The Double Standard and the Old Boys Network

A great-looking, young, smart, stylish lobbyist is in a K Street office sitting around a table with several other high-dollar lobbyist colleagues. The lobbyist boasts of having excellent connections with Sen. Maria Cantwell’s (D-Wash.) office and the senator in particular, but it could be Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) or Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings or even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Would there be speculation that this hot-looking male was having an affair with powerful senators or Cabinet secretaries? Hmm …

This type of scenario happens every hour of every workday in our capital city. It is the business of the town. It happens at embassy dinners, or cocktail receptions, and yes, on the tennis court and golf course. This is the currency of D.C.

The success of a lobbyist is judged on his or her access to and relationships with senior government officials. Lobbyists can earn big bucks and travel in the corridors of power: the halls of Congress, the White House, departments and Capitol Hill. I never thought there was a double-standard for male and female lobbyists. That is, until lately.

Lobbying in its purest form is meant to educate legislators and officials, constituents and organized groups. In reality, lobbyists are hired guns. They are hired to persuade and convince legislators to support their cause.

But if an attractive young man boasts of his connections to Sen. Cantwell’s office and even the senator herself, would people think this an “improper” relationship? If not, why not? Looks like a double-standard to me. Can’t a great-looking female lobbyist brag about her connections to a powerful male legislator without suspicion of an affair?

It is rumored that the term “lobbyist” derives from the lobby at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., where it was purported that Ulysses S. Grant would — after a long day’s work at the White House — retire to enjoy a cigar and brandy. Political wheeler-dealers would “hang around” the lobby in order to spend time and have access to Grant. This scenario — over a century ago — has evolved into social settings that occur quite frequently today; it is the business of our capital city and every capital city.

Whether it is a cocktail party or an embassy dinner, a golf or tennis game, cultivating, educating and persuading legislators is the heart of lobbyist purpose. Male and female lobbyists pride themselves on their access to influential leaders — and these relationships should not be viewed disproportionately. Just because a handsome, smart male boasts of a close relationship with a powerful female legislator is no reason to think they are having an affair. The same should apply to male legislators and female lobbyists. Girls have joined the Old Boy Network, sports fans.

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