Women make up fewer than one in three of the lobbyists employed by the 20 organizations that spend the most influencing the U.S. government, reflecting male dominance on Capitol Hill, a prime avenue to jobs representing special interests.
The BGOV Barometer shows that 29 percent of registered lobbyists employed by the 20 companies and trade associations that spent the most during the first quarter of 2012 are women, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Rankings.
Even so, women are better represented among groups trying to influence Congress than they are on Capitol Hill itself, where just 17 percent of lawmakers are female. As women ascend to senior congressional staff positions in larger numbers, more will go on to careers as lobbyists, said Holly Fechner, who is co-chairman of the government affairs practice at Covington & Burling LLP.
“We can expect women’s representation in lobbying to change over time, but not as quickly as people would like,” she said.
Only the trade groups representing doctors and hospitals have a majority of female lobbyists, both those in-house and those working for outside firms. Merck & Co. (MRK), the pharmaceutical maker based in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, led among corporations with women accounting for 37 percent of their lobbyists.
“Women lobbyists often start their own firms and don’t tend to go into the traditional settings of large law firms or corporate lobby shops,” Fechner said. “Maybe they find it easier to be their own boss, to get clients, to not have to fit into a structure that wasn’t built for women.”
The associations and companies surveyed were those that reported spending the most on lobbying from January to March, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington- based research group that tracks lobbying.
The Chicago-based American Medical Association employed 17 women, or 57 percent, out of 30 lobbyists, tops among the 20 biggest spenders.
“We’re very proud of the dedicated AMA advocacy staff who provide a strong voice on public policy matters for patients and physicians,” said Peter W. Carmel, president of the doctors’ trade group. “We always strive to hire the most qualified job candidates to fulfill our mission of promoting the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its affiliates spent $26.4 million on lobbying from January to March, more than anyone else. The chamber, the largest U.S. business lobby, had 155 people making the case on its behalf on Capitol Hill and in the federal agencies, with 40 women among them, accounting for 26 percent of the team.
The highest corporate spender, Dallas-based AT&T Corp., spent $7.1 million during the first quarter of 2012 and employed 75 lobbyists, with women numbering 13 of them, or 17 percent. That was the second-lowest percentage among the top 20, just higher than Atlanta-based Southern Co., at 13 percent.
“So many of these top spenders are in heavily regulated industries,” Fechner said. “They have long-standing relationships with their lobbyists. There were fewer women available when they first hired.”
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