The XX Factor

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Daughters Grow Up To Be Lobbyists

As Melinda Burns reports in Miller-McCune, a staggering 10-year study on the influence of Washington lobbyists has revealed that, for all the lucre they lob at Congress, K Street power players don’t actually alter the legislative landscape in any meaningful way. Instead, their collective efforts at hectoring politicians into action tend to cancel out .

“What we see is gridlock and successful stalemating of proposals, with occasional breakthroughs. We see a pattern of no change, no change and no change-and then some huge reform.”

But those large reforms … are far more often linked to a change in who inhabits the White House than to campaign contributions or K Street hires.

According to Deanna Gelak’s 2008 book Lobbying and Advocacy , females account for a mere 29 percent of registered federal lobbyists, though others put the estimate at the still-dismal figure of 35 percent. Do the results of this study mean that we should funnel our energy toward encouraging women to pursue nobler and more productive careers? Perhaps our recent progress in shrinking the yawning K street gender gap is not a victory at all.

Maybe, but some have suggested that this kind of legislative gridlock is precisely the reason Washington needs more female lobbyists. The presence of lady lobbyists, with their womanly consensus-building, cooperation-loving ways, might actually change the culture of DC, or so the hypothesis goes. Unfortunately, researchers have found that women behave almost identically [pdf] to men in attempting to pressure pols and achieve policy aims. Rather than hang their heads in despair about women’s potential to transform K Street, the study’s authors speculated:

[A]lthough women are participating in greater numbers in Washington pressure politics, they are obligated to meet existing, male-defined standards of behavior … forced to play by ‘men’s rules,’ in effect subordinating their own political instincts and preferences in order to meet a preordained set of expectations.

Let’s hope so, because injecting the Capitol with a larger dose of women, even in the bottom-feeder role of lobbyist, can prevent women from being locked out of the political process. Fewer female lobbyists means fewer women tapped for “favors” like drafting bills and writing speeches for Congress members.