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K Street Files: Retail Politics — Durbin Looks to Refill Coffers

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Dick Durbin, speaking with reporters Tuesday on Capitol Hill, is planning to be outside the dome Thursday morning to attend a fundraiser hosted by the retail industry for his leadership PAC. Stores such as Target Corp. and Best Buy Co. Inc. backed a Durbin amendment to the financial services reform bill earlier this year that lets the Federal Reserve cap credit card interchange fees.

Large retailers were the big winners from an amendment sponsored this summer by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin. This week, the industry is fêting the Illinois Democrat at a $1,000-per-head fundraiser.

According to an invitation for the event, Target Corp., Best Buy Co. Inc., Sears Holding Corp. and the Retail Industry Leaders Association are hosting the fundraiser Thursday morning at Target’s D.C. offices on 8th Street NW.

Durbin’s amendment, which was included in the financial services reform bill, calls for the Federal Reserve to regulate interchange fees, the rates charged by banks and companies such as Visa and MasterCard for credit card transactions.

A Durbin aide on Tuesday defended the fundraiser, saying in an e-mail that the event is for Durbin’s leadership political action committee, Prairie PAC. The aide added that Durbin’s “event is one of dozens of similar Congressional fundraising events scheduled this week in DC.”

“It is in no way out of the ordinary for members to have PAC events this time of year,” the aide wrote. “Senator [Charles] Schumer held one for his PAC last night and many others have events scheduled this week and through December.”

The aide also said that the Illinois Democrat used his PAC money last month to help endangered Democrats. “Durbin’s PAC maxed out to every Senate incumbent, all targeted challengers, the DSCC and the DCCC this past cycle,” the aide wrote. “It’s no secret that Democrats will have 23 seats in the Senate up for grabs in 2012 and Durbin is doing what he’s always done — making sure he is able to do all he can to help incumbent Senators and expand our majority in the next Congress.”

Campaign finance records show that Durbin is one of the few Democrats supported by RILA. In the 2009-2010 cycle, RILA’s PAC gave just one-third of its campaign contributions to Democrats, according to a CQ MoneyLine analysis. Meanwhile, Best Buy gave 62 percent of its contributions to Democrats last cycle, while 60 percent of Sears’ political contributions went to Democratic causes — a ratio that a Republican lobbyist suggested they reconsider.

“The big retailers aren’t adjusting to the new political winds; they’re still kissing Durbin’s ring for last year’s victory,” the GOP lobbyist said.

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