Republican lobbyist Ari Storch found himself in a conundrum common to practically everyone on K Street: What to do about the political conventions this summer?
As Beltway insiders know, these quadrennial affairs can offer lobbyists and their clients an unparalleled opportunity to schmooze with political elites from across the nation. They also provide the chance to get a corporate brand splashed in front of an audience of decision-makers.
But the events are costly.
In addition to wincing at the tab of hosting parties that run more than $100,000 at the conventions, many lobbying groups fear the bad publicity that comes with feting Members, staff and the party power brokers. Plus, the rules and restrictions, along with nasty rhetoric directed at lobbyists during campaign season, have made it even less appealing, lobbyists say.
As a result, some groups have decided simply to sit out this summer’s Republican convention in Tampa, Fla., and Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C.
But some lobbyists — such as Storch, who co-founded Artemis Strategies — have found a way in. “We didn’t just want to do another concert or party. We wanted to leave a mark,” said Storch, who is organizing charity fundraisers in both cities to benefit military organizations such as the Wounded Warrior Project and Operation Homefront.
In Tampa, his Birdies for the Brave golf tournament at TPC Tampa Bay on Aug. 27 has signed on Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Republican Governors Association Chairman Bob McDonnell of Virginia as honorary co-chairmen.
Intel Corp. and SAP, which is one of Storch’s clients, have secured the $100,000 apiece title sponsor slots. And he has extended invitations to all the members of the Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs panels. Storch said the event is on track to raise its target of $1 million.
“My goal is that nobody is making money off this event,” Storch said. “Every penny we raise is going to charity. We’re even working on getting the power donated for the event, and we’re working with folks to facilitate getting all the food and drink donated.”
A legitimate charity event is one that will pass muster with the Congressional Ethics committees allowing Hill denizens to attend for free.
The rules that govern a company’s — or lobbying group’s — activities at the political conventions are a complex maze of campaign finance laws, House and Senate gift restrictions and an Obama administration executive order. For the Democratic National Convention, the host committee won’t accept cash donations from corporations.
To help his K Street clients navigate these restrictions and exemptions, William Minor, a partner at DLA Piper who specializes in lobbying and campaign finance laws, put together a six-page memo this month. In it, he advises clients that widely attended events and charity events are among the acceptable opportunities for corporations and trade associations looking to get in on the fun. And take note: The toothpick rules still apply in Charlotte and Tampa. Under the reception exemption, a corporation can also host an event so long as the food served doesn’t amount to a meal.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.