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The Dean

Meet Jerome Anderson, Montana’s most infamous corporate lobbyist

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Jerome Anderson strides across the ground floor of the state Capitol with the ease and grace of a much younger man. Just shy of his 86th birthday (he turned on April 13), his straight, sturdy frame glides through the Capitol hallways at a constant pace, and he waves and nods at nearly everyone he passes. He strikes a spry image in his beige houndstooth suit, neatly slicked silver hair, heavy gold rings, diamond-studded cufflinks and tie tack, and freshly starched white shirt; the cuffs showing his initials embroidered in navy blue. It’s a scene that might give someone watching from a distance the impression Anderson’s closer in age to the legislators he’s come to lobby than he is to 100. It’s not until you get close enough to see the deep lines in his face, the thin loose skin on his hands and the sound of his slightly worn voice, that you realize he’s probably the oldest person in the building—and by a fairly wide margin.

Mirroring his genteel appearance, Anderson is the consummate gentleman, polite and a straight shooter. By all accounts he doesn’t raise his voice, doesn’t take anything personally, and is the epitome of professionalism. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in Helena who would tell you otherwise, including most of his professional and political enemies. His institutional knowledge and lawmaking savvy is invaluable, and his experience unmatched in the halls of the Capitol. He’s good at what he does, and he typically works for the biggest clients with the deepest pockets.

It’s impossible to calculate the full effect Anderson has had on the state of Montana, but as Helena’s eldest, most revered—and reviled—lobbyist, his influence is huge. Some observers even say his work has impacted the state more than that of any other single person over the last half century.

It’s precisely for that reason that not everyone in Helena admires him. While Anderson’s friends and allies call him “the Dean” of lobbyists, his enemies and critics refer to him as the “Dark Prince.” One longtime health and welfare advocate compared him to the evil emperor from recent Star Wars movies.

“He’s the Sith Lord and Mark Baker [Anderson’s younger and equally effective law partner] is Darth Vader,” the advocate said.

A former colleague of Anderson’s said he’s the “original one-man M.O.D. squad,” as in merchant of death.

Anderson has a history of representing what most environmental, public health and consumer protection groups would agree are the “bad guys.” The word “evil” is oft applied to many of the corporate and multinational interests Anderson has represented during his lengthy career. Over the last 60 years he has gone to bat for clients like Proctor & Gamble, Shell Oil and a host of other industry trade groups. He’s successfully defeated statewide initiative campaigns aimed at protecting public health and the environment. His current client roster includes: Encore Acquisition Co., the state’s largest petroleum producer; Reynolds American, Inc., the parent company for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, one of the world’s largest producers of cigarettes; Corrections Corporation of America, one of the nation’s leading private prison companies; and PPL Montana, the state’s largest energy producer.

Most observers agree that at 86 Anderson is slowing down, but like he says, as long as his physical and mental health is good, there’s no reason to quit. The Capitol is Anderson’s turf, and there’s nowhere he’d rather be than here, peddling the power for which he’s long been a conduit.

“I really enjoy the process,” Anderson says. “I like all the people you meet and the friendships you make over the years doing this kind of work.”

Even after more than half a century of helping mold and shape Montana’s laws, tax structure, and regulatory and environmental and health landscapes, Anderson can’t fathom retirement. He still thrives on the thrill of victory, something he’s experienced a lot during his career. And while he may no longer be the heaviest hitter, his clientele and legislative portfolio make clear he’s still very much in the game.

So on a recent Wednesday morning, Anderson’s smooth gait takes him past the Capitol’s security and information desk, and he tosses his hat onto a rack near the building’s north entrance and hangs his coat. It’s 8 a.m. sharp, and Anderson is ready for work.

•••

It’s hard to imagine looking back on a lifetime of lobbying and not having some regrets, but when Jerome Anderson examines his 60-year career—the clients he’s represented, the issues he’s lobbied, the bills he’s helped pass and kill—he does so with a crystal clear conscious.

“You have to think about the circumstances as they looked at the time,” Anderson says, referring to his work with Proctor & Gamble fighting legislation that allowed counties to ban the use of phosphates in household detergents.

