"LOOKS," SAYS one-time-Capitol Hill lobbyist Paula Clifton Parkinson coolly, "get you an introduction to anyone you want to meet." And in recent weeks the question on Capitol Hill has been: Whom did Parkinson's looks help her meet?
Several days ago Parkinson agreed to talk with the FBI as perhaps the star witness of a Justice Department investigation of sex and lobbying. On Capitol Hill, congressmen crack jokes about the latest Washington malady called "Parkinson's disease -- it makes your hands shake." Most of Parkinson's friends were Republicans, and GOP congressmen -- already stung by homosexual allegations concerning two colleagues -- aren't cheered by Democrats who tell them, "At least this time it's a woman."
When she hears those jokes, the green-eyed blonde with the perfect red fingernails smiles.
"I really didn't mean to cause any trouble; I just wanted to lead a normal life," says Parkinson, who came to Washington two-and-a-half years ago with a high school education and no political experience.
Sometimes Paula Parkinson appears relaxed as she thinks back on the men she's known and the parties she's attended. Other times the composure breaks and she reaches for a Marlboro to help her through the stories of bittersweet love affairs or clumsy one-night stands with congressmen. The eyes narrow and her voice loses its purr, becomes harder, when she refers to politicians who once courted her but who now tell the press they considered her a dangerous woman. She snaps: "They're totally hypocritical."
Part of Paula Parkinson's story is already known. Earlier this month a Delaware newspaper reported that in January 1980 Parkinson shared a Florida house during a golfing holiday with, among others, Rep. Tom Evans (R-Del.), Rep. Tom Railsback (R-Ill.) and then-Rep. Dan Quayle (R-Ind.).
Parkinson refused to talk with reporters about the episode. But on Capitol Hill, rumors circulated that Parkinson had cut a sexual swath through Washington that included videotaped lovemaking sessions, group sex, blackmail and abortion. Scandal seemed imminent.
Now the Justice Department wants to know if Parkinson exchanged sexual favors for legislative ones, an accusation Parkinson denies. The three congressmen who shared the Florida house with her -- and nine months later voted her way on a crop insurance bill -- also deny that having met Paula Parkinson influenced their votes.
But Parkinson, who last year posed nude for Playboy, does admit her looks did open congressional office, as well as congressional bedroom, doors.
It's not only the Justice Department that wants to talk with Parkinson about what went on behind those doors. Reporters besiege her family in Texas for details of Parkinson's love life. The office of her Washington lawyer, Mark Sandground, is flooded with book offers and talk-show invitations -- those companions to scandal's instant stars. Like Elizabeth Ray and Rita Jenrette before her, Paul Parkinson seems on the brink of becoming another of Washington's notorious blondes.
The fever for dark details was increased by a Jack Anderson report earlier this month asserting that Parkinson secretly videotaped several congressmen in compromising situations in order to influence legislation. Newspapers upped the estimate to 17 or 20 politicians on videotape. Parkinson's estranged husband, Hank, apologized to the press for creating "a sexual Frankenstein."
After the news story of their golfing jaunt, Evans apologized for his "association" with her; Railsback called a press conference and said he should have told his wife that Parkinson was there; Quayle told the press he barely remembered her and jokingly suggested the media could make "something homosexual out of" the mostly male gathering.
The woman who elicited such protestations was a houseguest in suburban Washington when the news of the Florida trip became known. Broke and estranged from her husband, she had returned from her parent's home in Texas to work with her attorney on a marital separation agreement and consider telling her story for publication. But when she first came to Washington at age 27, Paula Parkinson says, she was full of awe for politicians. On her 30th birthday 10 days ago, the awe was missing.
"They're users. They're cruel, and they're certainly no better than I am," Parkinson said. "Their whole bit on their soapboxes is, 'I'm good and I'm pure and my constituents love me because I do so much good for them.' And then you get them alone . . ."
