On most days, the political director of National Association of Manufacturers dons a suit and tie. But at a GOP tax cut rally outside the Capitol yesterday, Fred Nichols was sporting a faded blue "Farm Credit" hat, a striped rugby shirt and olive-green slacks.
The sartorial switch was not accidental.
Nichols's trade association, which pushed for yesterday's passage of President Bush's proposal to reduce income tax rates, circulated a memo among business groups this week urging lobbyists to show up in full force at the photo opportunity.
And it urged them to be "dressed down" so that "a sea of hard hats" could flank Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and other House GOP leaders to help buttress Republican arguments that the plan helps blue-collar Americans.
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, holds a dollar bill and a nickel at a lobbyist rally on Capitol Hill Thursday, March 8, 2001, prior to expected house approval of a Republican tax cut plan. DeLay said that for every dollar of budget surplus over the next 10 years, only five cents will be used to pay for the tax cut. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
"The theme involves working Americans. Visually, this will involve a sea of hard hats, which our construction and contractor and building groups are working very hard to provide," said the memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. "But the Speaker's office was very clear in saying that they do not need people in suits. If people want to participate -- AND WE DO NEED BODIES -- they must be DRESSED DOWN, appear to be REAL WORKER types, etc. We plan to have hard hats for people to wear. Other groups are providing waiters/waitresses, and other types of workers."
The memo provides a rare window into a common practice on Capitol Hill -- and among politicians on the campaign trail -- in which Republicans and Democrats go to great lengths to assemble average Americans who can convey the appropriate political message.
Indeed, House Democratic plans to showcase a waitress at an anti-tax cut media event yesterday fell through when the waitress didn't show up.
With just one phone call to the manufacturers' association, Hastert's deputy press secretary, Paige Ralston, was able to assemble a diverse group of men and women who provided the backdrop for yesterday's GOP media event.
While Nichols didn't bother to pose for the cameras, he was happy to comply with Hastert's wishes.
"It's casual day," he quipped, adding that he boasts legitimate aggie credentials. "My family farms in Missouri."
Lobbyists spread the word at Friday's meeting of the Tax Relief Coalition, a broad alliance of business groups pushing for tax cut legislation this year.
The Associated General Contractors of America recruited workers who were rebuilding a bridge on the Beltway.
The National Restaurant Association brought along waiters and waitresses from local eateries including Buca di Beppo, Sam & Harry's and T.G.I. Friday's.
"They're real workers who have real jobs, who will see a benefit from this tax cut," said Steve Sandherr, who heads the contractors' association. "The opportunity presented itself for them to come. They enthusiastically said yes."
With a hard hat perched upon his head, Terry Lemieux followed Hastert into the rally as the Beatles' tune "Taxman" faded out. "This is great for the working person, for families," said Lemieux, a mechanical foreman for Cianbro Corp. "My wife and I, we're looking forward to having a little bit more in our pocket at the end of the week."
Russ Freyman, the author of the memo, said the idea that lobbyists should adopt grittier attire was "a misinterpretation on my part." Freyman, who works in media relations for the manufacturers' association, attended the rally and emphasized that all of its working-class participants were genuine.
"I don't think anyone was posing as something they weren't," Freyman said.
© 2001The Washington Post Company