by Karin Tanabe, for Bisnow on Business
Next time you choose sipping a fine wine over canvassing for your favorite candidate, think again. Volunteering might just be the beginning of a marvelous métier. Anne Wexler began her political career by ringing doorbells for the Stevenson campaign in 1952. “I decided then and there that politics was more fun than anything else and more important than anything else,” says Wexler.
Anne is Chairman of the Executive Committee of Wexler & Walker, and is one of the only politicos who had a stint in rock 'n' roll, along with Bill Clinton’s wailings on that Adolph Sax invention of course. “A lot of people think of me as being a government relations public policy person who has been in government for a long time. But I went from Rolling Stone to working in the White House,” says Wexler who rubbed elbows with music’s elite in the 70s. During the Nixon years and the Watergate scandal, Rolling Stone, run out of San Francisco at the time, decided to open an office in Washington. “I was working with writers doing political stories in Washington and there were a lot. I have some amazing Hunter S. Thompson stories. I I also got into the business side,” says Anne, who became Associate Publisher of Rolling Stone Magazine in 1973.
Prior to her days at the glossy, Wexler was the only woman running a Senate campaign in the country, Joe Duffey’s Connecticut bid in 1970. One particularly dynamic person who worked for her at this time was Bill Clinton, then in his first year at Yale Law. “He came highly recommended so I hired him to run the 3rd Congressional district around New Haven,” says Wexler. “My first impression of Bill was that he was very smart and had a visceral understanding of politics and relations between people. This was during the war in Vietnam and he really understood the needs and desires of factory workers, blue-collar workers and soldiers. He had flawless political instincts and a wonderful way with people.”
Anne moved back into the political arena after Rolling Stone, heading to the Commerce Department in ‘76 and then moving after a year to become President Carter’s chief deputy charged with building business and public support for White House policies.
The day after Reagan was inaugurated in 1981, Wexler started her lobbying firm. “I’m basically a team builder, that’s what I do,” she says. “My work in the White House, building support for Carter’s policies, reached both sides. I built a lot of bi-partisan relationships. Lobbying was not much of a transition at all.” Wexler teamed up with Nancy Reynolds in ’83, the first woman to be invited to join the Business-Government Relations Council. Reynolds broke barriers by becoming president of the group in 1982. “We started when Reagan was President and Congress was Democratic. It made sense to find a Republican," Wexler says of Nancy who worked with Reagan for ten years.
“When I started this firm I was the only woman running a lobbying firm. It was also the first bi-partisan firm,” says Wexler, who notes that people were not resistant to her. “Washington is probably the best town for a woman. There are more women in significant jobs here than in any other place in America, and the city has more holes in the glass ceiling than any other place.” Wexler’s business doubled in a year. “Nancy and I used to say that it was so great to be women and to be underestimated,” says Wexler.
“Lobbying today is a much bigger business with much more competition,” says Anne, who is paired up with former Republican Congressman Robert Walker
. “The influence and power of money really changed, which is unfortunate.” But it is certainly not the testosterone team it used to be. Women-owned firms and even all-female firms can be found on K Street
these days, due in no small part to the rapidly rising number of women in government. Rumor has it they still let men play the game. Anne’s son Dan
has even followed in his mother’s trailblazing footsteps.