"Hey, Matt, I didn't know you were slumming," Stewart says. "That guy pays me every month."
"He might not anymore," Schlapp jokes.
If you still happen to read newspapers, you might be under the impression that these are gloomy days for lobbyists and that the icky influence-peddling scandals attached to names like Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham would be enough to shame the average fixer into settling for a turkey sandwich and a Snapple at his desk, at least for a week or so. To think that way would be to misjudge both the character of lobbyists (who are immune to the crippling effects of shame) and the economic mojo of the District of Columbia.
Take lobbying reform: One idea floating around is a $20 cap on the gifts, including meals, with which a lobbyist could treat a member of Congress. Stewart thinks that proposal's likely to get stomped out faster than Ralph Nader at a Toby Keith concert. "The Capital Grille would fuckin' cave in," he says. "That won't happen. Twenty bucks? You can't get a blow job for $20. Not that I've ever paid for it."
You can learn a lot from spending a day with Jarvis Stewart in Washington—instant lessons about the dominance of money, the futility of political protest, and the eternal enchantments of fun. Because there's no getting around it—Stewart is a fun guy. He's cocky, blustery, frequently raunchy, and winningly gluttonous. He gives the impression of knowing every waiter and concierge in every major city in America, and a mere mention of the Peninsula hotel in Beverly Hills can transport him into a state of delirium. "At the Peninsula they have monogrammed pillowcases," he says. "j.c.s. It's beautiful! That's what I refer to as a panty-dropper. The first time I saw that, I took it. That's some ghetto shit to do."
Today Stewart, the grandson of a Texas pig farmer and a product of a rough precinct of Houston, is wearing a dark Hugo Boss suit and a pink Hermès tie. At the office in the morning Stewart is joined by his right-hand man, Tyrone Bland. Keeping tabs on a lobbyist's assortment of friends and foes is like watching a vast 3-D game of musical chairs directed by the Wachowski brothers. "You know Bill Thomas is retiring?" Bland says. Thomas presides over the omnipotent House Ways and Means Committee. Now comes a rumor that Roy Ashburn, a staunchly right-wing state senator from California, might run for his seat.
"I know Ashburn," Bland tells Stewart. "He would repulse you. He would make you ill."
"Tyrone, we're lobbyists," Stewart says, unfazed. "Even our friends make us ill."
You know what I like about Republicans?" Stewart says. He's steering his black Mercedes CL 500 through the narrow side streets on Capitol Hill, looking for a parking space. "They like to win. They understand the world of power and influence. And if you're in politics and you aren't interested in power and influence, then you need to get out." Even though he remains a registered Democrat, Stewart seems to reserve his spiciest criticism for Democratic kingpin Howard Dean ("His shit with black people is just fucked up right now," Stewart tells a friend over the phone) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, whose last name Stewart manages to pronounce as if it were a skin disease. In conversation, at least, Stewart's ideology seems to boil down to: There's a big game going on, so why are the Democrats standing on the sidelines?