Lobbyists may be persona non grata on the campaign trail, but that hasn't stopped the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from tapping K Street's brain trust to try to retain the majority.
Facing a tough political cycle, the DCCC is redoubling its efforts to enlist K Streeters to help its most vulnerable "Frontline" program Members with fundraising, messaging and campaign strategy.
The ask was formalized Wednesday evening at a dinner at Acqua Al 2, an Italian restaurant on Capitol Hill, organized by Jennifer Crider, political director for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and deputy executive director at the DCCC.
The effort is being driven by Pelosi loyalists, such as Democratic bundlers Tony Podesta of the Podesta Group, Ben Barnes of the Barnes Group, Steve Elmendorf of Elmendorf Strategies and Brian Wolff, a former DCCC executive director who is now a lobbyist at the Edison Electric Institute. That's a notable development considering Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is the Caucus' point man when it comes to fundraising from the downtown business community.
Julie Domenick of Multiple Strategies, Sean Richardson of Peck, Madigan, Jones & Stewart, Jimmy Ryan of Elmendorf Strategies, David Castagnetti of Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, Dean Aguillen of Ogilvy Government Relations, Katreice Banks of AT&T, and Vincent Roberti and Megan Johnson of Navigators Global were also among the lobbyists with deep pockets and campaign experience asked to work directly with one of the 16 incumbents listed on a DCCC handout.
Over dinner, DCCC Political Director Jennifer Pihlaja and Regional Candidate Services Director Lauren Dikis helped divvy up which lobbyists would work directly with the most vulnerable Members.
Reps. Harry Teague and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Steve Driehaus and Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio, Debbie Halvorson of Illinois, Kathy Dahlkemper of Pennsylvania and Betsy Markey of Colorado were among the lawmakers the DCCC picked.
Campaign committees often ask K Street to open its checkbooks to help with Members' re-election campaigns. In 2008, Hoyer met with several of the same K Streeters at Johnny's Half Shell to cajole them into contributing to open-seat candidates and challengers on the DCCC's "Red to Blue" list.
But the decision to formally assign lobbyists to lawmakers is unusual, according to several Democratic lobbyists.
"It was not just a fundraising ask," according to a lobbyist in attendance. "It was also to help out with campaigns."
"They said, These people could use extra help, not only in terms of resources, but also advice in terms of setting up ground messaging,"' the lobbyist added.
"They basically asked us to adopt a Member," according to another lobbyist at the dinner, who declined to speak on the record.
The DCCC's Crider defended the decision to enlist help from downtown.
"These are folks who have long histories in working in elections and are dedicated to keeping a strong majority," Crider said.
"It's one of the things the Speaker always asks for when talking with supporters around the country," she added. "Not just financial resources, but intellectual resources. These are people who have great breadth of experience working and running campaigns and can be very helpful."
Pelosi and Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) also dropped by at the end of the dinner. Pelosi briefly addressed the crowd, reminding them how important the work they are doing is to retaining the majority, according to several attendees.
Lobbyists said working directly with Members makes them more accountable for contributions and also invested in the success of an individual Member.
"Particularly if they're not on the best committee and don't know as many people in town, it can help with building a support network," said one Democratic lobbyist at the event.
Wolff, who helped start the Frontline program, volunteered to work with Markey and Halvorson.
Choosing the two wasn't about business, according to Wolff.
"Think of me as the new Amway project," Wolff said of his work for the two lawmakers. "The purpose of my involvement is to hopefully introduce them later in the cycle to people they don't already know."