WASHINGTON -- In a city teeming with lobbyists peddling pet interests, even jaded politicians crack a smile when former Florida Rep. Andy Ireland plunks down his business card on Congress members' desks.
It features a prancing horse, two elephants and a red-capped clown.
Mr. Ireland, 65, lobbies for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, a business that sees potential local and national legislation as no laughing matter. He is part of a cast of thousands who have sway over much of the work that is done in Washington.
"Who cares about the ribbing?" Mr. Ireland says, wearing a blue blazer and rep tie in his office decorated with clowns and other circus paraphernalia. "There's nothing wrong with lobbying. If you have a grievance, you ought to be able to petition for it."
That is what Mr. Ireland has done for the past two years, soon after leaving Congress and joining the big top as director of government relations for an international enterprise that last year grossed a half-billion dollars in sales.
If animal rights activists or the Endangered Species Act are at odds with his company's need for exotic animals, Mr. Ireland steps in to argue for the circus.
If legislation could affect the two 63-car trains that shuttle the circus around the country, Mr. Ireland checks the bill to make sure it won't derail business.
If the Immigration and Naturalization Service is balking at Barnum & Bailey's bid to bring in a foreign entertainer, Mr. Ireland uses his influence to get the acrobat a visa. Sometimes, even in America, he said earnestly, "You can't find someone who can throw six balls in the air and jump through a hoop at the same time."
So pervasive are lobbyists that it is not necessarily found humorous that even the circus hires someone to plead its interests.
"Just about anything you can think of" has a lobbyist, says Ed Zuckerman, who publishes a twice-monthly newsletter, Political Finance and Lobby Reporter. Its stock in trade is lists of lobbyists who recently have registered with Congress -- their names, their interests, their clients.
Lobbying as a profession dates back to the invention of government. The courtiers of the pharaohs in ancient Egypt were, in effect, lobbyists for the special interests of competing zTC priests and their many deities; it was little different during the glory days of Rome.
"People wanted running water through their villas," says Mr. Zuckerman, "they had to go through the Roman Senate to get help."
As of last month, 9,198 people were registered with the U.S. Senate as lobbyists -- 91.9 lobbyists for each of the 100 senators. As of July, the House side had 6,567 active lobbyists representing 12,396 clients.
Everyone, it seems, knows about the high-profile groups: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee supports a strong Israel; the Cuban American National Foundation tries to foil Fidel Castro; and the AFL-CIO and big business battle over wages.
But the Girl Scouts of America have a lobbyist, too. Her name is Carmen Delgado Votaw, and her job is to protect the group's nonprofit status.
So does Walt Disney Co. And Chiquita Bananas, with three lobbyists, is just one of dozens of agricultural interests that study and try to negotiate changes in the comprehensive farm bill that comes up every five years.
Ten separate organizations listed in "Washington Representatives," the capital's bureaucratic bible of advocacy, have the word "sugar" in their title, reflecting the perennial tug of war over protection of the country's sugar cane crop.
There is even a lobbyist who lobbies in favor of lobby reform. He's Bob Schiff of Ralph Nader's Public Citizen Congress Watch, who fancies himself one of the "good-guy lobbyists," pushing for tighter rules requiring more people plying the halls of Congress to register.
His definition of a lobbyist: "Anyone who is paid to contact members of Congress on behalf of someone else to discuss legislation."
Lobbying has long been part of the landscape of legislative Washington. The lobbyists hope to become a trusted supplier of information to senators and representatives and their staff. The job is to obtain influence.
In their excesses, lobbyists have befriended members of Congress solely to advance a client's interest; penned legislation claimed to be authored by senators; and paid for lawmakers' vacations.
The public disgrace of former Sen. Bob Packwood did not improve the profession's reputation. The Oregon Republican's diaries showed that he secretly negotiated with lobbyists to find his former wife a job -- and thereby lower his alimony payments.
But why Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus? And why Mr. Ireland?