Washington lobbyist Jack Burkman announced Monday that he would push for legislation to prohibit the National Football League from employing gay players — a move he later reportedly admitted was a publicity stunt. But a ThinkProgress survey of several of Burkman’s lobbying clients suggests his gambit may have backfired.
Burkman, who once served as counsel to then-Rep. Rick Lazio (R-NY), urged Congress to pass a bill that would ban Michael Sam or other openly gay athletes from playing in the NFL. “If the NFL has no morals and no values, then Congress must find values for it,” he argued. The effort was never serious, both because it had zero chance of becoming law and because it would be blatantly unconstitutional.
There’s an old adage in Washington that you’re a good lobbyist if nobody knows your name — that is, people who focus diligently on working behind the scenes to advocate for their clients are rarely in the news. But while Burkman has generated plenty of international headlines for himself, several of his clients told ThinkProgress that his efforts don’t represent their interests.
A ThinkProgress review of public lobbying disclosure records revealed that Burkman currently represents dozens of clients, mostly companies in fields like medical devices, clean energy, and pharmaceuticals. He and his firm advocate for these companies before members of Congress and the Obama administration, many of whom are themselves LGBT or are pro-equality allies.
Bruce Brimacombe, founder and CEO of GOE3 (and its affiliated Jezlin Media) said he was “flabbergasted” by not only Burkman’s views, but also his priorities.
“I believe in doing things that will bring this country together, not pull it apart,” Brimcombe said. Noting that GOE3 is an electric car company that works with both sides of the aisle, he lamented that GOE3′s interests have been “not high on his priority list … I’d think he’d spend his time doing that.” Jezlin Media paid Burkman’s firm $32,000 in 2013, making them one of his 25 top clients.
Other clients felt similarly about Burkman’s anti-LGBT views. “I think those positions are a little bizarre. It certainly wouldn’t be anything the company would participate in, [they're] not our values at all,” Ed St. Amour of the international business company G-PROP said.
“I personally do not agree with his positions nor are they the positions of Greenbacker,” David Sher of Greenbacker Renewable Energy said.
This is not the first time Burkman has publicly expressed an extreme pro-discrimination view. On his website, he links to recordings of his “Behind the Curtain” radio program in which he argued that parents should withdraw their children from Boy Scouts of America because they now allow openly gay youth in the organization and opined that women should not be allowed to serve in the military, as doctors, or as lawyers. Instead, he said, they should be home raising children.
One client, agricultural company Fodder Feeds, said it didn’t have a problem with Burkman’s actions but noted that Burkman’s views did not reflect those of the company.
Michael Sam tweeted Tuesday that Burkman would “need a Delorian, not some bogus bill, if he wants to prevent gay athletes from being in the locker room.” Burkman’s openly gay brother tweeted Monday that Jack was “being an ass” and told the Huffington Post the anti-LGBT proposal was “just an attention grab and a media grab to pander to those folks who pay him to lobby on their behalf.”
At least some of Burkman’s clients don’t seem all that happy with the attention he’s getting.
Daniel Penchina, a principal at The Raben Group and president of Q Street, an association of LGBT lobbyists and advocates, told ThinkProgress: “Burkman’s clients should not only be concerned with being associated with his views, but also his judgment and competence as an advocate. Ultimately, he’s promoting his public image at the expense of his clients. That raises real questions about whether he can adequately represent his clients’ interests before policymakers.”