"Lobbyist" sometimes can be a dirty word, as Howard Marlowe, the newly elected head of the American League of Lobbyists, knows.
Even members of his family have questioned his profession: A few years ago, his college-aged niece told him that she thought lobbying was a dirty profession where all of the work was done behind the scenes and under the table. She now manages the district office for her local congressman, and Marlowe says her views have softened.
"It's the same perspective that I had when I worked on the Hill, and the same transition that I went through," said Marlowe, who is president of Marlowe & Co., a Washington public affairs and consulting firm that he formed four years ago. "I think most people have a very skewed idea of what a lobbyist does. ... Lobbyists get paid to do what is every citizen's right to do -- to contact members of Congress. It's not just a case of picking up a phone or whom you know, but how convincing a case you make."
There are more than 11,000 registered lobbyists in Congress, and thousands more at the state and local levels.
In his new one-year volunteer position, Marlowe will head the only professional organization devoted to enhancing the profession of lobbying. ALL has 350 members, a figure that Marlowe hopes to double with a membership drive. As president of the league, Marlowe plans to focus on what he calls the "nuts and bolts of lobbying."
"Ten years ago, ALL was an old boys network," Marlowe said. "Within the last few years, its scope and purpose have expanded, and it's clearly not a closed fraternity. Now it is reaching out to not only the big-name lobbyist but also to those who are more representative of the average lobbyist."
Over the past 20 years, Marlowe has worked closely with Congress and the executive branch. He was assistant director of legislation for the AFL-CIO for five years.
While there, he lobbied on energy, banking, judiciary and trade issues. After that, he was chief legislative assistant to Sen. Vance Hartke (D-Ind.)
As president of the league, Marlowe hopes to employ some of the strategies he used successfully in his years with the government.
In particular, Marlowe said he would like to advocate a grass-roots approach to lobbying -- getting the public involved in writing to their representatives, either by hiring field organizers to speak to communities or by sending out sophisticated direct mail.
"The more complex our laws and society become, the more people want to feel that they as individuals can have an impact on the governmental policies that affect them," Marlowe said. "None of us wants to feel helpless or that we are being controlled by forces unseen or beyond our own power to influence."
Marlowe also plans to advocate new lobbying techniques, including the use of computers by lobbyists to send personalized mailings to members of Congress.
Some lobbyists are averse to computers, Marlowe said. "The only piece of technology that a lobbyist wants to use is the telephone," he said. "Most of them have gotten where they are because of the relationships that they have developed with members of Congress and key congressional staff people."
As for the image problem, Marlowe thinks it may never completely change.
"People think that there is something mysterious at best and underhanded at worst that goes on when a lobbyist talks to members of Congress," Marlowe said. "Ninety-nine percent of the lobbyists throughout the country are not Mike Deavers or names that the public would recognize. Most professional lobbyists do their work in a very above-board, hard-working manner."