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K Street Lobbyists Decamp to the Campaign Trail

In 2004, DeLacy went to South Dakota to observe the contest between then-Sen. Tom Daschle (D) and the Republican who defeated him, Sen. John Thune.

“I remember going out to dinner, and you could tell some of the folks in the restaurant weren’t from South Dakota,” he said.

A little casual snooping revealed that one table was filled with Democrats volunteering for Daschle. “Then there was a table of people from the Department of Justice observing everybody,” he recalled.

DeLacy’s Democratic colleague Lynn Cutler, a senior aide in the Clinton administration and a one-time elected county official in Iowa, has donated to and raised money for Democrat Tammy Duckworth’s House campaign in Illinois’ 8th district. She’s also spent hours calling voters for Duckworth and plans many more as Election Day nears. 

“Sitting on the phones is like, I thought I was never going to do this again in my life,” she said. “After 40 years of politics, I’ve done a lot of it. This isn’t my favorite thing to do, but I would do anything for her.”

Ohio native John O’Neill, a lobbyist with Capitol Counsel, is planning a trip home, where he will stay with relatives while campaigning for Republicans. “It’s fun being from a battleground state and having a chance to reconnect with friends from past elections, family and even a lot of D.C. friends who are there,” he said.

Then, he plans to head west.

“I love my parents dearly, but after spending a week sleeping in their spare bedroom, I may need to escape for a few days of volunteering in a sunnier climate like Nevada, Arizona or Florida,” he quipped.

DeLacy, an expert on campaign finance law, said lobbyists must be careful when out on the trail. They can’t bring in dinner for campaign workers, for example, without making sure the campaign logs the cost as an in-kind donation.

K Streeters also must use their vacation or unpaid leave, as Dutko Grayling lobbyist Ron Kaufman has done to work full time on Mitt Romney’s campaign. That’s because employers aren’t allowed to subsidize the volunteer work.

The rules can be difficult to enforce. One lobbyist who is heading to a competitive Senate race said firms sometimes offer extra vacation to cover the time spent on the ground. But most other lobbyists said they are careful to stay within the law to keep themselves and their candidates out of any trouble.

And while much of K Street might be motivated by financial self-interest, even the most jaded lobbyist can find a little inspiration on the campaign trail.

“We see it as an extension of our work more than as a true volunteer endeavor,” said lobbyist Andy Rosenberg, who lost a primary bid against Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) in 2004 and plans to help the campaign of Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) over the weekend.

“One thing that actually is invigorating as a lobbyist is to go to a campaign headquarters or a union hall and just be amazed at these people from every walk of life who have very busy lives who are there because they believe in the importance of elections and the process,” Rosenberg said. “It gives you greater appreciation for our democracy.”

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