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Democrats Court Lobbyists Heavily

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, on Wednesday huddled at the Washington Court Hotel with about 35 lobbyists who make up his informal kitchen cabinet.

Dingell usually organizes the irregular get-togethers to discuss policy matters. This week, however, the talk was purely about the upcoming elections, an aide said.

“We want to make sure they’re helping frontline candidates [in competitive races], doing everything they can, ready to be on call and work with the leadership of the DCCC to make sure Democrats win back the House,” the aide said. “This is his No. 1 priority.”

On Sept. 13, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is hosting a lunch to raise PAC contributions for top-tier, open-seat candidates.

That night, the DCCC is hosting a “March to the Majority Reception” at the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum on Capitol Hill. And later this month, Dingell and several colleagues are hosting a dinner at Bistro Bis to raise money for the DCCC. Guests can attend for $500, but the price tag to be an event chair is a $10,000 check to the campaign committee.

Efforts to gather campaign cash from former Hill staffers working downtown have gotten another boost this cycle from an informal effort led by Hoyer and by Democratic Reps. John Tanner (Tenn.), Ellen Tauscher (Calif.) and Joe Crowley (N.Y.). That program had collected $100,000 by mid-summer, with nearly 60 percent of the money coming from personal checks, according to a source familiar with the effort.

While House Democrats are finding many loyal soldiers among the ranks of K Street lobbyists, the party is facing resistance in some downtown quarters where Democratic ties are outweighed by policy demands.

Since a key component of the minority party’s messaging has been tagging Republicans as corporate handmaidens, Democrats have kept certain industries in their cross hairs — most notably the energy and pharmaceutical sectors.

One Democratic lobbyist for a drugmaker said the attacks have gone too far, prompting him to redirect money he would have otherwise offered the DCCC.

“At some point politics is politics, but when you demonize an industry that cures things, it just goes beyond the pale,” this lobbyist said, calling the fundraising appeals from the DCCC on the heels of attacks “dishonest.”

That criticism follows a line of attack Republicans have leveled at Democrats for accepting donations from lobbyists while blasting GOP ties to the community.

“It’s shocking that the architect of the ‘culture of hypocrisy’ is now shaking down K Street for campaign cash,” said Ed Patru, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Nevertheless, Democratic lobbyist Steve Elmendorf said that the buzz about Democrats retaking the House is enough to prompt lobbyists to keep cutting checks and leaning on clients to follow suit.

“I called the DCCC today and asked them to send me a list of their events,” he said, describing a move that turns on its head the normal fundraising dynamic. “I already give, but I’ve got clients.”

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