J.D. Williams, a tax lawyer and lobbyist who became a dominating figure in the sweepstakes of political fundraising in Washington, died Jan. 27 at his ranch in Pearsall, Tex. He was 80.
The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease, said his wife, Carol Jo Williams.
Mr. Williams, a native Texan, came to Washington to work as an aide for Robert S. Kerr, a powerful Democratic senator from Oklahoma.
The co-founder of the Washington-based firm of Williams & Jensen, Mr. Williams was at the height of his influence in the 1970s and 1980s. He was regarded as a master schmoozer with a range of connections and high-level access that brought him close to the summit in the hurly-burly world of politics and influence.
In 1983, The Washington Post noted that his “clients range from the wildcatters of independent oil to the establishment conservatives of E.F. Hutton.” He was nominally a Democrat, but a Post story quoted him as telling friends, “Democrats, Republicans, they’re all the same to me. I can handle anything short of a military coup, and give me 10 days and I can handle that.”
Mr. Williams was a “a combination of city slick and country plain,” the New York Times quoted members of Congress as saying. “He eats barbecue in Oklahoma and cold fettuccine in Washington with equal vigor.”
He had a telephone in the back seat of his chauffeured limousine. When he needed a haircut, his barber came to his office on Connecticut Avenue NW, as did his tailor when he needed a suit, which he typically wore with cowboy boots.
There were days when he attended multiple lunches and four or five evening receptions, all on matters of business. He remained a full-time lawyer-lobbyist until 2004, then returned to Texas.
In his earlier years, Mr. Williams was in the vanguard of what was then a small cadre of professional political fundraisers. His success spawned imitators.
“The edge you used to get from raising money has been diluted,” Mr. Williams told The Post in 1983. “A few years ago, when fundraising as we now know it was in its infancy, it was vitally important. There were maybe just four or five of us who really knew how to put something together. Now there are 200 in town, maybe more, and there are professionals who do nothing but put fundraisers together.”
Jerry Don Williams was born in Dexter, Tex., on Dec. 2, 1937, and grew up on a cattle ranch near the Red River. In his youth, he drove cattle trucks from the ranch to the Fort Worth stockyards. His father had hoped his son would follow him into the family business, but his mother encouraged him to get an education and seek ambitions beyond the ranch.
He graduated in 1959 from the University of Oklahoma and, after coming to Washington, attended night classes at George Washington University Law School, graduating in 1962. He served three years in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps and in 1965 received a master’s degree in law at Georgetown University.
He spent the next four years as an associate in the Washington law firm Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan. He received his baptism in political fundraising as a western states coordinator for the 1968 Democratic presidential campaign of Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.
In 1960, he married Carol Jo Kennedy. Besides his wife, of Pearsall, survivors include two children, Walter H. Williams of Los Angeles and Sarah L. Williams of Chevy Chase, Md.; and five grandchildren.
At Williams & Jensen, Mr. Williams represented clients including cereal companies and soft-drink bottling firms, General Electric and the Domestic Petroleum Council. He was reportedly one of the top five oil lobbyists in Washington.
“Straight talk saves time,” he liked to tell young associates in his office. He had standing instructions that a memo to a member of Congress should be concise: never more than one page. It was also important to keep members of Congress happy.
“It is NEVER too late to kiss somebody’s ass,” was among his professional maxims compiled by his family into a collection labeled “J.D. Williams Lobbying Wisdom.”