No political contributions despite frustrations with government interference in business
Here, Poole takes a step toward describing his political philosophy and how it relates to his business interests. He expresses frustration at the government's inherent advantage in providing services for its citizens, and at the instances where the government directly usurped his attempts to set up a profitable landfill. Despite his frustration, he did not try to smooth his path to success with political contributions, which he sees as possibly tantamount to bribery and can only influence policy as long as the officeholder in question remains in power.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Lonnie Poole, March 22, 1999. Interview I-0085. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
JM: How about that. Let me take you back, and I’m anticipating lots of conversation about those years as well, but first a couple of questions. You had mentioned your sense of the uneven playing field, public trash and landfill operations as against private. Obviously saw an economic opportunity there. Was it also a matter of political philosophy for you? Were you engaged at that level in way of motivation or were your motivations more that it was a business plan that we can execute and make some money?
LP: It was more business than political.
JM: It wasn't that this thing just caught in your craw that they had set up the playing field not in a balanced way, and you had some deep philosophical objection to that that got you out of bed every morning.
LP: Not sure I understand the question.
JM: There are folks you come across--.
LP: I actually was--yeah I got caught up a little bit at the time into the pro-government what government should do and what government shouldn't do. I had my own notion, and it was with bias of course.
JM: It was with bias?
LP: With a lot of bias. Anytime that a governmental entity would decide that they were going to run their own landfill and charge a fee, which was essentially my idea. Their reason for doing it was that if I could do it and make a profit, then they could do it and save the taxpayers money. I found that argument to be somewhat hollow because technically with an unlevel playing field, government can do everything less expensively and save the quote taxpayers money. I'm certainly not of the camp that believes government should be all things to all people. If they were already involved in it and running a good show and had a good sanitary landfill and they complied with all the of the regulations and wanted to do that as part of a tax supported services, then that was certainly within the prerogative of the city to do that. But on the other hand, if we had the idea of making it an enterprise activity and brought the idea forward and did the research and found the site, we did that in a number of cases only to have the idea and the site pirated by municipal forces. That would, that can kind of grate on you when you come up with good ideas and whatever. So that got in to the philosophical area but basically my motives were always to make a profit. I only got philosophical about it when I lost the deal, and I was trying to find well is there some redeeming benefit that's going to come out of this. I would find maybe some day. But not right now so it was always the business.
JM: These efforts to work the halls in Raleigh and try to make sure that you get some--you mentioned the three key pieces of legislation that finally got passed over there that helped straighten things out for you folks. Did you ever find it necessary as a business decision to be involved in the electoral realm of politics supporting candidates? Did you judge that necessary to the fortunes of the business?
LP: No. As a matter of fact, I've always been pretty careful to--I give what I can to help people finance their campaigns. But there's a real fine line between that and paying off people. I never wanted to consider it to be a bribe or pay off or a kick back. I found--.
JM: I certainly didn't mean to suggest that.
LP: There's somewhat of an inconsistency between the term of the politician and the term of a garbage contract. If you took, we now currently do 155 contracts. My oldest contract is 1973. Never, no interruption, 1973 to current in a city picking up at the house. We are and have been their public works department through many, many, many city council people. Okay, so you have to be real careful is it may get you the engagement, the contract, but it also if not done properly will cost you the contract. The time we got in the business, what do you call it--it's like nepotism it's, partisan politics was the--we didn't have city--.
END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A
START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B
JM: This is side B of the first Lonnie Poole cassette.
LP: So in the conversation about making contributions, the intent in our contracts is for the contracts to last for long, long periods of time. People run for elected office on two or four years schedules, and even sometime they don't serve out those entire periods of time. So you have to be very, very careful. At the time we got in the business, if the Republicans came into power, basically they got rid of everybody, the county manager if they had one or the county administrator, the clerk, the tax collector, everybody. Some with cities, partisan politics, when a new broom came, it came sweeping out the old. If we weren't very, very careful, we were part of the sweeping. We got swept right away with the politicians that got swept away. So we made it a point to distance ourselves from the electing process, and we basically provided a service for a city. Whoever was in power at that particular time was who we served. It was up to them to get into power, and it was up to them to stay in the power. We did a good service in what we did, either collecting the garbage or running the landfill as a way of doing that and not necessarily through contribution to their political campaigns. As a matter of fact, we've had to be very careful over the years to not let politicians put their vote getting signs on our dumpsters because it can be misconstrued by the opponents that we actually through our truck driver had them put on there. So it's a delicate little subject.