How Paula Parkinson got alone with politicians is partly the private story of public men.
It is also the story of a woman who found that in Washington, congressional figures she thought "were better than average person" actually sought her company. An Air Force brat, Parkinson lived the small-town life of a military daughter, moving from air base to air base until her mother remarried and settled in Witchita. Washington beckoned her, Parkinson remembers, with the promise of excitement, a real game with powerful men who played for keeps.
Looking back, she acknowledges that some of the players she came to meet in Washington treated her as a pass-around, good-time girl. But at the time it was a heady feeling to be an insider, to have a congressional secretary call her shortly after dawn to ask if her boss would make it to his prayer breakfast.
Now Paula Parkinson says she wants to move back to Texas and close the book on her life in Washington. The Justice Department, however, may have other ideas.
Paula Clifton and Hank Parkinson left Wichita and their own failed marriages to begin a new life together in Washington shortly after Thanksgiving 1978. He was 20 years older than she, a political consultant whose firm had worked on state campaigns around the country before he filed for personal bankruptcy. She was a twice-divorced young woman who, between marriages, had worked as a bartender in Dallas, a receptionist and a Playboy bunny in New York. She says she had to quit the Playboy job after she used her cocktail tray to whack the head of a customer who persisted in pulling the cottontail on her bunny uniform.
With the $1,500-a-month in alimony Paula Clifton received from her ex-husband, a Witchita radiologist, she and Hank Parkinson rented a town house on 30th Street in Georgetown. Using Hank Parkinson's political contacts, the couple planned to make their living as political consultants.
"I had the money," says Paula Parkinson. "He had the name."
Hank Parkinson is a heavy man with a friendly demeanor and the well-modulated voice of a '50s radio idol. He would write later that Paula Clifton seemed to him to be a "live-for-the-moment-girl" who could "make 'Please pass the butter' sound like an exciting proposition." In the kitchen of their house was a board on which hung motel and hotel keys from around the country, mementos of places they'd spent the night.
Her alimony allowed Hank Parkinson to pay the rent while he began a second start in his professional life, and the couple spent their first few months in Washington making friends. They eventually began working for a political newsletter and seminar firm called Plus Publications, where one of Paula Clifton's first assignments was to arrange for Rep. Tom Railsback to speak at a political seminar.
Her calls to Railsback's office went unanswered until a chance meeting in September 1979, at the crowded opening of the Polo Club in the Sheraton-Carlton Hotel. Congressman she'd met that night, Rep. Barry Goldwater Jr. (R-Calif.), introduced the Illinois Republican to Paula Clifton, who said she'd been trying to reach him for days.
"He said, 'For what?' and I told him and he said, 'Call me tomorrow.' I said, 'Well, are you going to remember me tomorrow?' and he said, 'Of course I will,'" recalls Paula Parkinson. "So I called the next day, and his office put me through so fast it'd make your head swim. And he said, well, okay, of course I'll do [the seminar] but will you have a drink with me?"
Paula Clifton says the drink she had with Railsback at the Capitol Hill Club was her entree to a world of power and politics, the start of a year that would make hers a familiar face among Republicans who gathered at the Capitol Hill Club.
The cocktail with Railsback also led to a friendship. The congressman's family lives in his Illinois district and, according to Paula Parkinson, she and Railsback met a couple of times a week after work in October 1979, once attending a World Series game together in Baltimore, sometimes having dinner in Washington or Chinese takeout at his suburban Virginia apartment.
A spokesman for Railsback says the congressman will not elaborate on the comments he made at a press conference following public reports of his presence on the Florida golfing trip. "When we got to the house and saw that Paula was there," Railsback said earlier this month, "we should have moved out . . . She didn't proposition me. I didn't touch her."
It was Railsback, says Paula Parkinson, who introduced her to the congressman with whom she would eventually fall in love, Rep. Tom Evans.