Phosphates are a major source of pollution in lakes and streams and cause overproduction of algae and water weeds. By the 1980s municipal wastewater treatment plants started noticing high levels of phosphorus loads originating from laundry detergents. Local efforts to ban the surfactant sprang up all over the country, and across Montana. Anderson succeeded in beating back the statewide ban, but Flathead and Lake counties passed local bans in 1984. In 1989 the city of Missoula passed a similar ban, and the results were dramatic. According to the state Department of Environmental Quality, Missoula’s wastewater treatment plant noticed more than a 30 percent decline in inflow phosphorus content within one year.

Looking back, Anderson has no qualms about supporting Proctor & Gamble’s fight against the phosphate bans.

“Scientific studies justified the action that was taken at the time,” he says, adding that people are reconsidering the use of daily household products all the time. “Stuff you used to eat you don’t eat today,” he says, for example.

Anderson is perhaps best known for his more recent work fighting on behalf of the tobacco industry.

In 1990 he successfully led a team of Big Tobacco lobbyists with a war chest of more than $1.6 million—a substantial sum at the time—in defeating a ballot initiative to increase cigarette taxes to raise money for tobacco prevention programs. The initiative, I-115, asked voters to increase the tax on cigarettes from 18 cents to 43 cents a pack, and increase the tax on other tobacco products to 25 percent of the wholesale price. The new tax would have raised an estimated $16.8 million annually, half of which would have funded programs to reduce smoking among people under 21. Supporters of I-115 estimated that if the initiative passed, the tax would have decreased overall smoking prevalence by 6 percent and teenage smoking by 15 percent in the first five years of enactment. Dr. Robert M. Shepard, a Helena family physician and treasurer of the I-115 campaign organization, says the initiative’s ultimate defeat was orchestrated by Anderson.

“As the chief spokesperson for the campaign, I had several debates with Jerome…and so I ended up bumping into him a great deal,” Shepard said in a recent phone interview. Shepard, now the medical director for New West Health Services, a Helena-based insurance company, says Anderson is soft-spoken and “quite polite,” even to his rivals, but that doesn’t change Shepard’s opinion of Anderson or his clients.

“He doesn’t get riled easily. And so from that point of view he’s very effective. His biggest problem is he has no moral compass,” Shepard says. “You can’t have a moral compass and represent a company that kills 400,000 people a year.”

Anderson doesn’t quite see it that way. Over the last 30 years he fought nearly every tobacco tax and regulation in the state, though he himself quit smoking more than 25 years ago. The first reason he gives for unapologetically representing the tobacco industry is that smoking is a legal activity.

“You don’t have to be a smoker to represent the tobacco industry,” he says. “It’s a matter of personal choice.”

Besides, he says, it’s an industry that manufactures and sells a legal product and thus deserves representation just like any other. He says organizations that campaign against Big Tobacco are simply trying to vilify the industry so they can continue to justify and support their own existence.

“There are many other products that are used in everyday life that have downsides as well as upsides,” Jerome says. In one hearing against a 2-cent increase of a tobacco tax, for instance, Anderson compared the dangers of smoking cigarettes to the dangers of eating mayonnaise.

“That’s what every tobacco lawyer will tell you,” Shepard responds. “It’s a rationalization for doing something that’s very, very dangerous.”

Anderson spearheaded the effort to kill the 1990 initiative, and he had a whopping tobacco industry-funded budget to get it done. According to the National Voting Rights Institute, the 1990 tobacco industry lobbying effort used 360,000 pieces of direct mail to Montana voters, with postage alone costing $90,000. That was more than twice the entire budget of Shepard’s I-115 campaign. Anderson’s fee as chief legal counsel for the anti-I-115 campaign was reportedly $60,000, also exceeding the entire budget available to the citizens’ side.

After numerous focus groups, Anderson’s campaign strategy team finally came up with a highly effective advertising strategy based on the slogan “Put the axe to more tax.”

“They didn’t talk about the health effects of smoking at all. They just focused on the taxes, and we got killed,” Shepard recalls. The I-115 initiative was slaughtered at the polls, and for that Shepard has no problem blaming the consequences on Anderson.

