When we were living the quiet life in Ottawa, I remember George pointing out a couple of ill-dressed fellows who were lounging about the lobbies of Parliament. He said they were five-percenters, who were trying to eke out a living introducing plumbing contractors to bottom-rank bureaucrats in Public Works. I believe George was toying with the idea of being a five-percenter, but you told me the sight of those losers drove him into the muffin shop business.
Well, Beverly, in Washington George would have chosen otherwise. Here five-percenters are called lobbyists and many of them wear $900 suits. Lobbyism is the growth industry in Powertown, and Senators, Mr. Secretaries and even Ambassadors consider it a privilege to be seen in their company. Almost everyone who hasn't a government job dabbles in lobbyism, from housewives who take in part-time piecework to super lawyers on K Street with six-figure incomes.
My first experience with a lobbyist occurred when I was not more than three weeks in Powertown. A nice- looking young man stood by my side for 20 minutes at a cocktail party and then made a date to take me to the Lincoln Memorial.
I told Popsie Tribble about my conquest, but she was not impressed.
"In Washington," she declared, "men do not linger with 'wives of' at cocktail parties, or take them on sightseeing tours. You are not young, Sondra, but you are inexperienced."
I thought Popsie was jealous, Beverly, so I added, "He also asked me to lunch at the Jockey Club."
"Don't get carried away," she replied. "Young men in this town do not spend money on women for the sake of their sparkling eyes, or whatever you think your charms might be. That fellow is a budding lobbyist. You are his conduit."
"A conduit to what?" I asked.
"A conduit to a contract. From your government. He thinks a good word from you might have some influence. Of course he's completely misguided."
Well, Beverly, I did have lunch at the Jockey Club with the young man, and Popsie was right again. His conversation disappointingly turned away from the subject of "wife of" and dwelt upon the formation of a constituency for frozen Canadian cod in Congressman Otterbach's state.
"Confidentially," he said, "an aide in the Congressman's office told me they were inundated by bags of mail from unhappy consumers who are longing for cheap frozen fish dinners."
I suppose it wasn't patriotic of me to feel a little let down, but I did learn a lesson. Now that I have become more sophisticated in the ways of Washington, the subject of lobbyism fascinates me.
Don't think that I disapprove of lobbyists. Life would be far less civilized in Washington without them. They throw agreeable parties, chat with "wife of" longer than most Mr. Secretaries, and don't mind telling the latest gossip, which is more than you can say about the Powerful Press, who have a tendency to hoard stuff for their columns and TV appearances.
Beverly, if you come here and want to meet Senator Pod, "wife of" and their Rhodesian Ridgeback, a lobbyist will be happy to provide access.
But I wasn't sure what they did other than those things, so I asked Joe Promisall, who is the world's most expensive lobbyist, how he spent his time.
Joe seemed glad to have a sympathetic companion. "Let's sit down," he said wearily. "I've just been to a congressional hearing on Marine Sanitation Devices. Nobody but a lobbyist would go to that. Have you heard about the Task Force on Uncontrollables?" I admitted ignorance.
"I'm not surprised. Nobody knows what it means except me and a couple of people in Congress. It's on my program for tomorrow."
"It was all so much simpler in the old days," he sighed. "A round of golf and a case of booze for the Senator, and the bill was passed. Now I have to argue about manganese nodules with some puritanical staffer who has a PhD."
"How could you get a bill passed on a golf course?" I asked.
"Let's say," Joe explained, "I was representing soybeans. The Senator knew less about soybeans than I did. And his staffers were all relatives. On the ninth tee, I'd let drop that soybeans were nutritious and the Senator was so impressed he'd pass the bill."
"You mean a case of bourbon, a game of golf and telling the Senator that soybeans are good for people doesn't work anymore?"
"I can barely remember the time when it did," Joe replied. "You know what's on my agenda this week? I have to talk about steel tonnage and throw weights to Congressman Otterbach. In his office. But I won't let it clutter up my brain for more than half an hour."
"I have to keep some room for encrypted telemetry."
Beverly, I was pretty impressed. "Why do you have to know about that?"
Joe shook his head. "Not sure. Maybe it has something to do with the Task Force on Telephone Configuration. It's possible that I err. But I don't think it could be related to the one on Government Efficiency and the District of Columbia. Say," he said, "how about going to that one instead of me?"