L5 News: L-5’s Campaign to Save the Satellite Solar Power Station

by Mark Hopkins

From L5 News, January 1981

The campaign began in earnest on April 23, 1980 when I addressed the Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Power Satellite Program Review meeting in Lincoln, Nebraska, and called for a major political effort to save the Solar Power Satellite (SPS) program. Earlier Carter had revised his DOE proposal for fiscal year ’81 eliminating all of the 5.5 million dollars which had been scheduled in his initial budget proposal for the program. N. Douglas Pewitt was the administration official within the DOE who was responsible for the SPS decision. Upon hearing of this I initiated an L-5 Board of Directors motion which was subsequently passed to the effect that we should undertake a campaign to save the program. Despite a major effort on my part to find someone else to take responsibility for the campaign — as so often happens to the initiators of L-5 action — I found myself inescapably stuck with the job. Thus a short time later I was addressing the conference in Lincoln.

l5 news randy clamons and mark hopkins

Mark Hopkins (right), father of the phone tree, discusses the inititation and management of the SPS campaign with L-5 Administrator Randy Clamons (left) during a break in the L-5 Society Board of Directors meeting in Lincoln, Nebraska.

At this time the DOE was in the final stages of a three year program to assess the potential of SPSs. The major issue to be decided in the campaign was — would SPS funding be continued after the completion of the existing study?

The first step in our opponent’s strategy was to prevent SPS funding in fiscal 1981 on the grounds that no decision should be made on whether the program should be continued or not until the final DOE report was completed. They would try to bury the fact that it was already obvious from the existing results that the SPS effort should be continued. Within the administration this strategy was not working until it was decided to reduce the initial budget. The fact that this was a very tight budget year would be a major obstacle to L-5’s attempt to restore SPS funding in Congress. The reason for the first step in our opponent’s strategy was not simply to create a funding gap which would delay SPS research. The main purpose was to break up the SPS program office in the DOE and the SPS research team in private enterprise. This would reduce support for SPS’s when the decision was made within the DOE at the conclusion of the DOE’s study as to whether to continue SPS research. It would also reduce support for SPSs in the congressional battles which are likely to occur in next year’s, the 1981, Congress.

This type of strategy works better the longer the funding gap. Thus our opponents’ obvious second step, if they were successful in their first, was to delay the DOE report and the DOE’s recommendations as long as possible. If this could be done long enough, the SPS Program could be effectively buried.

Failing in this, the decisive battles of the campaign would be fought in the 1981 Congress with all that has gone on before amounting to a jockeying for a more advantageous position. If an SPS program is not funded at that time, then SPSs will be effectively dead for the foreseable future. If it is funded, then the program will be relatively safe for several years — until another major decision point is reached as to whether the program can go on to its next stage or be terminated.

Our strategy simply put was to defeat that of our opponents.

To restore the $5.5 million required an amendment to the DOE budget which would have to pass four committees, two in the House and two in the Senate, or alternatively pass both committees in either the House or the Senate and then pass a House-Senate conference committee, which would be in charge of working out compromises between the House and the Senate. If the amendment succeeded in both the House and the Senate, it could still be vetoed by Carter but this would require Carter to veto the entire DOE budget which was something he would not do simply because of what had happened with SPSs.

In discussions which occurred before the Lincoln meeting with the staff of key congressional proponents of SPS, we were told not to worry about the two House committees — the problem was with the Senate. Historically SPSs had always been viewed more favorably by the House as compared to the Senate. The first of the Senate committees to vote would be the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee.

The speech in Lincoln began L-5’s effort to lobby this committee. The vote was originally scheduled to occur on Friday, April 25th, which was the last day of the Lincoln conference. Therefore, the conference attendees were asked to phone and/or send telegrams to the key Senators.

