Posted on December 29, 2021

Black Lawmakers Threaten to Cut off K St Unless It Diversifies

Hailey Fuchs and Laura Barron-Lopez, Politico, December 19, 2021

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have a warning for Washington, D.C., lobbyists: Diversify your firms or you won’t have an audience with us.

Long a bastion of white men, K Street has found itself scrambling in recent years to up its representation of employees of color. But the threats from Black lawmakers to stop meetings with certain firms represents one of the most aggressive attempts to actually force K Street to change from within.

“We choose not to have any meetings with people who don’t have African American or Latino lobbyists,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) told POLITICO. “You got to be way out of it if you go into a meeting repeatedly with people of color, and you keep bringing three white men from Yale. It’s just, no.”

The Black Caucus has not taken a formal vote on whether or not to meet with companies or firms that lack Black male and female representation. But Cleaver said “the majority of the votes are already there for not meeting with them,” if anyone decided to hold a roll call at one of their weekly meetings.

The increasing power and sheer size of the Congressional Black Caucus in the Democratic Party makes it a formidable political force on and off the Hill. The caucus boasts more than 50 members and a number of committee chairs, along with the Democratic Party’s majority whip, Jim Clyburn of South Carolina (also a top Biden ally), and the House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries of New York. For K Street, hiring lobbyists with connections to members of the caucus has become an increasingly integral part of a firms’ competitive strategy.


But diversity remains elusive. A survey published in April from the Public Affairs Council found that just 17 percent of the public affairs profession — a broad term that includes lobbying or government relations — were people of color; 23 percent of respondents reported that there were no people of color in their public affairs team. The survey had a small size of respondents. But a glance at websites for some of the top D.C. firms that include pictures of their staff shows that lobbyists of color are few and far between, especially among the firms’ leadership teams.


The practice of not meeting with — or making their displeasure known to — firms that don’t have Black operatives in their top ranks is not entirely new. Sources and Cleaver said that Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) started putting firms on notice more than a decade ago. Thompson told corporate advocates who entered his office that if they returned, he wanted to see someone who was not white. His message was clear, he noted: If lobbyists or their clients expect to work with the veteran member, they better take his concerns seriously. Though Thompson says he has not outright denied a meeting for this reason, he hasn’t shied away from warnings.

“We would tell them, say well, ‘if this is your philosophy, you can’t come to my office,’” Thompson said. “Because you have to, if you’re going to represent your client and come to an African American and your workforce is all white, that’s disingenuous to the client you’re representing.”

Other members have followed suit. Two Democratic lobbyists and one person close to the Congressional Black Caucus confirmed that they had heard that members are refusing to meet with firms because of diversity concerns.


The goal, ultimately, is not just to increase Black representation at major lobbying shops but to ensure that Black lobbyists get elevated to the top ranks. {snip}