Messenger - Vol. 3, No. 1, Page 6 Fall 1993 Mr. Lewis goes to Washington, or Chuck Does D.C. Washington, D.C., 1990. At the National Press Club, Chuck Lewis, Delaware '75, was as nervous as a first-time dad. His brainchild, the Center for Public Integrity, was about to hold its first press conference. The material, he knew, was devastating: a 201-page expose of Washington's "revolving door" racket, showing that since 1974, roughly half the senior White House trade officials or their firms had gone on to register as foreign agents. But would anyone turn up to hear it? Among the capital's press corps, he worried, the fledgling center might sound like "a nut group, a Larouche group even." His future was on the line. His past carried the day. For, it was almost certainly Lewis' reputation as an investigative journalist-earned as assistant to Carl Bernstein at The Washington Post, as an ABC News reporter and finally as a producer with CBS' flagship program 60 Minutes-that brought out the crowds. And crowds there were. Thirty to 40 newspaper reporters. Reuters and Associated Press. C-Span and CNN. The television show 20/20 featured the study that night. Then, political Washington took heed. Bill Clinton, Ross Perot, Jerry Brown and Pat Buchanan all cited the study in their presidential campaigns. There was a General Accounting Office inquiry and a Justice Department ruling. Twice, Lewis testified before the U.S. Senate. "Congratulations," offered historian and center adviser Arthur Schlesinger. "Obviously, your idea works." Since that first press conference, the center has produced 12 similarly ambitious and probing analyses of government, most with an eye to the ethics of public service. Lewis' idea, hatched after he left 60 Minutes in 1988, was to create "a hybrid of political science and investigative journalism," a "journalistic utopia" where committed writers could explore critical issues without concern for the usual constraints of time and space. As a hybrid, the center-variously labeled a "think tank with a twist," a "watchdog group" or a "non-profit research group" by the press-has escaped pigeon-holing, while establishing its own niche in the combative ecology of D.C. The organization is non-profit and non-partisan. Its modest $400,000-a-year budget is funded by corporations, foundations, labor unions and individuals, plus revenue from articles. Lewis won't take commissions or assignments from sponsors, nor will he back away from stories that offend them. Recently, he forfeited half his labor money (about 5 percent of the total) when, against the wishes of a union president, he pursued Commerce Secretary Ron Brown's conflicts of interest. Broadcaster and author Bill Moyers, an admirer and backer of the center, accordingly doubled the contribution of his Schumann Foundation. With its commitment to democratic integrity, the center inevitably came to focus on lobbying and influence-peddling, and Lewis said he relishes being in the vanguard of reaction against "legal corruption." Until this year, he points out, major news organizations didn't even cover lobbying, an "unbelievable" oversight since it is Washington's biggest industry. The center's latest report is "The Trading Game: Inside Lobbying for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)." Soundbite journalism it is not. Weighing in at over 100 densely documented pages, it might take you more than 60 minutes to read. An edited version headlined the June 14 issue of The Nation. In their report, Lewis and his associates- Margaret Ebrahim and a staff of young interns-contend that Mexican interests have orchestrated Washington's largest-ever foreign lobbying drive. By 1993, more than $30 million will have been spent to push the ratification of NAFTA, as much as the previous three most expensive foreign campaigns put together, according to the report. Among other things, this money employs 33 former U.S. officials as "legislative mercenaries" on behalf of the agreement, Lewis says. The center, of course, takes no position on NAFTA. Lewis merely insists that public interest-and government esteem-is better served if treaties depend on merit rather than on money and mercenary manpower. Given his success thus far, Lewis is far from complacent about what his work can achieve against entrenched insiderism: "Even with five more centers," he reflects, "it would still be David and Goliath." Indeed, it is sobering to hear this humorous and most idealistic of political observers (his conversation, like his office, is dotted with quotations from the founding fathers) giving the lowdown on D.C. * Lewis on the two parties: "In many ways, they're the same party now. Or, there's only one party. It's called money. The parties don't stand for anything any more. They stand for getting people elected and raising money and helping people get access." * Lewis on the "mercenary culture" inside the I-495 beltway: "An extraordinarily corrupt, venal group of people who are basically doing whatever they want to do, with very little regulation." * Lewis on Washington in general: "It's depressing." So, how does he work in this tawdry town? "I pretend I don't live here. I pretend I just got off the boat or just got in from Delaware." Lewis has a "deep affinity" for Delaware and his small-town roots. He grew up on East Main Street in Newark. He worked part-time at the local Chinese laundry and confesses to being "a bit of a high-achiever type" at Newark High. "I still love driving up Main Street," he says. "I'll often take friends and people from the center so they can see what a real Main Street looks like." Lewis' great-grandfather, John E. Lewis, owned the Deer Park Tavern in the 1880s, and Lewis' family recalls his grandmother taking part in a turn-of-the-century sleigh race on the as-yet-unpaved Main Street. His parents still live in Newark. But although the small-town connection obviously refreshes and perhaps inspires his scrutiny of big-time operations, Chuck Lewis has no intention of retiring quietly to the hinterlands. He's preparing a book on how everyday folk-such as Lois Gibbs of the Love Canal scandal-can pursue investigative projects; he's planning for the center to diversify into video and film; and he's mulling the possibility of a national newsletter to deliver high-quality "muckraking" at a grass-roots level. Trade analysts estimate he could have 200,000 subscribers. Also, several groups have contacted him about setting up centers for integrity outside the nation's capital. Meanwhile, the press keeps pressing, with 10 to 20 queries a day. Recently, Lewis has fallen into the unanticipated role of pundit, or broker of honest information, which means guest appearances on CNN, C-Span, NPR. So keep your eye out for the little guy who's giving the big guy a headache, and remember that in David and Goliath, the big guy with the headache loses. -Steven O'Connor, Delaware '94 Ph.D.