Last minute campaigns like this are the rule in this type of lobbying. The reason for this is that the most effective time to lobby a very busy Senator or Congressperson with numerous issues on his/her mind is just before the vote and such votes are typically scheduled only a couple of days ahead of time. This is why an effective phone tree is so important. Unfortunately, at this time L-5 did not have a phone tree. Instead we were relying on a brute force telephone and mailgram campaign where Howard Gluckman and Janelle Dykes with some help from other members of O.A.S.I.S. (the Los Angeles L-5 chapter) would contact people who were asked to call the relevant Senators. The people being called were primarily those L-5 members who had previously indicated particular interest in political activity, about 10% of the Society, and who were also residents of a state which had a Senator on the committee.

In conjunction with these efforts we sent three people to Washington: Eric Drexler, Robert Lovell and David Webb. Leigh Ratiner and his staff extensively briefed these three on how to communicate effectively with Senate aides and then sent them to a series of meetings which had been arranged with the staff of the relevant Senators.

By Saturday, April 26, I had returned from the conference to my home in Los Angeles. The vote had been postponed until Monday. It would be postponed several times again until it would effectively occur the following Friday. The situation in general was dismal. There were simply not enough phone calls and telegrams coming into the relevant Senators.

As a consequence, I began what was to become a five day campaign of almost constant phone calling. It quickly became apparent that to get enough calls from the relevant states we would have to attempt to contact not just 10% but all L-5 members in those states. This target population was later extended to include everyone in those states who had ever been a member of L-5 as well as the major chapters regardless of what states they were in. Two additional facts were also immediately apparent. It was ridiculous to ever have to do this type of uncoordinated mass phone calling again, and to actually contact a reasonable fraction of the target population at a tolerable expense, people would have to be found in each of the states involved who were willing to make a substantial number of calls to other people in their states.

The result of these considerations was the birth of the L-5 phone tree. During the next few days state coordinators were found for each of the states involved and statewide phone trees were constructed under these coordinators.

By Tuesday morning the periodic polling of the relevant Senators’ aides being carried out by Leigh Ratiner’s staff indicated a dramatic improvement in our position. The committee was evenly divided with several Senators in the uncertainty category. The lead was to see-saw back and forth creating additional pressure to intensify our efforts.

During this period dedicated members of the L-5 society successfully carried out a number of remarkable feats. One of these was what has come to be known as the Tsongas miracle. Senator Tsongas of Massachusetts was a committee member and considered, because of past failures to successfully lobby him on SPSs, to be hopeless. But thanks in particular to Marcia Allen Mabry’s past activism, Massachusetts was at the beginning of the campaign better organized than any other state in the nation. As a consequence, day after day, phone calls from all parts of the state flooded Tsongas’s office. While this effort was necessary it was not sufficient to obtain the desired result. This came about because an L-5 member, Christene Peterson, saw an opportunity and on her own initiative grasped it.

As the campaign was entering its final stages, Peterson discovered that Tsongas was on a radio talk show of the type where listeners could call in and ask questions. She managed to get on the air and after a number of preliminary questions designed to demonstrate to the audience the value of SPS and hence push Tsongas in the right direction, Peterson asked the clincher — would he support an amendment to restore the $5.5 million? Tsongas said YES! The news was flashed throughout the Massachusetts phone network along with a request for telegrams thanking Tsongas for his decision. By the next day, Ratiner’s office had confirmed Tsongas’ new pro-SPS position.

As the campaign approached its climax, the critical problem became to find a Senator who was willing tointroduce the legislation required to amend the budget restoring the $5.5 million for SPS. A Senator must be considerably more in favor of something in order to introduce legislation as compared to simply voting for it as some other Senator introduces it. There were two promising prospects, Jackson (D) of Washington and Melcher (D) of Montana.

We had been throwing a substantially disproportionate share of our phone calls and other resources at Jackson from the beginning. By this time it was clear that Jackson would vote for the amendment and that he was becoming increasingly inclined toward introducing it, but we could not get a firm committment from him and time was running out.

Melcher was a Senator on the committee who had supported SPS to the greatest extent in the past. Normally, it would not have been difficult to get him to introduce the amendment; however, only one of his aides was knowledgeable about SPS and he was on vacation in some remote spot where he could not be reached. Without his advice Melcher did not want to take the intiative.

With little time to spare, we decided to try and find someone who was knowledgable about SPS and who was important enough to directly call Melcher and ask him to introduce the amendment. If this did not work, the chance of victory in this committee would be remote.