A moderate Republican first elected Delaware's only congressman in 1976, Evans had condemned Richard Nixon's dirty political tricks even before the Watergate scandal began. Through work with the Republican National Committee, he made friends with party regulars. He came to know Ronald Reagan and eventually served as policy adviser to his campaign and an ambassador for Reagan to moderate Republican congressmen.
Evans is a compact man, a dapper dresser (Paula Parkinson said she liked the fact he was "so preppy") with distinguised-looking silver hair. Two straight, gray lines serve as eyebrows, and when Evans discusses his hopes for Ronald Reagan's economic plans, he is assertive and sure. When talk turns to Paula Parkinson, however, Evans becomes quieter, his voice a monotone as he repeatedly says that he will not elaborate on his "association" with her.
Paula Parkinson says she first met Evans when he and attorney Jerris Leonard joined her and Tom Railsback at a restaurant in the Washington Hyatt Regency Hotel. It was just several weeks after she had met Railsback at the Polo Club opening in September 1979.
"I was instantly attracted to Evans, and Evans was instantly attracted to me -- you could feel the vibes," recalls Paula Parkinson. "I enjoyed him. He comes across so sweet and innocent."
For his part, Evans says he can't remember where he met her and repeats his refusal "to characterize my association" with her.
Paula Parkinson remembers the beginning of their affair this way: It was fall 1979, and she invited Railsback and Evans to dinner at the house she shared with Hank Parkinson. (Like Railsback's family, Evans' family also lived in his congressional district.) While showing Evans around the house, she says, Evans kissed her. And later that night, she says, they began an affair that would last, off and on, for about seven months. Evans refuses to comment on her recollection.
Later that autumn, she and Hank Parkinson decided to live apart, and Paula Clifton rented a town house on Virginia Avenue near Columbia Plaza. pHer next-door nieghbor: a bachelor friend of Tom Evans. Having no Washington home of his own, the congressman sometimes slept in his office on muggy summer nights because the air conditioning was comfortable. Most other times, though, he stayed in a spare room in the Virginia Avenue townhouse next door to Paula.
According to Paula Parkinson, during the course of their relationship she and Evans rarely began evening to the town alone. The congressman insisted another person come along so it would not appear he was on a date. After dinners, Paula Parkinson and Evans would spend nights either on the sofa in his House office, her rented place or next door.
"I was very much in love with Tom," Paula Parkinson says today. "And I assume from his statements to me that he was very much in love with me. Like all affairs, you only see the best parts of each other."
In an interview last week, Evans branded as "ridiculous" some of her recollections.
"My wife and I . . . are very much in love," Evans said, "and I love her dearly. I love my family dearly and always will."
Evans' association with Paula Clifton began about the time she started working on Capitol Hill as a lobbyist. On Nov. 5, 1979, she registered with the Senate and House as a lobbyist to defeat HR 4119, a bill that proposed federal involvement in the crop insurance business. According to Paula Parkinson, a Missouri state senator contacted Hank Parkinson on behalf of several midwest insurance companies interested in defeating the bill. b
Though they had decided to live apart, Paula Clifton and Hank Parkinson remained lovers and business partners. Because he was a "reporter" for a Plus Publication newsletter, she registered as the lobbyist in their firm, Parkinson & Associates. ("Political techniques specialists," read their letterhead.) By the end of 1979, 14 insurance companies had contributed more than $41,000 to form the Committee for Equitable Crop Insurance Legislation (CECIL), which was run by Parkinson & Associates. It was as a lobbyist for CECIL that Paula Clifton registered.
Of the $41,000 raised by the insurance companies that first year of CECIL's existence, about $2,000 was spent for the entertainment of congressmen and their staffs, according to statements filed with the clerk's office of the House of Representatives.
During 1980, CECIL spent another $5,000 on travel, food, lodging and entertainment in connection with lobbying. Most of that money, according to quarterly statements filed by Paula Clifton, paid for liquor from Watergate Wine & Beverage and food from Neam's Market in Georgetown. Part of her American Express and Capitol Hill Club bills also were paid from CECIL's war chest.
