Kathryn Allamong Jacob

 

On her book King of the Lobby: The Life and Times of Sam Ward,Man-About-Washington in the Gilded Age

Cover Interview of May 07, 2010

Lastly

The social lobby that Sam Ward perfected lived on.  In the 1990s, hearings into lobby activities confirmed that the social lobby was alive and well in Washington.  So well, so important, and so effective, in fact, that dinners and entertaining were specifically singled out for special rules in the 1995 Lobbying Disclosure Act that were tightened further in 2007.  One can almost hear Sam sputter with indignation upon learning that neither members nor their aids can accept free meals from registered lobbyists.

Despite this closer scrutiny, the social lobby endures.  It endures in part because of loopholes.  There is the “toothpick rule” (food served on toothpicks, rather than on plates, does not constitute a meal) and the “reception exception” (members may still attend events where at least 25 people who are not congressmen and congresswomen are present).  But the social lobby lives on primarily because, as Sam shrewdly recognized when he arrived in the capital in 1859, bringing people together over good food, wine, and conversation remains a fruitful way to break down animosities, make a point, and conduct business.  What was a sure-fire plan de campagne for Sam is often a successful strategy still.  Whenever lobbyists, clients, and congressmen come together at social occasions, even though they are more circumscribed, Sam is there, even though none present may know his name.

Sam almost certainly could slip into a well-appointed office at one of Washington’s top public relations firms on K Street and, in his well-cut suit, armed with statistics and his BlackBerry, make the rounds on Capitol Hill by day and, dressed in a dinner jacket with his diamond studs and sapphire ring, host and lobby at receptions, dinners, and benefits by night.

Sam would be happy to see that the social lobby, while just one of many avenues leading to influence in Washington, was still going strong and that entertaining remains an important opportunity for communication in the capital.  As Arthur Schlesinger Jr., another keen observer of Washington, noted 100 years after Sam’s death, exaggerating just a bit as Sam was wont to do, “every close student of Washington knows half the essential business of government is still transacted in the evening…where the sternest purpose lurks under the highest frivolity.” Sam’s art was to guarantee that the men and women who enjoyed his ambrosial nights never focused on the purpose that lurked beneath his perfectly cooked poisson.


© 2010 Kathryn Allamong Jacob