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Street Talk: 'Tax Chicks' Brought Equity to K Street

Her then-boss at the chamber was David Franasiak, who works now at Williams and Jensen. He obviously had no interest in keeping Bernstein from the group, but his cohorts felt differently.

After the meeting, the tax boys — some of K Street’s most senior lobbyists — took an informal vote: No girls allowed.

“These guys were a bunch of good ol’ boys who would tell off-color jokes,” he recalled. “We did manage to get a lot of the key staffers and members [of Congress] to attend.” The ad hoc club, which met in cigar-smoke-filled rooms and whose members enjoyed pulling practical jokes on one another, eventually disbanded. “I think we all sort of grew up,” Franasiak said.

And over the years, women in tax rose in prominence, position and in downright numbers.

Dena Battle, a lobbyist at Capitol Counsel, started doing tax policy in the late 1990s for the current House Ways and Means chairman, Dave Camp, R-Mich.

“I’ve never felt like women were underrepresented in tax policy,” she said. “When I started doing tax, there were already just so many strong women in tax that were great role models. I give a lot of credit to the Tax Coalition and the women who paved that way.”

Another second-generation member, Melissa Mueller, a Hill staffer who joined the lobby outfit Capitol Tax Partners more than a year ago, said the circumstances that led the women to set up the coalition don’t exist anymore.

“They were excluded from so much, golf outings or clubs, places that wouldn’t allow women,” she said. But the coalition remains relevant, she said, because of its monthly policy luncheons with Hill or administration tax experts and the networking among its bipartisan membership, which includes women on K Street, Capitol Hill and in the administration.

“If you’re at a table for eight to 10 people, you have a little more time to get to know people,” said Mueller, who served as staff director for a Ways and Means Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures. “For tax, it’s especially important.”

Some of the original tax chicks say they’re eager to be in on the action surrounding the next round of tax reform.

“The tax code is so broken right now,” said Bernstein, now the vice president of tax counsel for the National Retail Federation. “Usually you’re just trying to fix a little edge; you have no opportunity to fix the whole thing, but this would be that opportunity.”

Goold, though, is retiring at the end of the year. Will she keep tabs on the fight?

“Oh, you bet your sweet life,” she said. “Sometimes being involved in tax law is really boring day to day, but once you’re in the realm of policy, it is always interesting.”

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