Black lawmakers pressure Washington DC lobbyist groups to diversify ranks

Some CBC members are reportedly refusing to meet with firms because of diversity concerns

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Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are calling on the lobbying industry to diversify its offices in Washington, D.C. or risk losing their support.

The caucus, which is made up of most Black elected members in Congress, is seeking to put pressure on lobbyists and advocacy groups associated with K Street, Politico reports.

K Street, a major thoroughfare in D.C., refers to the major lobbying firms and special interests groups that are a key influence on politicians.

“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.”

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) makes brief remarks after he and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) settled their friendly wager on the Super Bowl in the Speaker’s ceremonial office at the U.S. Capitol February 11, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Cleaver noted a majority of the CBC is in agreement on “not meeting with them,” but a formal vote has not yet been taken, according to the report. 

More than 50 members represent the Congressional Black Caucus in the Democratic Party, and “hiring lobbyists with connections to members of the caucus has become an increasingly integral part of a firms’ competitive strategy,” Politico writes.

“If you need to hire somebody to lobby the CBC or the CHC or the Asian Pacific Caucus or whatever like yeah, absolutely, I think it makes a hundred percent sense that you hire somebody that represents that community,” said Ivan Zapien, a Hispanic practice leader for government relations at the law firm Hogan Lovells.

Per the report, lobbyists of color are few and far between on K Street, where many firms have their offices.

U.S. Capitol In Washington
The U.S. Capitol is shown June 5, 2003 in Washington, DC. Both houses of the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives meet in the Capitol. (Photo by Stefan Zaklin/Getty Images)

“I think the CBC is just kind of, they’re losing their patience because we’ve been talking about this for decades,” said Monica Almond, co-founder of the Diversity in Government Relations Coalition.

Black lawmakers have for years been warning K Street firms to take seriously their frustration with the racial composition of staff inside their officers. 

“We would tell them, say well, ‘if this is your philosophy, you can’t come to my office,’” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) 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.”

Some CBC members are reportedly refusing to meet with firms because of diversity concerns.

“Now, it’s widespread. I know it’s not everybody but it’s growing,” Cleaver said. “Why should we meet with you, you’re putting on display what you think about inclusion.”

Most recently, the CBC reigned victorious following the House passage of the $1.75 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act as a part of President Joe Biden’s larger Build Back Better framework.

The plan, which is the largest public works bill since Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System in 1956, includes significant funding for fixing roads, bridges, tunnels and transits, as well as rebuilding some airports. It also includes increased funding for HBCUs, an increased child tax credit, affordable housing, an expansion to Medicare and more — all of which were key priorities for the congressional group.

The passage of the bill in part fulfilled the promises Biden made to the Black community during his presidential run and was a welcome development after the lack of progress relating to voting rights and police reform issues.

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