How much did your organization spend lobbying for AWACS? The American Jewish Congress is familiar enough with the question, since the group is continuing its push for corporate disclosure of lobbying for AWACS. But it's a query the AJC itself apparently hasn't been on the receiving end of.
''It would be very hard for us to calculate that,'' was how Will Maslow, AJC general counsel, responded.
That is almost word for word what many corporate officials are saying.
''I would say we spent a minute amount,'' Mr. Maslow said.
He objected to even the hint of a comparison between his group and corporate lobbyists. They are ''a different kettle of fish,'' he said, asserting that corporations derive their political strength from accumulated resources - particularly dollars - while the AJC derives its political strength from its 50, 000 members nationwide.
''We don't have a professional lobbyist,'' he said. ''We have an office in Washington, but his efforts were very small.''
He added, ''We sent a directive to our members urging them to get in touch with their senators.'' He said there was ''hardly any direct contact with senators.''
In answering what he could on the spur of the moment, Maslow was more forthcoming than many of the 23 corporations he has contacted. Indeed, almost half of the corporations are recommending to stock owners that the disclosure resolution put forward by shareholders sympathetic to the AJC effort be rejected.
Mobil Oil declined to disclose even what its management was recommending on the disclosure issue.
Dresser Industries is firmly opposed to disclosing the information to the AJC because, according to a senior vice-president, ''When you start answering people on things that don't really require an answer, you are prolonging the controversy.''
He went on to say that Dresser's AWACS efforts were ''very insignificant.'' He said, ''You couldn't calculate the cost to shareholders - certainly not in terms of earnings per share and probably not in terms of dollars per shareholder.''
Westinghouse was one of 10 firms that agreed to make a disclosure. A spokesman said the company hired a Washington public-relations firm for $75,000 to do ''public-opinion research.'' He added that ''several Westinghouse executives communicated with a few senators and other government officials.''
The spokesman said, ''Indeed, we did try to influence some people. We're not trying to hide anything.''
NL Industries, which also agreed to a disclosure, says it spent $5,000 through its one-man Washington office. ''This was done in line with the President's program to gain support for the AWACS sale,'' a spokesman said.
One company not on the AJC list but which supported the AWACS sale was Bechtel Group Inc. It was headed at the time by George Shultz, now Secretary of State.
According to a spokesman, Bechtel's AWACS effort consisted of one letter to a senator from the firm's Washington office. This was acknowledged by Mr. Shultz himself when asked about Bechtel's AWACS efforts during his Senate confirmation hearings. Said Mr. Shultz: ''We did not go around twisting people's arms, using our relationship with them to try to get them to do something or other that they might not want to do.''