Correction to This Article
The K Street Confidential column in today's Business section, which was printed in advance, incorrectly states that the name of the organization formed by the merger of the Food Products Association and the Grocery Manufacturers Association will be the Grocery Manufacturers Association. It will be GMA.

Women, Minorities Make Up New Generation of Lobbyists

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Monday, May 1, 2006

When Anne Wexler was fresh out of Jimmy Carter's White House, the Old Boys Network on K Street was not always kind to her. During one particularly brutal meeting in the 1980s, Wexler and her partner Nancy C. Reynolds were laughed at by a roomful of male lobbyists when the women predicted the White House would embrace the telecommunications position they were all working to advance.

But the men were not laughing at them for long. Soon afterward, President Ronald Reagan did exactly what Wexler and Reynolds said he would, and the newcomers were granted the respect they deserved. As a token of esteem, one of the men in the room gave each of the women a day at an Elizabeth Arden spa as a reward.

Wexler is a Washington pioneer. In 1981, she became the first woman to own a lobbying firm and was among the first to make a business out of combining disparate interests into coalitions as a basic advocacy tool. "When I started, there were very few women in lobbying," Wexler recalled. "It was completely male-dominated."

Now women are a significant part of the lobbying scene. In fact, lobbying, which for years was almost entirely a white man's game, has become increasingly diverse as women and people of color have attained more positions of power and influence.

Women-owned firms are proliferating, and a few are, at least for now, all female. Women also hold important positions in both lobbying and law firms. They direct the Washington offices of major corporations for such industries as oil and communications.

There are many reasons for the change. The biggest is the rising number of women who have entered government at the highest levels. The number of women in Congress has exploded in the last generation. In addition, presidents have placed special emphasis on hiring women in senior White House and cabinet positions since Richard Nixon's day.

Those freshly minted, high-ranking women hired lots of other women to help them. And when they all started to look for post-government jobs, lobbying became as natural a place for them to turn as it was for the men who came before them.

Lobbying trends have also benefited the cause of women in lobbying. The Old Boys Network, when it was in full swing in the 1960s and earlier, made it easy for the long-established men in power to rely on personal ties to win official favors. But those insular days are long gone.

Today lobbying is less about back scratching than it is about case making. A lot of lobbying involves researching and presenting facts and, at those things, men and women are on equal footing.

"This town has shifted business models from the Old Boys Network to a focus on substance, competence and credibility," said Stephanie E. Silverman, a principal of Venn Strategies LLC, a woman-owned lobbying firm. "In the old model it was difficult if you were a woman. In the new model you can be a man or a woman and it doesn't matter."

Women are particularly prominent in lobbying firms that trade more on their expertise than on their access. Linda E. Tarplin, for example, is considered one of Washington's top health-care lobbyists and is part of an all-woman, all-Republican, all-health-care lobbying company called Tarplin, Downs & Young LLC. Silverman's firm specializes in tax matters. Women are also pervasive in lobbying on international trade.

"You do have different industry segments that are more dominated by women than others," Tarplin said. "In the health-care world, there are a lot of strong female lobbyists."

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