It was almost as if a ballroom in the Capitol Hilton on Wednesday night was temporarily turned into a bizarro world: In an election year dominated by K Street bashing, hundreds of lobbyists and a few Members of Congress gathered to celebrate the virtues of the influence profession.
It was all part of the 31st annual Bryce Harlow Foundation Awards, which this year feted retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Josephine Cooper, a former top in-house lobbyist for Toyota.
In his acceptance speech, Lieberman said he hoped the next generation of lobbyists will put a light on the business, adding that it is “a critical, and really constitutionally protected” profession. And while he didn’t say he planned to decamp for K Street himself, he hinted that he might be eyeing some of the trappings it provides.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do in the future, but I think I’d like to have a picture of Charlie Chaplin sitting next to me,” he joked, making a reference to his former Senate colleague, Chris Dodd, who is now the president of the Motion Picture Association of America. In a video tribute to Lieberman aired at the dinner, Dodd spoke seated next to a picture of the silent film star.
Lieberman also said that, given the bitter partisan environment in Washington, the American public’s main gripe about D.C. is not “the influence of lobbyists anymore.” And he added, “They’re right — that’s not the problem.”
Freshman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced Lieberman, a one-time Democratic vice presidential candidate who is now an Independent, by calling him a phenomenal statesman and mentor.
Lieberman said the American political system, including its lobbyists, is the best one around. “If America was a stock, I’d be buying America today,” he said.
The other honoree of the night, Cooper, who runs her own consulting firm, said she is proud to be an advocate. “I love what I do,” she said. “I love my whole career. ... As a car guy from North Carolina, where our necks are red ... coming to D.C. was a big deal.” She added that lobbying is an “essential and noble profession.”
In his introduction of Cooper, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) praised her integrity. “She has so many successes because she knows how to get things done,” he said.
The foundation and the awards are named for Harlow, a longtime government official and lobbyist who worked for President Dwight Eisenhower. He managed Procter & Gamble’s lobbying operation and then returned to government service to run the White House’s office of legislative affairs in the Nixon administration.
Other lobbyists and public affairs folks on hand for the dinner included Caterpillar’s Bill Lane, Juanita Duggan of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, the National Retail Federation’s Matthew Shay, Rob Hall of GE Energy and BGR Public Relations’ Jeffrey Birnbaum.