For Paula Clifton and Hank Parkinson, refugees from the Midwest come to Washington to start over again, at least their professional future seemed promising.
Paula Parkinson talks about her early days in Washington relatively easily now. She says she's listened to several congressmen and her estranged husband comment publicly on her sexuality and political motives. Now, she says, she wants her turn. But in any Justice Department probe, the botton line will be this: In addition to the usual wining and dining of politicians, did Paula Parkinson go to bed with congressman in order to win support for CECIL's point of view?
No, she says, though she admits that being on a first-name basis with legislators didn't hurt.
"If you know one congressman, they you know all of them," she says. "You have the potential of knowing all of them."
For example, says Paula Parkinson, Evans once called Rep. Tom Hagedorn (R-Minn.) on her behalf, which led to a lunch that included Hagedorn and then-Rep. Steve Symms (R-Idaho). Hagedorn did not return telephone calls to his office, but Symms acknowledges the lunch and remembers making a radio tape for the Parkinsons that advocated defeat of the crop insurance bill.
It was that kind of friendly lobbying that provided the backdrop for her affair with Evans, says Paula Parkinson. The trip to a rented home near Palm Beach a couple of months after her meeting with Evans was a romantic lark, not an effort to win votes, she says. Her transportation to Florida was not paid by CECIL, according to available records. Paula Parkinson says Evans gave her cash for her airplane ticket from Dallas, where she'd been visiting her family, to Palm Beach and back to Washington. Evans denies this.
"I didn't know there were going to be that many people there," says Paula Parkinson. "I thought there was just going to be Tommy [Evans], Railsback and Bill Hecht."
According to Paula Parkinson, Hecht, a Washington lobbyist for the Tobacco Institute, was already in the Palm Beach house, sharing a bedroom with Rep. Dan Quayle, when she arrived there in January 1980. (Ten months later, Quayle captured Birch Bayh's Indiana Senate seat.) Railsback shared a room with another male guest, a Delaware doctor. Paula Parkinson recalls that she and Evans had the only room with a king-sized bed and private bath. Evans refuses to discuss details of the Florida trip.
For four days, according to Paula Parkinson, the men played golf by day and went for dinner with her at night. Quayle, who had arrived before Paule Clifton, left Palm Beach the day after she arrived, and a New York businessman, Fred Tuck, joined the party, sharing a room with lobbyist Hecht. At a cocktail party the group threw at their house one night, Rep. Paul Russo (D-Ill.) stopped by.
The night of Paula Clifton's arrival, she and her house guests drove into Palm Beach for dinner. The mood was easy and relaxed. While waiting for service at a bar before dinner, Paula Parkinson says, she told Quayle how thirsty she was.
"I had on white pants and a white sweater," she says, "and he said, 'Here, drink this,' and just picked up the pitcher of orange juice that the bartender makes screwdrivers with. So I just started drinking out of the pitcher and I remember it spilled out all over me, all over this white sweater. Everybody started laughing, tee-heeing, and then we went to dance."
A spokesman for Auqyle says the senator cannot remember the incident.
Another night, en route to dinner, Paula Parkinson says she found a half-dozen marijuana cigarettes in her purse. Later, back at home, she says she and Evans began laughing at one particular thought.
"I said, 'You know, I can just see the headlines now: 'Woman Lobbyist Caught in Bed With Congressman. Sex, drugs, you know, all kinds of stuff involved.' It just seemed hysterical to us," she recalls.
Paula Parkinson remembers that her fellow guests didn't think the late-night private joke was amusing.
Ever since she can remembers, whether it was the Playboy Club in New York or the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, Paula Parkinson drew appreciative stares and made male friends easily.