“We tried to increase the tax by 25 cents in 1990. We know that the smoking rates in kids goes down by 7 percent when you increase it by that much, and by 4 percent in adults,” Shepard says. “So everybody who didn’t quit in 1990 because of the tobacco tax and died of tobacco since then is on Jerome’s hands.”

Anderson’s critics also point to the influence he and his law partner—fellow tobacco lobbyist Mark Baker, a former top aide to former Republican Sen. Conrad Burns—had with former Gov. Judy Martz, who dramatically cut funding to tobacco prevention programs over her single term as governor.

In 2000 voters approved a constitutional amendment that directed 40 percent of all future tobacco settlement payments into a permanent trust fund to pay for health-related programs. The law required that interest earned from the fund be used to expand health care and prevent tobacco-related diseases. In fiscal year 2000–2001, $3.5 million was appropriated for tobacco prevention. But in 2001 the newly elected Martz made the first of a series of proposed cuts to tobacco prevention funding for fiscal year 2002–2003. The Republican legislature supported Martz’s proposed funding level of $500,000 a year, a reduction of 86 percent. The following year Martz administratively cut the program to $384,000 in annual funding.

Anderson, who says he’s known Martz since she was a young girl and calls her a “good friend” and “one of the finest governors the state has ever had,” also says Martz is one of the people he respects and admires most over his 60-year career.

During the time Martz was cutting funding for tobacco prevention, Baker created the Montana Majority Fund, a Republican 527 campaign organization set up to financially support state and national candidates. That 527 group received thousands of dollars from tobacco companies, and Martz served as its honorary chairperson. Many believe Baker and Anderson were directly influencing Martz’s decisions on tobacco prevention funding.

“The tobacco industry works in two ways: out in front, and behind the scenes,” says Shepard. “It’s hard for us to know how much of a role Jerome played behind the scenes.”

But even Shepard, one of Anderson’s biggest critics, maintains a certain amount of professional respect for his nemesis.

“He would never personally attack anybody,” Shepard says. “And I respect him for that.”

•••

Anderson’s toxic legacy isn’t restricted to tobacco and laundry detergents.

In 1996 he led a team of mining lobbyists who raised more than $2 million, mainly from within the mining industry, to defeat a bipartisan clean water initiative that aimed to restrict the amount of toxic chemicals industries could pump into rivers, lakes and streams.

In the November 1994 election voters put Republicans in control of both houses of the legislature for the first time in 13 years. When that legislature convened early the next year, Republicans got to work weakening the state’s water quality standards by allowing mining and agricultural industries to dump more toxic chemicals and carcinogens into the state’s rivers, streams and lakes. Industry voices hailed the relaxed environmental laws as much-needed loosening of the unreasonable regulatory burdens on Montana industries.

Others saw it differently.

In 1996 environmentalists went to work on I-122, which would force mining companies to treat their wastewater before they dumped it into the rivers. If passed, I-122 would have forced all new and expanding mines that use cyanide to treat and remove 80 percent of deadly chemicals from the wastewater before it was discharged. The initiative exempted existing mines and it did not impact overall water quality laws.

The measure had broad bipartisan support, but the mining industry lobby—led by Anderson—fiercely opposed it.

Early on in the campaign I-122 backers had reason to be hopeful as polls suggested the measure had wide support. But then the mining companies—Pegasus, Placer Dome, Phelps Dodge, ARCO and ASARCO—banded together and opened their war chests to pour $2 million into Anderson’s “Montanans for Common Sense Water Laws” anti-initiative group.

Anderson’s group flooded television and radio with ads claiming the initiative’s water-quality standards required such absurdly low levels of pollution that tests wouldn’t even detect them.

By the end of the summer the tide had turned and public opinion was firmly in the corner of the mining industry. That November I-122 was defeated at the polls.

“Anderson is a damned nice guy and excellent lobbyist who has consistently represented evil interests,” says Jim Jensen, executive director of the Montana Environmental Information Center, a Helena-based environmental lobbying organization. “And, frankly, it is a lot easier to be effective when you have unlimited money, as Jerome always seems to have.”

