Following a D.C. program tradition, the fall 2018 Hamilton D.C. program students visited Williams & Jensen, a private law firm focused on lobbying, to speak with George Baker Jr. ’74 and Frank Vlossak ’89. Baker and Vlossak were exceedingly gracious hosts, providing an insider look at the somewhat mysterious and often misunderstood world of lobbying.
The conversation began with an overview of the general nature of lobbying, how it works, and their own experiences in the industry. They described lobbying as a contact sport, a collision of competing forces. While it often gets a bad reputation, lobbying is, in their view, the child of the first amendment.
The Hamilton Program in Washington, D.C., runs in the fall and spring semesters. 16 students live and work in Washington in a variety of internships including all three branches of government, think tanks, NGOs, non-profits, and lobbying and consulting firms.
Specifically, it is the answer to the clause allowing the petitioning of the government for a redress of grievances. Ordinary people, groups, or companies often lack the knowledge and industry experience to have their grievances heard and addressed by the government. That disconnect between clients and the bureaucracy of the government is where lobbyists dwell.
Baker and Vlossak also took the opportunity to dispel several myths about lobbying. Vlossak discussed portrayals of lobbying that made it seem like it was only about glad-handing members of Congress. Scenes in Legally Blonde 2 and Miss Sloan are, as one might expect, far from accurate. But on a more serious note, they spoke against the perception of lobbying as a dirty, underhanded game. Baker emphasized how it’s an inherently human enterprise and that one’s integrity is invaluable currency in lobbying.
The visit ended with a tongue-in-cheek gift from the two alums – a boxing glove punch pen. While at first glance they seemed a silly gift, they were a reminder of what Baker and Vlossak’s advice. In a business based around relationships, one’s reputation is everything. So, finding an alternative way to get out frustration at work is a necessity. And while a kitschy pen might not solve everything, its good enough for government work.