" and other liberal Democrats questioned whether he deserved such an important chairmanship, but O'Neill promised to stand by Whitten and, Schlossberg remembered, took the opportunity to put in a word for the Tufts nutrition research center.
Next up was the school of veterinary medicine. Such a school would be the only one in New England. Schlossberg discovered that a consortium of states in the Northwest was also hoping to create a new school of veterinary medicine at Washington State University in Pullman, Wash. Washington was represented by Sen. Warren G. Magnuson, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
This happy coincidence led to a simple proposal: Why not two new schools of veterinary medicine, one at Tufts and another at Washington State? Magnuson embraced the plan. Then an unexpected critic materialized: the University of Pennsylvania, which perceived a new school at Tufts as unwelcome competition to its own well-established school of veterinary medicine. Magnuson's staff came up with a solution: a $10 million appropriation for Penn. Congress approved a supplemental appropriations bill in 1977 that included $25 million to be divided among the three schools.
The next opportunity for Tufts came unexpectedly in 1977. Peter Krogh, the dean of Georgetown University's school of foreign service, was desperate for new quarters for his school, which had a distinguished reputation but miserable facilities in Georgetown's old Nevils Building, once home of the university hospital. Krogh recalled in an interview that he had the idea of bringing together his foreign service school and the school of languages and linguistics to create a new kind of "intercultural center" to train students to work overseas for the government and business. It would reside in a handsome new building on Georgetown's main campus.
Thanks to shrewd lobbying by two Georgetown priests, The Revs. William George and Byron Collins, the House had approved a federal grant for such a building in 1976. But the grant had been blocked in the Senate. In 1977, Krogh recounted, he had the idea of looking for a partner -- another school that might want to build a comparable building and could become an effective ally in Georgetown's lobbying effort.
In a tribute to Sen. Magnuson's importance, an approach was made to the University of Washington, but it wasn't interested. Krogh then called his friend Edmund Gullion, a retired U.S. ambassador who was dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts. Would he like to join the effort by requesting money for new facilities at Fletcher? Gullion was enthusiastic. They agreed on a package that would give Georgetown $19 million in federal funds for its new building, and Tufts $7 million.
Schlossberg-Cassidy was on a regular retainer from Tufts, and the firm was called in to help. The House again approved the earmark. Schlossberg then tried to cajole the bureaucrats at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare into supporting the idea, but Joseph Califano, the Secretary of HEW, came out strongly against it. He wrote to the Senate appropriations committee that supporting construction projects for universities was a low priority for him. "I feel even more strongly that if the Congress wishes to appropriate funds for construction, the grants should be subject to competition on the basis of national needs and objective criteria," Califano wrote. "The earmarking of these funds for specially selected schools is entirely inappropriate."
A hearing held on the request was chaired, in Magnuson's absence, by Sen. Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, home of Tufts of course. But Brooke was skeptical about an earmark, and asked repeatedly why there shouldn't be a national competition for the money.
The Senate committee did not approve the proposal. The Washington Post published a stern editorial echoing Califano, denouncing House approval of the earmark as "one of those weak moments that bring out the worst in Congress." The lobbyists and Georgetown fought back. They persuaded The Boston Globe to editorialize in favor of the appropriation. They persuaded Henry Kissinger, then the recently-retired Secretary of State, to write a letter to members on the importance of the two schools to the training of American diplomats.
But the key to success, Schlossberg says, was somewhat cruder. The House Appropriations Committee had put the earmark for Georgetown and Tufts into a "supplemental" appropriations bill, one of those legislative monsters that covers many different government functions. When the Senate's version of the bill was available Schlossberg studied it with care. He found $500 million in projects for Washington state, Sen. Magnuson's bailiwick. He conveyed this information to Massachusetts members of the House-Senate conference committee that would meet on the bill.
In the end, Schlossberg said, the Massachusetts members cut a deal with Magnuson: His projects would go through, and so would the money for Georgetown and Tufts.
Soon afterward Tufts would get still more federal money, for a medical library. Then other schools caught on to the new game being played in Washington. Boston College became a Schlossberg-Cassidy client; then Boston University; then Columbia. All won earmarks of their own. The "good government" opposition to such "pork barrel" spending articulated by Secretary Califano and The Washington Post editorial page was blown away by politicians in Congress who loved the idea of bringing home the bacon.
And Schlossberg-Cassidy, which had struggled for the first year of its existence, was suddenly hot.
Washington Post research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.
Tomorrow: Riding a wave of earmarks, Schlossberg-Cassidy becomes a $2 million-a-year business.
Key Related Materials
An overview of Gerald Cassidy's life and career.
A "cast of characters" in the life and career of Gerald Cassidy.
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