Few black lobbyists in D.C.
WASHINGTON – Robert Drummer has been a lobbyist for a long time. He represents the American Moving and Storage Association and the City of Atlanta. But one thing has not changed since he first left Capitol Hill as an aide in 1995: the number of African American lobbyists like himself has remained remarkably small.”The number has risen, but it’s been a slow growth,” he said. As president of the Washington Government Relations Group (WGRG), a trade association of black lobbyists, Drummer should know. The organization has about 100 members and a database of black federal lobbyists that tops 200.The database probably doesn’t capture every African American registered to lobby in Washington. But even if it includes only half of the real total – or even a quarter – the number is still minuscule. According to the nonpartisan PoliticalMoneyLine.com, the total number of currently registered federal lobbyists is 29,702.How is it possible that any profession has such a tiny representation of African Americans?Lobbyists suggest a few reasons. One is that blacks are underrepresented in Congress, especially in the Senate, so relatively few African Americans get the experience needed to become professional lobbyists. Too, because black lobbyists have been so rare for so long, the network of predominantly white people who do the hiring for lobby groups doesn’t routinely reach out to blacks.Then there’s the K Street Project excuse. Pressure on lobbying groups from the Republican Congress over the past decade to hire Republicans only has limited the market for blacks, since very few belong to the GOP.But none of these analyses account for the basic, embarrassing fact of the shockingly low number of black lobbyists.At a recent luncheon meeting of the WGRG, everyone agreed there was a problem. “There’s something broken,” said Paul Thornell, senior lobbyist for United Way of America. “Rarely in a room of other lobbyists do many people look like me.””Lobbying in health care is a little bit better,” said Stefanie Reeves of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. “But it’s not that good.”The pool of black congressional aides, from which lobbyists are often drawn, is pretty shallow, especially in the Senate. The June issue of DiversityInc magazine reports that of the approximately 1,000 most senior staff jobs in the Senate, only 2.9 percent are held by blacks.Nonetheless, black lobbyists have banded together in both loose and formal ways for 25 years. According to the WGRG’s new Web site, http://www.WGRGInc.org, a group of 20 regulars who represented DuPont, Mobil and Westinghouse began meeting consistently in 1981. In the mid-80s, the lobbyists named themselves the Second Wednesday Group because they tended to gather on the second Wednesday of each month.In the mid-90s, the group went dormant. But it was revived in its current form in 1997 by John Chambers of the law firm Arent Fox. These days, the nonpartisan WGRG helps lobbyists network with congressional staffers and each other. It also promotes charitable works and educational activities with an eye toward promoting lobbying as a career for African Americans.There are so few black lobbyists in town that some of them try to take a jocular view of the situation. “Ain’t but two of us,” joked Fred McClure of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP, “one Democrat, one Republican.” McClure would be the Republican in that formulation, and that can be lonely, he said.Patrice Webb, a lobbyist for Free Press, a nonprofit media reform organization, has noted with regret that blacks often are directed into social policy rather than corporate-type lobbying roles. Michael Frazier, an independent lobbyist and former Transportation Department official, agrees. “I can’t figure out why the Fortune 500, which generally has been good on diversity in other areas, isn’t as good at having diversity in their government affairs offices,” Frazier said.But Drummer, the WGRG’s president, believes the situation will gradually improve. “That’s our hope and expectation,” he said.
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