The Mormon Mafia

August 1, 2004 | 21 comments
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I don’t know how it works in other cities, but Washington, DC is definitely a town with a well established Mormon Mafia. What this refers to is a network of Mormon professionals — lawyers, lobbyists, Hill staffers, and the like — who are acquainted with one another and tend to help out with professional advancement. I have to admit that I am a beneficiary of this “system.” I have now secured two jobs at least in part because of networks Mormons. I am of two minds about this phenomena.

On one hand, I can understand those who worry about the intrusion of professional life into Church life, the mixing of God and Mammon and all that. Of course, my sympathy for this point of view is not incredibly deep. I actually like the Mormon Mafia. I enjoy my Mormon tribal identity, and there are numerous other tribes out there vigorously advancing their own. I take the Mormon Mafia as a healthy sign of communal identity and solidarity. (I really do care about such things Russell, promise…) Furthermore, much of the Mafia acts outside of formal church circles. You find out who the Mormons are in your law firm. You know who the Mormons are in the firm next door. You know which Senators, Representatives, and Committees have Mormon staffers. You know who the Mormon journalists are, and which think tanks have Mormon employees. You don’t meet these people at Church. You meet them at law firms, on the Hill, or at events at the Cato Institute when you are getting a free lunch. Mormonism becomes a powerful — and often unstated — point of connection and the Mafia continues to grow. Indeed, in DC the Mafia is strongly enough entrenched that the Gentiles have been catching on. For example, for many years, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has been run by a high ranking coterie of Latter-day Saints. (The Mormon head of the AO even clashed with Alex Kozinski, a prominent federal court of appeals judge in California over pornography on court computers. Kozinski has a strong libertarian streak, and vehemently objected to the Mormon’s suggestion that court IT employees monitor downloads from objectionable sites.)

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Jeron Paul — a friend of mine from college — has even give the Mormon Mafia an online home. Jeron, along with some other Harvard business students, set up The Hive Network (notice the reference to Deseret) as an online site for Mormon professional smoozing. The site is modeled on similar networks set up by Indian entrepreneurs in America.

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21 Responses to The Mormon Mafia

  1. Rusty on August 1, 2004 at 4:09 am

    I was quite surprised to read the title of your post. I guess just like the real mafia, there are different families of our Mormon Mafia. As a professional graphic designer living in New York City, I am part of the (graphic design) Mormon Mafia. I am a graduate of the BYU design program and our advisor has always called it by that name. Within the design community here BYU grads are a high commodity. Our network also sounds a lot like yours in DC. Anyone graduating from BYU gets a job through one of us. In fact, the proportion of graphic designers in my ward in Brooklyn is ridiculously high. It’s quite funny.

    Like you I like our Mormon Mafia. I’m glad to know there are other Mormons taking advantage of the communities they are a part of.

    And Russell, I was your brother Jesse’s best friend growing up. Hi.

  2. Russell Arben Fox on August 1, 2004 at 10:21 am

    “…or at events at the Cato Institute…”

    Why does it not surprise me that Nate can accurately assess the Mormon Mafia’s presence and influence by alluding to gatherings at the libertarian Cato Institute, and not at, say, the progressive New America Foundation? Just asking.

    I have very few, if any, problems with mafias. Networks are good things; as Nate says, they build friendships, pass information, increase trust, and contribute to civil society. Or, at least, they can. Robert Putnam’s seminal work on civil society in Italy demonstrated that the intensely social character of Italian life took a couple of forms: exploitive and abusive in the South, where the original criminal “Mafia” was strongest, and empowering in the North, where civic involvement spured social opportunities and democratic development. So really, the important question isn’t, I think, whether the existence and particular operation of the Mormon mafia in D.C. is somehow parasitic upon or corrupting of “Church life,” as Nate puts it. The question is, what are the ends to which this particular mafia is directed? If professional accomplishment and advancement in the halls of power is (mostly) a good, then the fact that Mormon networks are enabling such ends doesn’t strike me as a problem. Then again, if the ends desired and enabled by the D.C. mafia are false or distracting ones, then the fact that it is Mormons who are doing the desiring and enabling doesn’t seem to me as something that will justify the situation.

