The chief of staff for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (above) is among the Senate Democratic chiefs who are using professional fundraisers to make their calls for cash for the DSCC.
Senate chiefs of staff this week are soliciting K Street for their annual spring fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Only problem is: Some of the chiefs aren’t making the ask themselves — a move that has discouraged many lobbyists from giving.
Several lobbyists questioned, privately, whether the event — similar to ones hosted by other chiefs of staff from both parties and chambers — would be a successful moneymaker since professional fundraisers have been making the pitch for cash.
“For the first time, they have the fundraiser do the calls and emails. As a donor, I find it offensive,” said one Democratic lobbyist. “None of us who are donors have any reason to respond to a contract fundraiser.”
The whole point behind the event is to get lobbyists to give to the DSCC at the request of their top staff-level contacts. The event, scheduled for April 13 at the Mott House, allows K Streeters a chance for face-time with the chiefs, and sometimes the Senators themselves.
A second Democratic lobbyist said the event was losing some of its buzz downtown.
“I think when the chiefs of staff call and ask you to participate, I don’t have a problem saying, ‘Yes, I’d be happy to help,’” this lobbyist said. “I will be shocked if anyone responds in a positive way in these notices from fundraisers.”
The lobbyist conceded, “Sure, chiefs of staff don’t like raising money just like their bosses don’t” but said that doesn’t mean lobbyists will respond by opening their pocketbooks.
In one email, fundraiser Tonya Fulkerson urged lobbyists to “help Chris Thompson” who is chief of staff to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.). “His goal is to raise $10,000 for the DSCC in individual contributions,” the email states. “If you can give any amount for Chris’s efforts he’d be greatly appreciative.”
Another email from Fulkerson seeks contributions on behalf of Mike Lynch, chief of staff to Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.). “The DSCC’s ‘Friends of the Hill’ event with Chiefs of Staff is on April 13 and Mike Lynch (Senator Schumer’s CoS) has asked that I twist a few arms on his behalf,” she wrote.
A press official with the DSCC did not return a call seeking comment, nor did press aides for Feinstein and Schumer.
A third Democratic lobbyist said that perhaps some of the chiefs were turning to professional fundraisers to avoid ethics issues, but according to experts, the chiefs are permitted to ask for the funds so long as they use their own time, email accounts and phones.
“I think the idea that the staff is involved in fundraising or certainly attending political events on their own time is inherent in the job,” said Ken Gross, an attorney at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
“If somebody who is an important staffer asks for money, on their own time, it’s not much different than the candidate themselves dialing for dollars,” Gross added.
Congressional aides face the same restrictions that Members do when fundraising, Gross said, which includes prohibitions against giving the appearance that donors receive special treatment or access, or linking contributions to official acts.
But attorney Elliot Berke, co-chairman of McGuireWood’s political law group, warned that staffers must be careful not to suggest the events give donors special access to an “official staffer.”
“It’s certainly common practice for official staff to volunteer on campaigns, but if you’re holding yourself in your official capacity for a campaign event you need to be careful not to create the wrong impression,” Berke said.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.