I called Peter Glaser, the father of the SPS — he called Melcher. Melcher said yes — if he quickly received evidence of strong public support. The embryonic phone tree was activated. Instead of asking just those few L-5 members and former members who lived in Melcher’s state of Montana to call in (which is what we had been doing in Melcher’s case up until this point in time), we asked everyone. Within a couple of hours it was almost impossible to phone Melcher’s office because the telephone lines were constantly busy. Melcher was impressed and agreed to introduce the amendment.

For a while it looked as if Melcher’s new support would enable us to obtain only a partial victory, but then Jackson acted the remaining resistance melted, the $5.5 million was restored. We had won! To paraphrase a key Jackson aide — for an entire week the SPS issue would give me no peace. At the office the phone was constantly ringing. When I left the office people would meet me in the halls to discuss SPS. Even when I went out to dinner people would find me and lobby on the issue.

For the first time in history an increase in the funds for SPS over those recommended by the Administration had blasted its way through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Good work L-5.

In order to obtain victories like this money is required. Except for one small donation from Sunsat all of this for the entire SPS campaign to date was obtained from individual contributions. These donors deserve a special thank you.

Meanwhile, on the House side of Congress, as expected, the SPS amendment easily passed in the House Science and Technology Committee. We were now two committees down — with two to go — and frankly feeling good. Then disaster struck.

The amendment did not pass the House Subcommittee, which meant that it was effectively dead as far as the House was concerned. We had been told by usually reliable sources that this battle would be won without requiring our help. This, plus the vote’s nearness in time to the exhausting battle in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee resulted in only a minor telephone campaign on our part. A major reason for the defeat was the extremely strong opposition from Congressman Clair Burgener (R-CA).

At this point the prospects of being able to restore the $5.5 million were poor. We would have to win in the fourth committee, the Senate Appropriations Committee, which was known to be the toughest of all the committees, and then go on to win in the House-Senate Conference Committee. We decided to try anyway, not just because of the small prospect of restoring the $5.5 million but also because there were a number of possible partial victory outcomes which would significantlyenhance our position for the decisive battles in next years’ Congress.

Since we knew that there would be a substantial period before action began in the Senate Appropriations Committee, we next concentrated on building up the phone tree. State coordinators were found for the remaining unorganized states. The nation was divided into six regions and the first regional coordinators were selected. The membership of a number of organizations was added to the phone tree. Other organizations became our allies. The most important of these was the aerospace professionals organization, American Institute of Astronautics and Aeronautics (AIAA).

Normally, for legislation to pass a Congressional committee it must win two votes — one in the appropriate subcommittee and one in the full committee. Except for legislation that is controversial and important to a large number of law-makers, the full committee will usually rubber stamp the decision of the subcommittee. The Senator or Congressperson who is chairperson of a subcommittee normally has substantially greater influence than the other members of the subcommittee. In our case this was Senator Johnston (D-LA ).

Before our telephone effort began, L5 arranged a meeting between Senator Johnston, Peter Glaser, Jerry Grey of AIAA, and Leigh Ratiner. For the remainder of the SPS campaign to date, Jerry Grey and AIAA were to make major efforts on the behalf of SPS. The meeting and the subsequent massive phone campaign were not suf’f’icient. Johnston opposed us.

A major reason for Johnston’s opposition was due to the advice of Proctor Jones, Chief Clerk of the subcommittee. Jones has been strongly anti-SPS for some time. He had fought hard against SPS funding in previous years. Senator Schmidtt of New Mexico championed our side in the subcommittee. The outcome was a partial victory. The committee directed that the DOE complete its study and submit its recommendations concerning future research and funding for SPS to Congress by December 1, 1980. This meant that the SPS program office would he in existence after the Presidential election and thus able to favorably affect the SPS decision. It also means that our opponents will probably not be able to delay a decision long enough to prevent SPS funds from being included in the 1982 budget (which will be put together in the next few months), or worse yet bury the DOE report and delay a decision indefinitely. That is the good news, the bad news is that the committee did not vote funds for the next year which means that there will he essentially no further work on SPS outside of the DOE until at least the summer of 1981.