Environmental lobbyist Patrick Judge, who fought against Anderson’s group on the I-122 campaign, has a long family history with Anderson. When Judge’s father, former Gov. Thomas Lee Judge, ran and won a seat in the House in 1960 at the age of 26, Republicans tried to block him from being seated because he’d only recently moved back to Helena from out of state. According to the elder Judge, the Democratic-controlled Senate threatened a similar move against a Republican, but Anderson, who was then leader of the House, relented and both men kept their seats. According to Judge, his father became friends with Anderson over the years.

“The month after the [1996] election, I showed up for Christmas dinner at my dad’s house and was a little surprised to learn that Jerome would be dining with us,” Judge recalls. “It turns out he and my dad were next-door neighbors, and had become pretty good friends. So we quickly put aside our differences and he proceeded to give me some good tips on lobbying.”

Judge says that while his political and professional interest are diametrically opposed with Anderson, the two manage to get along quite well.

“I can’t think of an issue we’ve actually agreed upon, but he’s not at all disagreeable,” Judge says. “…He’s straightforward about his agenda and above board about it. In that way, and with his unfailing cordiality, he’s definitely a gentleman.”

Anderson says when it comes to lobbying, he leaves everything on the mat. He says, “I don’t let it become personal.”

•••

Anderson, a former World War II Marine Corps fighter pilot who was born and raised in Billings, returned to Montana in 1946 and went to law school at the University of Montana. In 1947 he was elected president of the Associated Students of the University of Montana and began his lobbying career working for the university. After he graduated he returned to Billings where, when he wasn’t lobbying the legislature, he practiced law for 40 years. Except for the four terms he served as a representative from Billings in the House from 1955 to 1957 and then again from 1959 to 1961 (he was majority leader in 1961) he’s lobbied every session since his first in 1947. He retired from his practice in Billings in 1988 and moved to Helena with his wife, Rita, and opened a new law office with Mark Baker in Helena’s Power Block building. In short, he’s been involved in the inner workings of state government for 31 consecutive legislative sessions.

In many ways Anderson is as comfortable at the Capitol as he is anywhere else.

On a recent Wednesday, he steps off the elevator first thing in the morning and heads to the mail desk where he picks up the latest amended copy of Senate Joint Resolution 15 (a bill requesting an interim committee to study the impact of Montana’s health care delivery system—which he’s supporting on behalf of two clients), the daily House and Senate floor agendas and the hearings calendar report, which lists the status of each bill. Nearly everyone he passes in the hallway smiles and greets him with a “Hey, Jerome!” or “Morning, Jerome.”

As he walks to the cafeteria to grab breakfast before officially getting down to business, Anderson scans over the agendas. Today looks like a relatively slow day. At this point in the session, most of the contentious legislation has been killed or moved on. Much of Anderson’s responsibility now is to be available and prepared to answer questions from legislators. Earlier in the session it wasn’t uncommon for him to put in 10- to 12-hour days at the Capitol—lobbying legislators, testifying before committees and pouring over hundreds of pages of complex bill language. But as Anderson says, right now the session is in the end game, and there’s not a whole lot to do but sit back and watch.

“I wonder if they’re going to take another crack at HB 25,” he speculates as he enters the cafeteria.

A House vote on SJ 15 is the second item on the House agenda, but he’s already confident the measure will pass. It’s Republican Rep. Alan Olson’s House Bill 25 that’s worrying Anderson today.

“There’s a possibility that someone in the House will try to revive HB 25,” Anderson explains before biting into a chocolate glazed donut.

HB 25, known as the “re-regulation bill,” pits NorthWestern Energy against PPL. The bill, which passed in the narrowly divided Senate by a 3–2 margin with bipartisan support, would undo much of the damage done to Montana’s energy landscape by the infamous SB 390 deregulation bill passed by Republicans in 1997. Proponents say HB 25 would allow NorthWestern to more effectively pursue long-term, low-cost contracts for its customers by making it easier for the energy utility to build its own generation facilities rather than buy energy from the likes of PPL at whatever price the market will bear. The bill, supporters say, will finally help diminish PPL’s dominant presence in the market and provide Montana consumers with more affordable power.

Although the House voted “no” on the bill on April 10, House rules allow a motion to reconsider the vote within 24 hours. That’s what has Anderson and PPL a bit uneasy.

