Clients also look to K Street as political prognosticators for help with business decisions. A company looking to locate a facility might find it in its interest to break ground in the district of a lawmaker on a relevant Congressional committee. Herson’s defense clients would want to make sure a particular Member is in good shape election-wise.
“Someone’s committee assignment can influence the decision to move somewhere,” Herson said.
GOP lobbyist Kathryn Lehman, who went practically nowhere during the last campaign cycle without a folded and refolded piece of paper on which she tracked dozens of races, said political predictions are in high demand this time because of redistricting. “If a client has a plant in somebody’s district, they want to know, are they still going to have the same Member of Congress,” she said.
She added that in addition to lobbyists gaining insight into the races from briefings by the party committees for big donors and political action committee players, there’s an intangible advantage that lobbyists have when they meet candidates in person at fundraisers or meet-and-greets.
“You get a good sense of who these people are, how articulate, how much fire in their belly,” Lehman said.
Lobbyists use those assessments to help clients determine whether to cut a check to a particular candidate. But sometimes whom the lobbyists would personally like to see win a seat in Congress and who is better for the client can be in conflict. One GOP business lobbyist said he must grudgingly support Senate Democrats, such as Montana’s Jon Tester, who have voted in line with his clients’ agenda.
Reser puts it this way: “When I was at Pepsi, I would say, ‘I don’t belong to the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. I belong to the Pepsi party.’ I may have my own personal bias, but I have to set that aside.”