Currently L-5 is fighting behind the scenes within the DOE and the Reagan transition team. The final report of the SPS Program Office is expected to strongly indicate the SPS studies should be continued. However, the upper echeleons within the current DOE and people which Reagan will bring into power, will make the final decision as to what the DOE position will be.

The phone tree now has over 6,000 members and continues to expand. We are currently adding the membership of additional pro-space organizations and are making particularly strong efforts to organize key states and congressional districts. Recently I appointed David Brandt-Erichsen to be our first L-5 National Phone Tree Coordinator. Brandt-Erichsen worked his way up through the ranks by performing in an outstanding manner in a series of jobs. He was one of the major figures in setting up the first L-5 chapter in the greater San Francisco area. After moving, he established the Oregon State University L-5 Chapter. When the phone tree was initially set up he was appointed coordinator of Oregon. Within a few weeks Oregon was the best organized state in the nation. Brandt-Erichsen went on to become first the Northwest Regional Coordinator and then to his latest post, National Coordinator. It is people like David who will eventually give humanity the stars.

l5 news david brandt erichsen 1980

Promoted through the ranks due to his outstanding efforts and accomplishments, David Brandt-Erichsen became the L-5 National Phone Tree Coordinator.

The L-5 phone tree is currently organized as follows: L-5 Legislative Action Committee Chair, Mark Hopkins; National Phone Tree Coordinator, David Brandt-Erichsen; Northeast Regional Coordinator, William Rudow; Maine Coordinator, Robert Shepherd; NH, Nancy Mari; VT, William Rudow; MA, Robert Shepherd; RI, John Prazak; CT, Tina Pollock; Upstate New York, Elissa Wynn; NY City-Long Island, Alan Libert; Mid-Atlantic, Paul Werbos; NJ, Paul Werbos; DE, Robert Leger; PA, Mikel Calabrese; MD, Gary Barnhard; DC, Gary Oleson; NA, John Schneider; WV, Paul Werbos, NC, Tim Katterman; SC, Bill Eldering: GA, Bill Gardener; South, Ron Nickel; FL, Robert Stern; AL, Ron Nickel; TN, David Frost; KY, David Engler; MS, H. Ted Huddleston; LA, Frederick Sollars; AR, Ron Nickel; OK, Holly Lynn Harris; Mid-West, Gregg Maryniak; OH, Dennis Roberts; IN, Vidvus Beldavs; IL, Gregg Maryniak; MI, Ed Bas; WI, Bob Bramscher; NM, Kyle Fairchild; IA, Matt Hickman; Southwest, Stan Kent; NM, Joseph Howell: AZ, Patricia Hutton; NV, Ray Bryan; No. CA, Rick Siem, LA, Terry Savage; San Diego-Riverside, Stan Kent; HI, Mike Gaffey; Northwest, Michael Leonard; WA, Ray Sperber; AK, Daniel Mallick; OR, Patty Smith: ID, Carl Kitchen; MT, Leonard Barnes; WY, David Coogan; UT, Charles Galway; CO, Todd Yager; ND, Linda Johnson; SD, Michael Leonard: NB, Michael Leonard; KS, Riley Bishop.

Most recently L-5, through a number of channels, has had a significant influence into the decision of who shall he the next NASA Administrator. We have also initiated a massive letter writing campaign to lobby Reagan for an expanded space program, with emphasis on a permanently manned space station and on SPS.

Within a few days of the writing of the article that you are reading, the DOE SPS study will be released. L-5 is co-sponsoring with AIAA and other groups a major press conference to publicize the study’s results.

The SPS fight in the next Congress will be absolutely crucial. This will determine whether or not the SPS program is to continue. If no funds are allocated, SPS is finished for the foreseeable future. We will not have a chance to come back the following year and fight for SPSs. Fortunately, we are entering this phase of the SPS war in a strong position. Thanks to our efforts during the past year, L-5, through its phone tree, its Washington Lobbyist and its networks of alliances with other organizations has become a real political power.