    Rusty Clifton?! Holy smokes. How are you? Are you still in touch with Jesse? He and his wife Amy live in Portland now; they have three girls, all with hair as red as his.

  3. Dave on August 1, 2004 at 3:56 pm

    Most people get jobs through connections. So there’s nothing wrong with Mormons using their connections to identify job openings and secure interviews. This is not some secret right-wing conspiracy at work, it’s just how life works. Everyone has a network.

    I don’t like the term “Mormon Mafia,” but the idea of associating with other Mormons in one’s profession or corporation, and of benefitting from that association, seems hard to criticize on any reasonable grounds.

  4. john fowles on August 1, 2004 at 7:33 pm

    I’m with Dave in that I don’t really like the term “Mormon Mafia.” Because of the connotations that the word “Mafia” has acquired through the glamor and myth of the American Italian Mafia, I think it would be better to call it something else without necessarily criticizing it for its qualities.

    I think that this network is a great thing and perfectly justified. It is in no way sinister; rather, it is simple a group of like-minded people helping each other out. Just because someone is able to get a job through connections doesn’t imply corruption, although corruption does exist in certain networks where good-ol-boys cover each other’s backs and get each other jobs.

    I honestly don’t see that in the Mormon network spoken of here, because to my knowledge, the Mormon network is not really going to help anyone out that is not independently qualified (e.g. if you think that you’re going to get hooked up with a job just b/c you are a member of the J. Reuben Clark society, you’d better think again and try to get the best law school GPA that you can in spite of any plans to make use of the Mormon network). My wife’s uncle Lew Cramer is someone that often gets involved in helping people in DC through this Mormon network, and that is the impression that I get from him.

  5. Nate Oman on August 1, 2004 at 7:40 pm

    “Why does it not surprise me that Nate can accurately assess the Mormon Mafia’s presence and influence by alluding to gatherings at the libertarian Cato Institute, and not at, say, the progressive New America Foundation?”

    Russell: Actually, I only knew one or two Mormons through Cato or related libertarian fellow-travelers. I suspect that there are far more Mormon connections through AEI or Heritage. As for the New America Foundation, I never got invited to the luncheon seminars. For me it was all about free food, rather than ideology ;->

  6. Ian R on August 1, 2004 at 7:43 pm

    People help their friends. Mormons have Mormons friends. Viola.

    Only I think it is in fact more complicated than this. In my experience, members of the Church go out of their way to professionally help other members, even when it is for someone they hardly know.

    ZION is (amongst other things) a condition. Perhaps helping those who have within them a commitment to the principles of the Gospel to professionally develop and prosper is a form of building Zion.

    I have personally benefited tremendously from the “Mormon Mafia”. I am law student, and I was so impressed by the way the LDS 2nd and 3rd year law students went out of their way to help the first years with scheduling, exam prep, finding employment, etc. The gathering of Saints always leads to prosperity (at least at first). The Gathering is a profound doctrinal concept that may be what is underling the impetus of LDS Networking.

  7. Ian R on August 1, 2004 at 7:45 pm

    People help their friends. Mormons have Mormons friends. Viola.

    Only I think it is in fact more complicated than this. In my experience, members of the Church go out of their way to professionally help other members, even when it is for someone they hardly know.

    ZION is (amongst other things) a condition. Perhaps helping those who have within them a commitment to the principles of the Gospel to professionally develop and prosper is a form of building Zion.

    I have personally benefited tremendously from the “Mormon Mafia”. I am law student, and I was so impressed by the way the LDS 2nd and 3rd year law students went out of their way to help the first years with scheduling, exam prep, finding employment, etc. The gathering of Saints always leads to prosperity (at least at first). The Gathering is a profound doctrinal concept that may be what is underling the impetus of LDS Networking.

