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A New Force on K Street

Growth of Hispanic Lobbying Community Mirrors Rising Political Clout

At first glance, there’s nothing unusual about the fundraiser this week for Rep. Solomon Ortiz. On Tuesday night, lobbyists representing telecom, technology, financial services, energy and other interests will gather at Sonoma, a Capitol Hill wine bar, to pitch in for the Texas Democrat’s re-election.

Such events happen several times a day, year-round, as lawmakers scramble to meet mounting campaign costs and party dues with unending appeals to lobbyists.

But a closer look at the Ortiz dinner reveals a K Street first. The host committee is made up entirely of Hispanic lobbyists.

It is the beginning of a series of events that a loose collective of Hispanic former Hill aides have planned for the members of the 21-strong Congressional Hispanic Caucus. More broadly, the activity signals a coming-of-age for Hispanics in the influence industry.

“We’re seeing the fruits of the investments made in Congress where minority staffers were given an opportunity to have the responsibility of senior-level positions,” said Cindy Jimenez, an adviser to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who last year left for a job with the Information Technology Association of America. “Naturally, those staffers move on to government relations, and now we’re looking at each other, trying to figure out what we can do to have a voice in the legislative and political process.”

Next Wednesday, the group will host a dinner fundraiser for Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas) at Charlie Palmer Steak. And on May 21, they’re getting together again — this time for a breakfast at Johnny’s Half Shell — to raise money for Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.). Others are in the works for Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and John Salazar (D-Colo.). Eventually, the lobbyists said they will benefit lawmakers who don’t belong to the CHC but represent majority-Hispanic districts, such as Reps. Gene Green (D-Texas) and Bob Filner (D-Calif.).

The effort so far is informal: The group has no name and no definitive membership. Its first meeting, to discuss “next steps,” is planned for the second week of May, Jimenez said.

The fundraising drive comes two years after the formation of the Hispanic Lobbyists Association, organized by eight Hispanic lobbyists to formalize their mentoring efforts for those new to their ranks downtown. But the money events represent a leap forward for the community made possible by a recent exodus of top-level Hispanic staffers to K Street posts.

In addition to Jimenez, last year Moses Mercado, a one-time deputy chief of staff to then-House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), left his job as a director of the Democratic National Committee to join Ogilvy Government Relations. Joining him there at the end of last year was Dean Aguillen, a senior adviser to Pelosi. Marcela Urrutia-Zamora, senior policy adviser for Hispanic affairs to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), left last month for a lobbying job with Verizon.

Others helping organize the events include Ingrid Duran, who was executive director of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute before leaving to start her own firm, D&P Creative Strategies; her partner, Catherine Pino; Estuardo Rodriguez and Larry Gonzalez of The Raben Group; and Gilberto Ocañas of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal.

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