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In Washington, D.C., elderly engraver Johnnie Adams has been surreptitiously "borrowing" invitations to swanky parties for thirty years. Johnnie, who is believed by his society acquaintances to be a retired Navy admiral, has a cynical yet good-natured admiration for the political manuevering in D.C., and is good friends with high-powered lobbyist and lawyer Stephen Bennett. At a party hosted by society matron Della Rice, Johnnie meets ornithologist Anne Richards, who has come from California to petition Congress not to pass a bill allowing drilling for natural gas in a sanctuary harboring the last sixty California condors. Steve is taken with the lovely Anne, although she makes clear her suspicion of lobbyists. When Anne asks Johnnie to arrange an appointment for her with the Secretary of the Interior, he demurs, stating that he does not like to trade on friendships to obtain favors. Angered by what she assumes is Johnnie's callousness, Anne storms out, and the next day, the tender-hearted Johnnie takes her to see Steve in the hope that he can help. Steve is delighted to see Anne, but appalled to learn that his firm is representing Continental Gas, the company sponsoring the bill to drill in the sanctuary. Steve keeps his firm's involvement secret from Anne and Johnnie, and takes Anne out to lunch and to the Smithsonian. Although Anne is aware of Steve's romantic interest, she is single-minded in her determination to save the condor, the rarest bird in North America. The next day, Anne learns from a radio broadcast by political commentator Roy Patterson that Steve represents Continental. While Anne looks for Johnnie, whose address is not listed in Naval records, Steve is also searching for him in order to deliver a refrigerator that Johnnie had jokingly requested for his landlady, Mrs. Chadwick. That evening, when Johnnie and Steve arrive at Anne's hotel to escort her to a party, Anne accuses Steve of double-crossing her by not revealing his association with the gas company. Anne warns Johnnie that Steve will eventually compromise him, and the next morning, Johnnie is taken aback when Steve's refrigerator is delivered to his home. Although Johnnie is reluctant to accept a gift from a lobbyist, Mrs. Chadwick's happiness upon seeing the appliance prohibits him from returning it. While a Senate committee investigating lobbyists begins an inquiry into Steve's procuration of not only Johnnie's refrigerator but eleven others, Johnnie goes to work and is inspired by his immigrant friend, Leo Fischer, to help Anne continue her fight to be heard. Telling Anne that she cannot fight with a peashooter when the enemy is using 16-inch guns, Johnnie uses his inside knowledge to influence various Congressmen to vote against the bill. Through their hard work, Anne and Johnnie soon have almost sixty votes lined up, but need to obtain many more in the remaining week before the vote. Johnnie and Anne bump into Steve at a soiree, and Steve, who has been quietly working behind the scenes to help Anne, advises her to rally public support for her cause. Just then, a process server gives Steve a subpoena to appear before the Senate committee, and Steve steers the server away from Johnnie, who has been identified as a recipient of one of the suspect refrigerators. The next morning, Steve tries to persuade Mr. Taylor, a Continental representative, to use a pipeline to obtain the natural gas and thereby preserve the bird sanctuary. Taylor refuses, however, and petulantly orders Steve to bribe Johnnie to drop his campaign. Steve storms out, and later, informs Johnnie that he has discovered the truth about his identity. Steve assures Johnnie that he still holds him in high regard, but warns him that for his own protection, he should stop his campaign against the bill. Reluctant to expose his subterfuge, Johnnie then tells Anne that he can no longer help her. Anne assumes that Steve has threatened Johnnie, and urges him not to give up. The couple then watch as Leo is sworn in as a U.S. citizen, and the judge's admonitions about the responsibilities of citizenship prompt Johnnie to fight again. Meanwhile, Steve asks Patterson not to reveal Johnnie's identity on his radio show, but Patterson does so anyway. Johnnie is then fired, and when Anne questions him, he admits that his elevated social standing was fraudulently obtained. Knowing that his former "friends" will now vote in favor of the bill, Johnnie apologizes to Anne, and she resigns herself to defeat. As Johnnie is seeing Anne off at the train station, however, they hear a radio broadcast of Steve's testimony before the Senate committee. Steve asserts that as a registered lobbyist, his activities are legal, and urges the committee to investigate Johnnie and Anne, whom he claims are covert lobbyists. Johnnie and Anne are infuriated by Steve's trick, but his strategy benefits them when they are called before the committee and Anne is able to plead for the condors. Johnnie also reveals that the Navy Cross he wears, which led to the initial confusion over his being an admiral, was posthumously awarded to his late son, and his candor and humor win over the huge audience. Steve then continues to encourage public support for Anne, and soon after, the pressure causes Continental Gas to withdraw its request for drilling rights. Anne and Johnnie are ecstatic, but while they are celebrating, Patterson reveals that their victory is largely due to Steve's machinations. Realizing how much Steve means to her, Anne decides to employ his advice about public support to her own ends, and sends out invitations to their wedding. When a bewildered Steve arrives at the stationer's to protest, he finds that Johnnie has been re-hired and given a promotion. Steve then questions Anne, and as she teases him into admitting that he does want to marry her, Johnnie pockets one of the invitations.