Lobbyist Larry LaRocco knows that the public views his profession as unsavory. But he isn't ashamed. In fact, he's made it his family business.
For the past four years his lobbying partner has been his 33-year-old son, Matthew. They work in adjoining offices at Fleishman-Hillard Government Relations in downtown D.C.
Lobbyists have been scorned in politics since President Woodrow Wilson and his opponent for president in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt, made reining them in a battle cry. And today, says Stephen J. Wayne of Georgetown University, "The public has a low regard for lobbyists, maybe even lower than lawyers."
But the sheer size and impressive growth of the lobbying industry, together with dogged self-promotion by lobbyists themselves, have pushed the process of acceptance enough that plenty of families now lobby for a living.
Take the LaRoccos. In 2000, Matthew LaRocco, a political appointee in the Interior Department, told his father, a former Democratic congressman from Idaho, that they could "make a go of it" as lobbyists. No matter how large the influence industry got, he figured, there always seemed to be room for more players.
He turned out to be right. Their partnership, which started at their kitchen table, rapidly expanded to a townhouse on Capitol Hill and then migrated two years ago to Fleishman-Hillard, where Larry LaRocco was named president of the firm's Washington lobbying arm and Matthew LaRocco became a chief lieutenant.
"Lobbying is a big and growing part of the Washington scene," Matthew LaRocco says, "like it or not."
Since 1997, the amount spent on the most basic form of lobbying -- personal contact with lawmakers -- has nearly doubled to almost $2 billion a year. The fastest-growing forms of lobbying, such as telemarketing and issue advertising, are indirect and don't have to be disclosed. American University's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies estimates that $6 billion a year is a more realistic total.
"Lobbying is a permanent fixture, an institution," says Kent Cooper, co-founder of PoliticalMoneyLine.com.
As a consequence, says Rogan Kersh of Syracuse University, "lobbyists are trying to become professional in the same way that doctors or lawyers did." They've established professional associations, drafted codes of conduct and are teaching their craft at universities. The American League of Lobbyists has an ethics code and the Bryce Harlow Foundation offers annual awards to accomplished lobbyists, scholarships to would-be lobbyists attending local universities, and seminars about how to lobby well.
At least in Washington, such efforts are bearing fruit. Lobbying here is often seen as a logical, lucrative adjunct of government service. And much like politics, it's increasingly a family affair.
One of the most prominent lobbyist-offsprings is Bryce L. "Larry" Harlow, the son of the longtime lobbyist for whom the Bryce Harlow Foundation is named. Back in the Eisenhower administration, Bryce N. Harlow, Larry's father, helped establish the White House's first congressional lobbying office and then opened the District's first corporate lobbying office, for Procter & Gamble Co. in 1961. His son is now president of Timmons & Co., Washington's original non-lawyer lobbying shop.
When Larry Harlow became a lobbyist in 1972, such father-son handoffs were unusual. Now they're commonplace. In fact, at Timmons & Co., Larry Harlow works with both William E. Timmons Sr., the firm's founder, and William E. Timmons Jr., the founder's son.
Even President Bush's family includes a well-known lobbying combo. Bush's sister Doro is married to Robert P. "Bobby" Koch, president of the Wine Institute, which lobbies for California wineries. Koch's dad, George Koch, long led the Grocery Manufacturers Association and in March received the Business Government Relations Award from the Bryce Harlow Foundation for being a "role model" in the lobbying world.
Democrats also have plenty of family members in the business. Patrick J. Griffin, who has lobbied for both the White House and corporate interests, recently returned to Capitol Hill as an aide to Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.). Six months earlier, his son, Brian, left the staff of a congressional office to work as a lobbyist for Honeywell Inc. Griffin's daughter, Patricia, is also a lobbyist -- for Public Allies, a nonprofit that's trying to save the AmeriCorps program.
Other parent-child lobbyist combinations include Michael J. Stanton (of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers) and his son, Matthew Stanton (who lobbies for Allied Domecq PLC, owner of Dunkin' Donuts, Baskin Robbins and Beefeater gin); Wright H. Andrews and his son Cliff W. Andrews, who work together at Butera & Andrews; and Edward L. Yingling, incoming president of the American Bankers Association, whose father, Jack, was a lobbyist for Citibank.
As befits his lobbying heritage, Ed Yingling met his wife of 19 years, Dana Gordon, when she was a bartender at Bull Feathers, a lobbyists' hangout on the House side of the Capitol. "She knew more congressmen than any lobbyist," Yingling recalls with admiration.
There is also at least one father-daughter lobbying team: former senator Paul D. Laxalt (R-Nev.) and Michelle D. Laxalt, now at the Laxalt Group.
Innumerable husbands and wives and many siblings lobby as well. The brothers in lobbying include Thomas H. and Paul S. Quinn, Michael J. and James E. Boland Jr., and Steve and Jeffrey Ricchetti. Two sets of identical twin brothers lobby: Timothy J. and Thomas J. Keating, and Bruce and Jay Morgan. The Keatings came to Washington with the encouragement of their older brother, Richard, who was for years the D.C. representative of Anheuser-Busch Cos.
The Keatings learned their trade in the 1980s by working on the staff of the House of Representatives: Tim in the Democratic cloakroom and Tom for the sergeant at arms. Tim went on to serve in the lobbying office of President Clinton, and Tom stayed on the Hill and was the House's liaison to the Capitol Police.
Today, Tim Keating is senior vice president for government affairs at Honeywell. Tom, a lobbyist at OB-C Group, works on contract for his twin on such thorny issues as asbestos liability reform. They talk several times a day and, to the delight of lawmakers, sometimes make visits together. "Oh, here they come again," Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) inevitably says when he sees them bearing down on him.
Usually, though, the Keatings, 42, don't travel together so they can double their impact on lawmakers. "It works great," Tim Keating says. "Whenever I can't attend an event I send Tom. The biggest question they ask is, 'Are you you, or are you your brother?' Our answer always is, simply, 'Yes.'"
"We happen to be best friends," Tim Keating continues. "He's always looking out for my interest and I'm looking out for his."
Like many lobbyists, the Keatings are widely embraced on Capitol Hill. "My wife and I have known them both for a long time. We enjoy being with them," says Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). The twins proudly possess a photo in which they flank Leahy. The senator inscribed a copy of the photo to each of them: "You are really the better looking one -- Pat."
Tom Keating says he would be happy for any of his four children to become lobbyists. "I tell them I'm half a teacher and that it's a great profession," he says. "If they grew up to be lobbyists I'd be proud of them." And at the rate lobbying is growing, he says, "There ought to be room for them if that's the way they go."
Jeffrey Birnbaum writes about the intersection of government and business every other Monday. His e-mail address is email@example.com.