James L. Martin, 76, who spent more than three decades as chief Washington lobbyist for the National Governors Association, died July 17 at his home in Silver Spring. He had complications from a fall in May.

Mr. Martin was regarded as the association’s top behind-the-scenes operative from 1967 until his retirement in 1998. He then had a private consulting firm until his death.

“Most of my lobbying is directed toward my members — governors — getting them to be lobbyists on particular issues,” Mr. Martin told the publication Association Management in 1988 while explaining his effectiveness.

Working on behalf of America’s governors, Mr. Martin had a well-furbished network of Washington leaders at his disposal. Four of the governors he worked beside became presidents: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

James Lee Martin was born Dec. 23, 1934, in Catonsville, Md. He graduated from the University of Maryland with degrees in economics and philosophy.

He received a master’s degree in 1962 from the Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas and a master’s degree in economics from the University of Maryland in 1966. He was described in profiles as a fundamentalist Christian.

His marriages to Barbara Ringo, Elizabeth Odean and Margaret Goodwin ended in divorce.

Survivors include his fourth wife, Carol Courtney Martin of Silver Spring; a daughter from his first marriage, Mary Sue Martin of Lawrenceburg, Ky.; two children from his third marriage, Matthias Martin of Silver Spring and Charis Martin of Harbeson, Del.; two sisters; and five grandchildren.

A son from his first marriage, John Paul Martin, died in 2009.

In a 1989 interview with Governing magazine, Mr. Martin said he began drinking as a teenager to rebel against his parents, left home at age 15 and worked for a time as a bartender. He said his drinking became progressively worse and, in 1979, he was confronted by colleagues who encouraged him to seek treatment.

He joined Alcoholics Anonymous and said his decision to stop drinking saved his job.

“If you drink,” he said in 1988, “you can’t be an effective lobbyist.”

In his spare time, Mr. Martin did volunteer work with religious organizations.