In Search of ... Lobbying CloutStephen Bassett has a lobbying pitch straight from outer space.
By Tory Newmyer
The Roll Call
Only Full-Time UFO Lobbyist Struggles to Attract Attention
By Tory Newmyer
The Roll Call
Only Full-Time UFO Lobbyist Struggles to Attract Attention
He wants to tell Members of Congress about the alien spacecrafts visiting Earth. They’ve been coming for years, he says, often scooping up humans for test probes. And if lawmakers could muster the political backbone to address the issue, Bassett would like to present some people to testify about making contact, as well as reams of evidence to back up their claims.
Trouble is, it’s tough to get a meeting on Capitol Hill when your subject is little green men. Bassett himself, founder of the Paradigm Research Group and the only full-time lobbyist on the extraterrestrial issue, acknowledges these are dark days for the UFO lobby.
“The guys on the Hill won’t touch it,” even though, according to Bassett, “it’s more important than the war.”
Many of Bassett’s mainstream counterparts on K Street have expressed similar frustration this year with their inability to advance their clients’ priorities, as lawmakers spent valuable time trying to stem political scandals.
But advocates of more eccentric causes have felt the tightest pinch. Bassett, a former tennis pro and business consultant, moved from a second-story home office in Bethesda, Md., to Northern California, where he says friends are supporting him as he hunts for new benefactors to restart his push in Washington, D.C.
It wasn’t always this way. Just a few years ago, the UFO cause had backing from some of the Beltway’s heaviest hitters. Former White House chief of staff John Podesta headlined an October 2002 press conference at the National Press Club calling on the government to disclose what it knows about the flying crafts.
“It’s time to find out what the truth really is that’s out there,” Podesta, a self-proclaimed fan of the spooky Fox show “X-Files,” told the crowd that day.
The event was sponsored by the SciFi Channel, which in part was looking for promotional opportunities to attract viewers to “Out of the Blue,” a documentary that argued for the existence of life beyond Earth.
The channel decided to put some major corporate muscle behind a lobbying campaign on the UFO issue, hiring PodestaMattoon, the firm headed by Podesta’s brother, Tony, and Dan Mattoon, a confidant of Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), to spearhead it.
Lobbyists at the firm collected $380,000 working the issue for the next three years. They helped the science-fiction network set up the Coalition for the Freedom of Information, or CFi, to pry new disclosures from the federal government. The group launched with a slick Web site and a well-publicized lawsuit against NASA to get the space agency to release information about a reputed UFO crash in Pennsylvania during the 1960s.
To top it off, the CFi commissioned a poll showing that not only do roughly seven in 10 Americans believe the government is withholding information about extraterrestrials, but that one in seven report they or someone they know actually has had a close encounter with aliens.
For the PodestaMattoon team, however, close encounters with Members and staff were harder to come by. Firm officials decline to speak publicly about their work on the issue, since it ended in 2004. But a source close to the effort said finding receptive audiences in Congress was “very hard.”
“I don’t think most Members were that much into it,” the source said. “The bottom line is that if you’re living in the real world today, everything else is more important, so this kind of issue has no traction whatsoever.”
Any group of 535 people should include a few with offbeat interests, but the few friendly faces that UFO enthusiasts once found are no longer there. As recently as 1994, they had won their biggest advance when then-Rep. Steven Schiff (R-N.M.) decided to look into claims that an alien craft had crashed 50 years earlier in his district near the tiny town of Roswell and that the government swiftly covered it up.
Federal officials over the years had issued several explanations for the craft — which slammed into the desert in the summer of 1947 — including identifying it as a weather balloon and a Soviet satellite. But UFO believers dismissed the reports, and a mythology involving a repaired spacecraft and recovered alien bodies made the incident a rallying point.
