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'So Damn Much Money': The Influence Of Lobbyists

Book Tour is a Web feature and podcast hosted by NPR's Lynn Neary. Each week, we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

Robert Kaiser is the ultimate Washington insider. As he once told one interviewer, he was "part of 'inside the beltway' Washington before there was a beltway."

During his 46-year career at The Washington Post, Kaiser has covered Congress, the White House and national politics. He has also served as both managing editor and national editor of the newspaper. Now an associate editor there, Kaiser displays his keen understanding of how Washington works in a new book, So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government.

But Kaiser says even he did not really know how lobbyists operate before he began working on this book. So Damn Much Money explores how lobbying has grown in influence and changed the way things work in the nation's capital through the story of Gerald Cassidy. Cassidy's life story, says Kaiser, is reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby. Cassidy's vivid memories of growing up poor in Brooklyn and Queens helped fuel his drive to get rich. "I'm a big fan of financial security" he says. A liberal Democrat, Cassidy came to Washington in 1969 wanting to help feed the hungry. In the end, he built a powerful and profitable lobbying firm with an income of some $33 million in 2003.

Cassidy & Associates was the first lobbying firm that tried to go public by selling shares on the stock exchange. That meant the company had to document its business dealings for the Securities and Exchange Commission. While reporting on lobbying for the Post, Kaiser came across these documents.

At the time, Cassidy's firm was the biggest in town, and Kaiser seized the opportunity to learn everything he could about Cassidy and the business of lobbying. The result is a remarkable look at how lobbying, a legal and legitimate activity, has helped create what Kaiser calls a "corroded culture" in Washington. Even as President Obama has vowed to change that culture, Kaiser shows how difficult the task may be. With lobbyists helping to fund campaigns that cost millions of dollars and former government officials earning millions by peddling their influence, the business of lobbying is now deeply ingrained in the workings of our government.

This reading of So Damn Much Money took place on Feb. 4 at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

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Lynn Neary
Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.