AUGUST 11, 1949
HYDE PARK, Wednesday—The rather sordid story of people who claim to have contacts in high places and thereby fool trusting people into believing that they can get benefits from the government which they could not obtain on a straight business basis, is a sad commentary on human nature.
Nevertheless it is not very surprising to people who have lived in Washington, particularly those in high places. I remember many instances where there was no question of money involved, but just of a certain kind of prestige which people would feel they acquired by being in the White House.
I have known people to put in telephone calls for no other reason than because they knew the person at the other end would be told: "The White House calling."
Often the telephone call would be completely unnecessary. But it would be put through because the person thought it would give a friend a thrill to be called from the White House, or because the White House guest might impress someone with the fact that he was able to make a call from the White House.
Casual White House overnight guests would write innumerable letters on White House stationery. I was always a little amused, but I also thought it was nice that people should have that feeling about being in the White House.
When it is not a question of pleasure and innocent desire to impress a friend or a member of the family, but when for business purposes you are putting over the idea that you are very close to the powers-that-be, then real harm can be done. If you use people's names, giving an impression that you have permission to do so when, as a matter of fact, they have no idea what you are doing, then it can be a really sinister, profiteering job.
It is entirely legitimate, I think, if somebody makes a study of the working of the government and the needs that arise in various departments and then puts his knowledge at the service of businessmen for use in a legitimate way. Too often, instead of actually presenting the facts and expediting matters through real knowledge of the workings of the government, these people who have been preying both on the government and the public, come to think that contacts are the only things that matter. They believe that if you have a friend, here and there, you will get what you want, whether it is good or bad, whether it is really something that is useful to the department.
Working with a government department is somewhat along the same line as lobbying in the Congress. It is entirely legitimate to lobby if you tell the truth as you see it, and do not use undue influence. It is all wrong when you trade on your friendships and try to find ways of influencing people which you know quite well are not legitimate.
This five-percenter business has awakened the conscience of people. There always comes a point when something which has been accepted in the past is suddenly rejected for the future. I think this particular kind of activity has probably reached the point where it will be rejected for the future, except when it is done along perfectly legitimate lines.