  8. Ethesis (Stephen M) on August 1, 2004 at 9:31 pm

    Well, having been the local chair of the JRCLS, etc. I can say that the Mormon network is not really going to help anyone out that is not independently qualified (e.g. if you think that you’re going to get hooked up with a job just b/c you are a member of the J. Reuben Clark society, you’d better think again and try to get the best law school GPA that you can in spite of any plans to make use of the Mormon network). My wife’s uncle Lew Cramer is someone that often gets involved in helping people in DC through this Mormon network, and that is the impression that I get from him. is correct, but …

    There are lots and lots and lots of people who are independently qualified. Networking helps you sort through equals faster and lets you hear of things others don’t.

  9. Jordan Fowles on August 2, 2004 at 12:59 am

    Uh,oh, John F., you are dropping names and might be perceived as trying to show how you are an “insider”. You are such a Utah Mormon… :)

  10. dan w on August 2, 2004 at 1:32 am

    It seems like most benefitting from the mafia are in business and law. Have any in the academic arena received the blessings of the mormon mafia?

  11. john fowles on August 2, 2004 at 1:59 am

    Sorry Jordan. Thanks for calling me on it.

  12. Dave Bjarnason on August 2, 2004 at 4:33 am

    Two online examples of this sort of thing may be found at:

    LDS Networking: Networking LDS Professionals and Friends
    http://www.ldsnetworking.org

    and

    The New York Metro Latter-day Saint Professional Association
    http://www.nyldspa.org

    Having just graduated with my MBA from BYU, I’m currently attempting to use these resources to land a finance (capital markets) job in NYC. I haven’t found my dream job quite yet, but I’m sure the mafia won’t fail me in the end.

  13. Aaron E on August 2, 2004 at 5:21 am

    I’ve experienced the MM in a few cities now including NYC and Tokyo. Tokyo wins so far. As I dig through contracts from time to time as one of the exciting parts of my job, I often see things signed by members of my bishopric or others in the stake. Almost every one of our clients in Tokyo has a MM member and a headhunter recently suggested that he should convert just to advance his job and asked me (jokingly) if I wouldn’t let him have the stake directory–he’s even familiar with the term “Mormon Mafia.”

  14. Aaron E on August 2, 2004 at 5:22 am

    I’ve experienced the MM in a few cities now including NYC and Tokyo. Tokyo wins so far. As I dig through contracts from time to time as one of the exciting parts of my job, I often see things signed by members of my bishopric or others in the stake. Almost every one of our clients in Tokyo has a MM member and a headhunter recently suggested that he should convert just to advance his job and asked me (jokingly) if I wouldn’t let him have the stake directory–he’s even familiar with the term “Mormon Mafia.”

  15. Eliza on August 2, 2004 at 10:38 am

    “Voila.”

    (not Viola.)

  16. Zack Gubler on August 2, 2004 at 11:49 am

    “Alto.”

    (not Viola)

  17. zgubler on August 2, 2004 at 11:53 am

    “Alto.”

    (not Viola.)

  18. Adam Greenwood on August 3, 2004 at 10:30 am

    I can understand the objection to ‘mafia,’ but it won’t fly. ‘Mafia’ is simply the term. Notre Dame’s very tight professional networks are also referred to as the Notre Dame Mafia. I bet you the same is true elsewhere.

  19. Jack on August 16, 2004 at 10:01 pm

    There are two Jacks.

    This is the one that believes the Book of Mormon to be what it proports to be. And the one who has posted 120 some-odd comments. We don’t need a wolf in Jacks clothing – I’m vicious enough as it is.

  20. Kaimi on August 17, 2004 at 1:11 am

    As is clearly set out in our Comment Policies, off-topic comments will be deleted.

    Thus, the comment about “The Book of Mormon is false because of DNA evidence” has been removed. It is not on-topic on this post, which deals with networking.

  21. Leon Cardon on April 8, 2005 at 3:39 am

    Yeah, this mormon mafia is probably just a spin off or something, most mormons are just some sharp mofos, I mean check out ken jennings he is intense