While waiting for the House to convene, Anderson turns his focus to one of his other clients. He casually opens his beat-up brown leather attaché case and pages through a yellow legal pad. He skims the bill language he was up until 1:30 a.m. the night before perfecting. Contained on the four or five pages of neatly penned handwriting is a draft amendment to Sen. Jim Elliott’s energy bill for one of Anderson’s other major clients: Encore Acquisition Company, the state’s largest producer of crude oil. Anderson began lobbying for Encore when the company bought the Cedar Creek Anticline—a huge oil strip with an estimated 3.3 billion barrels under the border of Montana and North Dakota—from Shell Oil in 1999.

Elliott’s bill, SB 220, revises tax laws for energy companies and Anderson’s amendments deal with tax rules for carbon sequestration infrastructure assessment. Anderson is preparing the amendments for a legislative attorney who will draft them and have them ready by the end of the day for members of the House Taxation Committee, which meets the next day.

After breakfast Anderson heads upstairs to the third floor hallway between the House and Senate chambers. The hallways on the third floor of the Capitol are crowded all day with lobbyists as both houses debate and vote on dozens of bills. Occasionally a legislator will step out and huddle with one, two or three lobbyists and then slip back into the chamber. Only legislators, a handful of legislative pages and the credentialed media are allowed on the Senate or House floors while those bodies are in session. Lobbyists are strictly prohibited from stepping foot on the floor, so the only way to get a message to a legislator is to try to signal him through the window or write a message on a little yellow sheet and hand it to a page for delivery.

At 1 p.m. the House finally convenes and Anderson becomes fixated on the television screen above the snack counter just outside the House lobby. About a dozen PPL and NorthWestern lobbyists are stationed near the snack bar as well, huddled in their respective teams. With the House in floor session, there’s little to be done except wait and watch.

Anderson clutches a copy of the SJ 15 health care delivery system resolution as he leans on the counter and gazes up at the screen. It’s a mundane game of wait-and-see, but after a short while he gives thumbs up to no one in particular as the House, by a 4–1 margin, passes SJ 15.

“It’s exhilarating to be a part of the process and it always feels good when you win,” he says later. “I think you have to have a certain degree of competitiveness to be a good lobbyist.”

But SJ 15 isn’t what has so many people gathered in this particular hallway. The majority of this group is waiting to see whether there will be a motion to reconsider yesterday’s vote against HB 25, the re-regulation bill.

“The basic issue with regard to PPL’s position on this bill is the retention of the capability of customers to be able to make a choice of providers,” Anderson ambiguously explains. “The system today under the purview of NorthWestern Energy is set up to capture customers. They want to prevent customers from leaving their system and choosing another provider.”

As the House runs through its agenda, the lobbyists strategize over hypothetical scenarios. Then around 3 p.m. comes the motion to reconsider yesterday’s vote and again the lobbyists in the hallway turn their attention to the TV above the snackbar. Anderson’s team needs to hang on to four votes to preserve the bill’s defeat in the House, and the seasoned veteran is confident they will. In a somewhat anticlimactic moment the vote tally is announced and Anderson and his colleagues say in near unison, “Good,” in a tone that suggests, now with that out of the way. A few minutes later someone produces copies of the vote tally and the lobbyists study the result to see who hung on and who crossed over.

The opposition picked up a couple of seats to make it a close call, but the 50 to 48 “no” vote on the motion preserves the previous day’s victory for PPL and sends the bill off to conference committee where it begins a whole new game for Jerome and his colleagues on both sides of the bill.

It wasn’t a particularly memorable day for the man who has lobbied thousands of pieces of legislation over the course of the last six decades, but it was another successful notch in his belt. Two pieces of legislation went his way, and for that he can take a fair share of the credit.

Sixteen days from now, on April 27, the Montana Legislature will adjourn sine die—Latin for “without day, ” or “the last day”—and end the 2007 regular session. That date will mark Anderson’s 2,790th day lobbying the legislature during regular sessions. By now his rivals long wish the old man would just give it up, and others wonder how long he can keep going. After all, for the past 10 years his car has donned vanity license plates that read “SINE DIE.”

But so far, Anderson doesn’t see an end in sight.

“I just like it,” Anderson says, both of his vanity plates and his job. “If you don’t have something else planned to do in retirement, it can get pretty boring.”

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