Power Couples: Lawmakers, Lobbyists, and the State of Their Unions

70 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2007

See all articles by Susan Frelich Appleton

Susan Frelich Appleton

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Robyn Rimmer (deceased)



This essay is part of a symposium entitled Following Marriage, a prompt designed to open for the contributing authors' exploration many possible paths from a shared point of departure, marriage. Thus, Following Marriage could suggest events that might take place after a given marriage (such as divorce or death), developments that have emerged beyond marriage (such as civil unions or domestic partnerships), conceptual changes that might follow as traditional marriage undergoes contemporary transformations (such as the deconstruction of gender or of sexual orientation, the decentering of sex, and resistance to marriage and the privilege that it entails), or an argument that makes the case for adhering to the traditional approach to marriage - to list just a few of the possibilities initially contemplated.

Against this background, Power Couples tackles a question that becomes particularly salient after marriage, even as traditionally defined (although similar questions can arise with respect to other intimate and familial relationships as well): What perceptions and inferences does contemporary marriage generate about conflicts of interest for spouses with intersecting careers? This essay examines this question in the context of a notable phenomenon in the nation's capital that has just begun to receive official attention - marriages in which one spouse serves as a member of Congress and the other works as a lobbyist. This case study reveals how ethical constraints centered on avoiding appearances of impropriety run aground when confronting two antagonistic principles of modern family law: the conceptualization of marriage as a (financial) partnership and the recognition of spouses, especially in the public sphere, as fully independent individuals.

The problem posed by such power couples, saturated as it is with gender politics, permits no easy solution, despite Congress's belated and hurried efforts to enact rules disavowing a culture of corruption at the start of the 110th Congress. This essay concludes that only a mechanism capable of undertaking case-by-case review and nuanced analysis is up to the task of ensuring respect for the many competing values at stake, such as government integrity, gender equality, individual autonomy, family privacy, and the touted place of marriage in family law.

Because one co-author of Power Couples, Robyn Rimmer, died suddenly just before publication of the bound volume of symposium, the version of the essay posted electronically begins with a letter honoring her memory, written by the other co-author, Susan Appleton, to accompany mailed reprints of the essay.

Keywords: marriage, spouses, gender, conflicts of interest, politics, appearances of impropriety, lobbying

Suggested Citation

Appleton, Susan Frelich and Rimmer (deceased), Robyn, Power Couples: Lawmakers, Lobbyists, and the State of Their Unions. Washington University Journal of Law and Policy, Vol. 24, p. 207, 2007; Washington U. School of Law Working Paper No. 07-12-01. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1051201

Susan Frelich Appleton (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

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