Fantasy fade up on Emily Latella, former late-night commentator for the "Saturday Night Live" news. . . .
"What's all this I hear about a woman lobbyist using sex to influence legislation. I mean, it's disgraceful. What's to become of our democracy? I'm outraged! It's . . ."
"Miss Latella," Chevy Chase interrupts gently, "the woman in question question is not a real lobbyist, but a, er, good-time girl who likes to have sex with congressmen and then talk about it ."
"Oh! That's very different. . . . Never mind ."
True. That is very different. Although a "registered lobbyist," Paula Parkinson has joined the list of scandal's instant stars: Rita Jenrette, Elizabeth Ray, Judith Campbell Exner. And who could ever forget . . . what's her name . . . you know, President Harding's mistress?
Overseas there have been the likes of Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice Davies. All candidates for the "What's-become-of-them?" columns of Time and Newsweek.
Sex is as old as the species. The lever of lust has been used to influence behavior for just about as long. And women are not, by any means, the sole practitioners of the technique. (Ask any woman who has been a legislative or admistrative assistant on the Hill whether -- or, more appropriately, how many times -- she has been propositioned by a male lobbyist.)
But every once in a while, a woman becomes a cause celebre by offering sex.
Or not. In the comic hit of 400 B.C., "Lysistrata" (by Aristophanes, the Neil Simon of ancient Greece), the women of Sparta and Athens with-held sex as a means of stopping war.
The rumor -- and the Justice Department has expressed some interest in the subject -- is that Paula Parkinson exchanged sexual favors for legislative ones, which she denies. (Neither the specifics of the issue, nor the vote are of any relevance here.)
What is relevant is the underlying assumption -- the unspoken sneers -- that this is the way most women lobbyists work. And that is what has a lot of us outraged.
Etymologically the word "lobbyist" derives from the time, at least 150 years ago, when men looking for favors or votes from members of Congress used to wait in the lobby outside the House Chamber, attempting to influence members as they entered or left the House floor. Thus, those who waited in the lobby were lobby-ists .
Today's lobbyists, both male and female, are generally well-educated, well-trained and well-informed individuals who organize and dispense useful information, rather than merely seek favors. Whether they win or lose a vote, they are professional in the manner and substance of what they do.
The primary function of a lobbyist -- an invaluable one in a democracy -- is to present information to decision-makers: often a congressional committee staff member, or a member's personal staff assistant. However, as an ever-increasing number of critical decisions are being made in the Executive branch and independent agencies, the decision-makers are more and more likely to be federal bureaucrats.
Knowledge and understanding of the issues -- and the ability to communicate verbally -- are the basic tools of an effective lobbyist.
As then-Sen. John F. Kennedy wrote,"Lobbyists are in many cases expert technicians and capable of explaining complex and difficult subjects in a clear, understandable fashion. . . . they are necessarily masters of their subject and, in fact, they frequently can provide useful statistics and information not otherwise available."
Rep. Tom Railsback (R-Ill.) has said, "Frankly, Paula wasn't even sure what side of the issue she was on. Lobbying isn't her strong suit."
Because the potential for scandal exists, I believe we women lobbyists are much more sensitive to the problem and make special efforts to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, sometimes to the detriment of our own social lives. And women just may be even more effective as lobbyists than men because we work harder at it. We have to.
Stereotypes exist because there are a few -- usually and unfortunately the highly visible -- who feel compelled to seek legitimate ends by less-than-legitimate means.
Sex sirens offering their bodies in exchange for favors do exist and will, in all likelihood, continue to. So long as there are men who are persuadable by factors other than the merits, they'll be around. But for every sexual opportunist, there are hundreds of capable and professional lobbyists.
Some of them even women.