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Conventions Lose Appeal for D.C. Lobbyists

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The Democratic and Republican national conventions have lost their luster this year. Many lobbyists say the only thing they will get out of this year’s events in Charlotte, N.C., and Tampa, Fla., (above) is a sunburn.

Washington, D.C., lobbyists are not exactly jazzed about heading south for the major party conventions.

The sluggish economy, new restrictions on contributions and anti-corporate sentiment has zapped the fun out of the Republican and Democratic national conventions for political players.

The multiday schmooze-fests present a rare opportunity to chat up politicians and Capitol Hill aides in a social setting — a quadrennial confab that’s usually catnip to any savvy insider.

But with fewer parties on the docket, fewer Members of Congress attending and fewer dollars to throw around, many lobbyists say the only thing they will get out of this year’s events in Charlotte, N.C., and Tampa, Fla., is a sunburn.

“A lot of lobbyists around town are still wrestling with whether to even go,” said Jack Howard, the vice chairman and chief operating officer of Wexler &Walker Public Policy Associates. “In a broader sense, conventions themselves have lost a lot of the pizzazz.”

On the Democratic side, new restrictions on donations and the administration’s hostile public pronouncements toward K Street have created an enthusiasm deficit. The Democratic host committee, Charlotte in 2012, has pledged to reject all corporate, lobbyist and political action committee cash. Individual donations cannot exceed $100,000.

The self-imposed restrictions are a continuation of President Barack Obama’s pledge to take money out of politics, but the move could make it hard for the committee to come up with the $36.65 million it has pledged to raise to support the event, which is less than a month away.

“The financial services industry — like many industries — has become more cognizant of the bottom line,” a banking industry lobbyist told Roll Call. “That’s why folks are really scrounging around to get folks to come down.”

Tens of Democratic Members of Congress have said they will heed the advice of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) and skip the convention to focus on their re-election bids.

“The level of access of Members is not there anymore,” the lobbyist added.

Even Republican lobbyists are passing on the festivities or grudgingly making the trip because they work in an official capacity for the party.

“It’s the criminalization of engagement. The optics are so bad that you’re better off not going,” said one Republican lobbyist with close ties to the campaign of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. “If your goal is to influence the political process and be part of it, don’t bother.”

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