"With every man I met on Capitol Hill," she says, "there were always sexual overtone. It just seemed like every time I'd walk into a room to just happened. At the Capitol Hill Club once, I met a married congressman who whispered to me, 'I'm going to spend the rest of my term trying to make love to you.' I could have gone in there with a sackcloth and ashes on my face -- I mean, it just happened."
But in March 1980 she decided to become, as she puts it, "Miss Dutiful Wife." She donned a wedding dress "cut down to my waist with lots of cleavage" and married Hank Parkinson in a civil ceremony at D.C. Superior Court of her 29th birthday.
It was a "judgment decision," she says she told Evans during along, tearful dinner two nights before her wedding. She wanted security, and all the men with whom she'd been involved, except Hank Parkinson, were married. She remembers that she and Evans had their last supper at the Intrigue, a low-lit restaurant in Foggy Bottom. It was the first time in their relationship, Paula Parkinson says, that Evans didn't require a third party present as a cover. She says she hurried home shortly after dawn and told Hank she'd had a wild 'bachelorette" evening with a girlfriend in whose house she'd spent the night. Evans says he can't recall that dinner or evening.
Two months later, late on a May afternoon, Paula Parkinson took a step that would abruptly end what access she and her husband enjoyed on Capitol Hill: She answered a newspaper advertisement soliciting women to appear in a Playboy magazine pictorial featuring Washington women.
Paula Parkinson and Evans resumed seeing each other in the early summer of 1980, according to her. His time, however, was becoming filled with presidential politics as he became more involved in Ronald Reagan's campaign. During the samme time period, Paula Parkinson says, she had one-night stands with two other influential Republicans. The first bedroom encounter took place in her home, and it was this brief fling that has given rise to rumors that Paula Parkinson has in her possession videotapes of congressmen in compromising positions.
"I had rented a videotape camera," she recalls, "because I thought, well, this was going to be a surprise, a total surprise, because Hank was out of town."
A Republican congressman she'd met the night before at the Capitol Hill Club had asked after her husband, remembers Paula Parkinson. She told him he was out of town "as usual." The next night, the congressman came to her house. After a drink, while Parkinson was showing him her house, the congressman noticed a videotape machine and the rented camera mounted on a tripod in the Parkinsons' bedroom.
"He said, 'Oh, so you have a camera?' And, 'That's always been like my secret fantasy,'" remembers Paula Parkinson. For some 20 minutes, she says, she and the congressman made love in front of the camera, watching themselves simultaneously on her television set. A telephone call interrupted their replaying of the tape. The call was from a close friend of Paula's, a congressman's daughter. When she hung up, Paula told her guest one of his colleague's daughters had just called. The congressman hurriedly dressed and said good night.
According to Parkinson, the tape of that interlude is "in a safe place" and the attorney handling her separation from her husband forbids her to discuss it further. She says she has never taped anyone else in bed and never saw the congressman involved alone again.
"I thought I'd just leave the tape there," says Paula Parkinson. "Hank didn't know how to work my video machine. I thought, well, he'll never see it, so I'll just tape a movie over it. I was not going to keep it. Or, if I would have kept the camera, I would have taped over it for Hank and I."
The congressman Paula Parkinson says she recorded on videotape acknowledges knowing her but denies having been to her home or having had sexual relations with her.
Shortly after that alleged videotaped encounter, Paula Parkinson says Evans introduced her to another Republican congressman with whom she spent a long June evening at the Pentagon Motel, a suburban motel that features waterbeds, mirrored rooms and X-rated movies on closed-circuit television. She remembers leaving a white linen jacket in his car's back seat. He returned the jacket and Parkinson introduced him to a mutual friend of hers who had admired him from a distance. The Pentagon Motel incident, says Paula Parkinson, was the only time she made love with him.
Last September, the bill the Parkinsons and CECIL hoped to defeat was passed by the House of Representatives by a vote of 235-150.
