NPR logo Tommy Boggs, Influential Lobbyist, Dies At 73

Tommy Boggs, Influential Lobbyist, Dies At 73

Thomas H. Boggs Jr. during a 1997 oath of office ceremony for his mother, Lindy Boggs, who became ambassador to the Vatican.
Brian K. Diggs/AP
Thomas H. Boggs Jr. during a 1997 oath of office ceremony for his mother, Lindy Boggs, who became ambassador to the Vatican.
Brian K. Diggs/AP

Tommy Boggs, a longtime lobbyist who in many ways epitomized the Washington establishment, has died. His sister, Morning Edition commentator Cokie Roberts, said he apparently had a heart attack.

Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., 73, pioneered a new, more professional way of lobbying starting in the 1960s, when he saw how power in Washington was becoming more diffuse. Clout on Capitol Hill spread from the House and Senate leadership to more junior members, especially in reforms after the Watergate scandal. In the executive branch, the number of regulatory agencies increased.

As Boggs said in a 1994 talk at American University, "In the '60s, if you had the president of the United States behind something, and if you had the speaker of the House and the majority leader of the Senate, and the respective chairmen of the committees of jurisdiction and the ranking minority members — that handful of people could basically get anything done or stop anything in this town."

But starting in the 1970s, he said, the executive and legislative branches stopped trusting each other. Then partisan animosity increased. Newly elected lawmakers, especially in the House, took power away from the traditional leaders and made more congressional work visible to the public.

This meant that lobbyists had to become technical experts on their clients' behalf. They still had to work Capitol Hill the old-fashioned way, but also had to know the technical ins and outs of legislation and regulations. And with campaign contribution limits imposed after Watergate, congressional fundraising became a critical sideline for lobbyists.

Boggs' firm, now known as Squire Patton Boggs, became a much-copied powerhouse by hiring lawyers and lobbyists for one-stop shopping. Among his high-profile lobbying roles were crafting the 1979 bailout of Chrysler and the 1993 passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Boggs was born to politics. His father was Thomas Hale Boggs Sr., the House majority leader when he died in a plane crash in 1972. His mother was Corinne "Lindy" Boggs, who succeeded Hale Boggs in Congress. They were New Orleans Democrats.

Tommy Boggs started his career as a congressional elevator operator. He ran for the House once, unsuccessfully, before becoming a lobbyist. Meanwhile, his sister Cokie has had a long career as a Washington journalist. Another sister, Barbara Boggs Sigmund, was longtime mayor of the borough of Princeton, N.J.