Thomas H. Boggs Jr. had the clout of an oracle, the air of a senator and a joie de vivre that gleefully declared his family’s Louisiana roots.
The son of the late House Majority Leader Thomas Hale Boggs and Rep. Lindy Boggs built his firm into the top grossing K Street practice. He was an institution himself, representing trial lawyers, businesses and associations until his death Monday of an apparent heart attack at age 73. Lawmakers and presidents of both parties sought more than his campaign cash; they wanted his counsel. He gave them both.
“He was a pioneer in our industry,” said Haley Barbour, founder of the BGR Group and the former Republican governor of Mississippi. “But for most of us who knew him, he was just a great friend and very, very smart.” Boggs, a Democrat whose parents represented a New Orleans-based congressional district, shared clients with Barbour over the years and, more than a decade ago, they flirted seriously with the idea of merging their shops. “We talked about it for months,” Barbour said.
Instead, they partnered in a totally different line of work: the restaurant business. The two became stakeholders in the Caucus Room, a restaurant and lounge downtown that plays frequent host to fundraisers and less partisan affairs.
“We decided to do this as kind of a statement that Democrats and Republicans could battle each other during the day but could go and sit down and have dinner together in the evening,” Barbour said.
Even in an election year, when lawmakers like to publicly keep their distance from the influence industry, the comments celebrating Boggs’ life came pouring in. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on the Senate floor Monday that he was saddened to learn of Boggs’ death. He called Boggs a “friend of so many people in Washington.”
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, whose father and Boggs’ father died together when their plane went down in Alaska in 1972, somewhere between Anchorage and Juneau, noted that the Boggs and Begich families had “been through much together.”
“Tommy was a larger-than-life personality,” the senator said.
Boggs was “legendary,” recalled Linda Lipsen, who heads the American Association for Justice and was Boggs’ first client 40 years ago. “And for all the right reasons.”
“He had this Louisiana flair for the dance of legislation,” said Lipsen, who helped organize young supporters for Boggs’ 1970 run for Congress from Maryland as a high school student. “He brought magic to advocacy.”
“I think that he changed the lobbying business by building a lobbying practice, bringing in more people. Everybody before then was just a single practitioner,” said Gerry Cassidy, founder of Cassidy & Associates. “He built the practice around himself, but he brought in good people, and he changed the way lobbying firms were built.”
But his clients and colleagues say he was not purely an access lobbyist. His success was the result of a brain that could connect all the pieces of policy, politics and people.
“He has this ability to really understand the substance of what he was advocating for, but also understanding the challenges and motivations faced by members of Congress of both parties,” Lipsen said. “And probably the most important quality of advocacy was listening.”
He was a mentor to many of the associates and junior lobbyists who passed through his firm, formerly Patton Boggs and now Squire Patton Boggs, over the years.
Andy Rosenberg, who runs Thorn Run Partners, said he learned just by being in Boggs’ orbit at Patton Boggs.
“It was watching the master,” said Rosenberg, a Democrat who, like Boggs himself, made a failed run for Congress. “He would sit there in his office with his big aquarium off to the side, and he’d be smoking a cigar, and the ash would get longer and longer. You’d be hoping it didn’t fall into his shirt. He’d be chomping on it deep in thought, strategizing.”
Rosenberg recalled that Boggs typically spoke less than everybody else in the room.
“His brain was like a super computer, aware of so many different pieces of human information, about the people who make this city work and he would come up with these approaches and strategies that literally only he could come up with,” Rosenberg said.
Because Boggs was such a unique creature, a K Street sort of genius, rival firms and the folks at Patton Boggs have wondered for more than a decade whether his shop could survive without him. Boggs brought former Sens. John Breaux, D-La., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., into the fold.
And just four months ago, Patton Boggs and Squire Sanders announced their merger, a difficult affair as any corporate marriage is, whose beginnings saw many longtime lawyers and lobbyists depart.
Based on lobbying revenue for this year, Squire Patton Boggs remains at the top with a long roster of hundreds of clients including Amazon.com and General Electric.
Through it all, his colleagues said, Boggs kept a sense of humor.
Barbour recalled that when he and Boggs were discussing their restaurant venture, Barbour wanted to christen it “Fat Boys Restaurant.”
“Boggs wouldn’t agree to it,” Barbour boomed. “But he did agree to call the bar the Loophole Lounge.”
Restaurant pros vetoed that idea. “Today, I was laughing about how Tommy used to always joke about my wanting to call it Fat Boys Restaurant, but he thought Loophole Lounge was OK. Tommy Boggs was a big personality. He also had a big heart.”
Kate Ackley is a staff writer at CQ Roll Call who keeps tabs on the influence industry.
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