"Frankly, Paula wasn't even sure what side of the issue she was on -- lobbying wasn't her strong suit," Rep. Tom Railsback said earlier this month when asked about her.
But Hank Parkinson says his wife "knows how to work well with people, knows how to organize offices and phone banks . . . has the ability to say, 'Can we count on you to vote our way on this bill?"
In the case of the crop insurance bill, the Parkinsons hoped to have some influence when the bill went to conference to iron out differences between the Senate and House versions. But in early October, Playboy magazine went on sale with pictures of Paula Parkinson in the nude.
"The advantage of being a pretty woman lobbyist is that you have a slightly better chance of getting into a congressman's office," she was quoted as having told Playboy.
"It was a disaster, an absolute disaster," Paula Parkinson says today. "I mean, not only would no congressman return my calls but they were absolutely panic-stricken if I even called their offices."
The midwest insurance companies did not renew the Parkinson's contract. Needing money, Paula Parkinson says she and her husband considered two schemes. Using the slogan "From plump to Playboy," the Parkinsons tried to sell diet pills by mail order. They purchased a full-page ad in a regional edition of Cosmopolitan magazine that told the story of Paula Parkinson once a fat, bored midwest housewife, who used diet pills so successfully she wound up being in Playboy magazine. The enterprise fizzled.
At the same time, the Parkinsons discussed with Playboy the possibility of doing a photo spread exclusively on Paula. According to two sources, the Parkinsons tentatively suggested she could write a sizzling first-person article about Washington sex by secretly videotaping political figures making love with her.
Paula Parkinson acknowledges considering the idea. She says she and her husband wanted to earn enough money to afford to leave Washington forever.
"Hank and I talked about it," says Paula Parkinson, "and he said it would be so easy; we'd just have to keep our stories straight. . . We were going to drill a hole through the wall in our closet, put the TV in the closet, because you can see the TV, and it would all be hidden and Hank would work the camera in the closet . . . through a see-through mirror."
"Whenever we were talking in this vernacular it was strictly fantasy," says Paula Parkinson. "We were joking about it. And it was always just between us. And if anything was said to Playboy, it must have been along the lines of something like this would be possible or whatever. I just have to take it out of the realm of the serious and put into the realm of the fantasy."
Playboy magazine did not like the idea, and a week after the plot was first hatched, Paula says she rejected it.
It was in mid-November that Paula Parkinson says she learned she was pregnant. Convinced that the father was a congressman, she and a girlfriend visited the congressman's lawyer. Paula Parkinson said Hank Parkinson had had a vasectomy, and she did not want him to learn of her infidelity. She demanded the lawyer convince the congressman to pay for an immediate abortion.
The next day a friend of Paula Parkinson's picked up an envelope containing $500 in cash at the lawyer's office, and on Nov. 20, Paula Parkinson had an abortion at Washington Hospital Center.
The attorney acknowledges providing $500 but said the money was passed after the abortion had been performed.
For both Hank and Paula Parkinson, the center would not hold. In mid-January they separated, she to return to her home in Texas. She had posed extensively for Playboy magazine but had received no definite word on whether the magazine would publish any more pictures of her. Penthouse magazine rejected an offer by her to pose and write a story about her experiences in Washington. At the time she did not want to mention the names of any congressmen with whom she'd been involved.
"This is the first time I'm talking," she said recently. "They did it to themselves. I didn't do anything as far as letting the cat out of the bag."
But now that her name has been brought to the public's attention, and now that the Justice Department has expressed an interest in her, Paula Parkinson has decided to talk on-the-record.
Her lawyer has received offers for his client to appear on talk shows and write a book. Two weeks ago a men's magazine, High Society, offered her $100,000 to tell her story in its pages and pose for nude photos, a la Rita Jenrette in April's Playboy magazine. Paula Parkinson says she will decline the offer. But the woman everyone is looking for says she needs the money and so will eventually accept someone's offer to tell her first-person story in elaborate detail.