Responding to constituent pressure to get new answers, Schiff asked to see radio traffic records from Roswell Army Air Corps Base between 1946 and 1949, but both the Defense Department and the National Archives declined to help. The lawmaker then took his request to what was then known as the General Accounting Office. He again was denied: Officials there told him records for that time period were missing.
At the GAO’s request, the Air Force launched its own inquiry, arriving at the conclusion that the craft was an experimental high-altitude balloon to monitor Soviet nuclear tests. But Barry Bitzer, the lawmaker’s then-chief of staff, said the Air Force’s report left more questions than answers.
“My conjecture at this point is that none of the answers we’ve been given so far square with all the facts,” said Bitzer, who’s now chief of staff to the mayor of Albuquerque.
Schiff died in 1998, and Roswell and the nearby crash site now are represented by Republican Rep. Steve Pearce. David Host, the lawmaker’s communications director, said Pearce believes the Air Force report was “fairly conclusive and credible.”
“He is not actively working on that issue today, but there is a tremendous interest in this story across the country, and Rep. Pearce certainly encourages everybody to come to Roswell and find out for themselves,” he said.
Those who work on the UFO issue agree that the challenge is getting Members of Congress past the fear of looking foolish by taking the subject seriously. Bassett says the lawmakers are “too weak, in terms of fortitude, to put their status on the line.”
But others say figures like Bassett, who talks openly about an alien civilization attempting to disclose its existence to humankind, only contribute to that problem. Leslie Kean, an investigative journalist who now heads the CFi, said that “by leaving himself open to ridicule through his particular style of rhetoric, [Bassett] has greatly diminished his possible effectiveness.”
A better approach, Kean said, would be to treat the subject as a valid, open question, without pushing any conclusions. In other words, The Truth Is Out There.
“Our premises are different,” she said. They are “based on the fact that there is much evidence that demands further scientific investigation, while he believes that the government and the media must accept the UFO phenomenon as a self-evident extraterrestrial incursion.”
Either way, while the current elected establishment regards both of those sides as if they’d just flown in from Mars, the UFO lobby takes heart in knowing that a long line of top-ranking politicians have indicated they’re open to considering the topic.
Former President Gerald Ford held hearings on the issue while serving in the House in the 1960s. Before Ford’s successor won the White House, then-Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter filed two formal reports describing his observations of UFOs.
“I don’t laugh at people anymore when they say they’ve seen UFOs, because I’ve seen one myself,” he was quoted as saying.
And enthusiasts have long gossiped about a report that President Ronald Reagan, after a 1982 screening of the movie E.T., turned to director Steven Spielberg and said, “There are probably only six people in this room who know how true this is.”
Meanwhile, UFO advocates are holding out hope that a breakthrough is on the horizon.
The SciFi Channel, since purchased by NBC, has shifted its focus, but Ed Rothschild, a PodestaMattoon lobbyist who worked on the account, is still listed as a volunteer director of the CFi. Kean, who is working on a documentary about the possibility that consciousness survives after death, also is birddogging the group’s NASA lawsuit.
Bassett, for his part, has signed up two new clients — the Exopolitics Institute and www.exopolitics.com — albeit on a pro bono basis. And he has set up a political action committee called the Extraterrestrial Phenomena PAC. It has received only $4,555 and has given no money out to candidates, but Bassett said he is hopeful it will grow.
Shortly before the elections, Bassett sent out an e-mail alert announcing that in anticipation of Democratic majorities, his group was swinging back into action. “Direct meetings will be sought with a larger than usual freshman class of members,” he wrote. “More importantly, secrecy, institutional lying and abuse of power are part of the lexicon of issues being addressed in the election coverage — all aspects of the past and present management of the extraterrestrial presence truth embargo.”
To kick off the new push, Bassett said he is planning to return to Washington. “There’s going to be a concerted effort to engage some of the new Members in the Senate and House and let them know there’s a real issue here,” he said.
* Special Thanks To Christian Macé
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See Also: EXPOSING THE REAL X-FILES