Bozeman Author, Attorney and Long-time Lobbyist Pens Political Thrillers
Roger Fleming’s books, Majority Rules and Outsider Rules are fictional accounts of the reality of how Washington, D.C. really functions. Though self-published, his books enjoy rave reviews on Amazon and have earned him a devoted following.
For the past 25 years, Fleming has worked as an attorney and lobbyist in the Washington, D.C. His consulting firm, Northfork Strategies, has been located in Montana since 2009.
Majority Rules moves readers through the halls of Congress with an insider’s view of currently relevant political history. In between Machiavellian power schemes, the story highlights the majority/minority mindset that has entrapped Washington for decades, and illustrates how the democratic process can be easily undermined.
The book also addresses the subtleties of immigration reform. In Outsider Rules, Fleming takes on the dual beasts of DC lobbying and the dark side of campaign finance. The action alternates between the ethically-challenged lobbying world of the 1990s to a meth-addled campaign trail in Montana in 2006. Those dynamics determine one of America's closest and most consequential recent U.S. Senate elections.
Fleming earned his undergraduate degree at Emory University in Atlanta, and graduated from Nova Southeastern University Law School in Florida. Initially a lobbyist for U.S. West in the late 1990s, he was assigned the state of Montana, when then Senator Conrad Burns was Chairman of the Communications Subcommittee.
He later helped raise funds for MSU’s Burns Technology Center (now Academic Technology and Outreach). Fleming says destructive use in of YouTube in 2006 and human "trackers" launching personal attacks on former Senator Burns inspired him to write Outsider Rules.
Fleming now lives in Bozeman with his wife, Alice, who has spent the majority of her career working on international and humanitarian affairs, most recently on the issue of refugees.
Montana Press: Both of your books explore controversial issues. What was your intention in writing them?
Roger Fleming: In Majority Rules I’d hoped to expose how devious the majority party in Congress can be in manipulating the rules over the minority party, to the detriment of the American people. In Outsider Rules I wanted to show the intriguing side of the DC lobbying world that the public doesn’t have a window into, and describe how decent people can be taken down by money, negative political ads and technology.
MP: Nick Taft, the protagonist in both books, has been described as ‘an idealist struggling in the murky waters of legislative politics.’ Is he autobiographical?
Fleming: No. He’s loosely based on some of my own experiences and varied composites of people I’ve observed in politics from Florida to Washington, D.C.
MP: Who are some writers you read or admire?
Fleming: I’ve read most of John Grisham’s and Carl Hiaasen’s early books. I appreciate Hiaasen’s novels set in South Florida where I grew up—he’s really nailed some of the characters down there, and, besides, our grandfathers practiced law together! (In the 1920s Fleming’s grandfather, Thomas F. Fleming, was a partner at McCune, Hiaasen & Fleming in Fort Lauderdale.) In fact, my first job as an attorney was with McCune, Hiaasen. My attraction to Grisham’s books revolve around his characters who are law students or lawyers. They remind me of people I’ve known in Florida and D.C. I appreciated recently reading The Sympathizer by Pulitzer Prize-winner Viet Thanh Nguyen, who fled Vietnam with his family early in the war.
MP: Do you get flack for being a lobbyist?
Fleming: No more so than for being a lawyer. There are generally two types of lobbyists—back-slapping and substantive. You’ll find the first type at a trendy restaurant having drinks with staffers until midnight, whereas legislative lobbyists will be at their desks at 8 am. I think you have to be a little of both to effectively lobby Congress and Federal agencies. I’ve represented competitive broadband carriers for almost two decades and tried to protect their rights under the 1996 Telecom Act, which gave smaller companies access to former monopoly networks.
MP: People are concerned about President Biden's promise to amend Section 230 of that Act and the possible effect on smaller telecom companies. Do you feel this could hinder Governor Gianforte's goal to expand broadband in rural areas of the state?
Fleming: Section 230 provided a statutory basis for our courts to create a very effective liability shield for big platform companies like Facebook and Twitter regarding information disseminated over their technology. Attempts to amend federal law in that regard will not impact Montana’s ability to roll out broadband in rural areas. Montana just needs to partner with some willing, flexible builders who are ready to lay out fiber into underserved areas of the state.
MP: Outsider Rules focuses on the inception of ‘dark money.’ Can you comment on the untraceable money spent on recent key Senate races—especially in Georgia?
Fleming: The total amount of money spent (e.g. $190 million in Montana alone) was not as effective as those who raised and spent it had hoped. It turned out to be a lopsided expenditure by liberal organizations—outspending Republican candidates almost 2:1 in key U.S. Senate races across the country, but they lost most of them.
MP: You take a bi-partisan approach in your books; are you bipartisan as a lobbyist?
Fleming: To be effective in DC as a small firm working on communications law and policy, we’ve had to be bipartisan. The issues I’m involved in have historically been non-partisan— although that’s been changing. My clients know I contribute to both sides of the aisle. That money is all reported, filed and traceable.
MP: How do you negotiate a “bi-partisan” marriage?
FLEMING: We have a lot of debates, but we call a truce when we reach a point of diminishing returns. We both learn from each other. My wife knows her issues really well, and my background stems from nine years in the U.S. Congress.
MP: You wrote these books while working full-time, right?
Fleming: Yes, I wrote during weekends and vacations. I do my best writing late at night and early in the morning. I want to thank the Sacajawea Hotel (in Three Forks) for their front porch—I’ve sat on that porch at least 100 hours and have written critical parts of both books there. As a lawyer in Congress, I wrote hundreds of policy memorandums and floor speeches, but I have no formal training in creative writing. It took me nine years to write my first book, Majority Rules, and ten to write Outsider Rules. That story was complete in about six years, but I rewrote every sentence probably 25 times, every paragraph about 15 times and each page maybe ten times. I wish I was more efficient at it.
MP: Writing is all about the revisions! Is there another book in the offing?
Fleming: I have thought about writing one other book. It would probably be a prequel to Majority Rules, maybe about Nick Taft as a law student who gets involved in party politics and goes through the process of deciding which party he identifies with, and why. The story would likely involve a South Florida politician, a state attorney’s office—and, of course, speed boats, fast cars, and drug-dealer money!
MP: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working or writing?
FLEMING: I love hiking, fly-fishing and motocross; I’ve been riding Husqvarna dirt bikes since I was 15. There are so many beautiful places to hike and fish in Montana, and seemingly unlimited space to ride a bike.