The temperature-raiser was the Senate's 95-4 approval last week of legislation that would prohibit lobbyists from buying gifts for lawmakers, almost regardless of what the gift might be. The House has already passed similar, less restrictive legislation, and differences between the two bills will be worked out in conference.
Thus, industry lobbyists were preparing for a new world, created by congressmen and senators who resorted to legislation to save themselves from temptation.
But even though industry groups acknowledged playing the free-lunch game, they derided the notion that it paved the way for congressional favors.
"This just will make it more difficult to get to know members of Congress," said Dan Jaffe, exec VP, Association of National Advertisers. "We're not among those who did the most of this sort of thing, but when we would meet in Washington or elsewhere, we might invite some congressman or senator to meet."
The American Advertising Federation's top lobbyist in Washington said he agreed.
"Do I take people from Capitol Hill to lunch sometimes?" asked Jeff Perlman, VP-government affairs. "Sure I do. But do I buy influence with a $6 lunch? Of course not. All it did was give me the opportunity to talk to them in something other than a rigid setting."
Mr. Perlman said the AAF's total annual spending on such "gifts" to legislators was much less than $10,000.
At the American Association of Advertising Agencies, VP John Kamp said the proposed change will "alter the way we do business, but it will not hurt us."
"In fact, it may even be a healthy change because it will continue, and maybe even accelerate, a trend of members of Congress talking to [association lobbyists] only if the constituents back home tell them to," Mr. Kamp said.
Mr. Kamp said lunches and golf games with congressional staffers will continue, adding, "the only difference now will be that they will have to pay their own greens fee."
"And that will be the same kind of rules that ... people from the Federal Trade Commission or Federal Communications Commission, have been under for a long time now, and we still have relationships with them because we continue to provide them with information," Mr. Kamp said.
Mr. Jaffe, a former congressional aide, challenged the public perception of lobbyists as slick influence-peddlers who rent, buy and sell elected officials.
"When we're fighting a possible ad tax, we do it by going to see the senator or congressman on his home ground, but often that is not the case-we have to see them here in Washington," Mr. Jaffe said.
"In any other business, a lunch or something like that would be OK," he added, "but here, because it's Congress, people argue that something evil is going on. I can assure you that [a freebie] never makes a difference on a vote."