Six Democratic lobbyists with deep ties to the Blue Dog Coalition, including former Reps. Bud Cramer (Ala.) and Charlie Stenholm (Texas), unveiled Tuesday a new nonprofit called the Blue Dog Research Forum.In a letter to Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), who co-chairs the Blue Dog Coalition, Cramer and Stenholm wrote that they were establishing the organization to ensure there will always be a forum in Washington to mark that middle ground when it comes to issues affecting the countrys fiscal health.The groups goal is to be an incubator for policy ideas affecting the economy, such as energy, health care, tax policy, national defense and entitlements.The research forum takes its name from the 54 fiscally conservative Democratic Members who have emerged as a powerful voting bloc on major legislation, but no current lawmaker has been involved in setting it up, according to Cramer, an original Blue Dog and president of the new research forum.They actually legally cannot dictate control or dominate what happens here, Cramer said. We can involve them. We can involve any Member in the policy forums we will carry forward, and we hope to be able to do that.However, as the lobbyists quietly set up the organization over the past several months, they have kept Blue Dog leadership generally informed. And Cramer, who now lobbies at Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates, said the Members have been supportive so far.In addition to Stenholm who works at Olsson, Frank & Weeda and Cramer, the board of directors for the new venture includes Jeff Murray of the C2 Group, Vickie Walling of Prime Policy Group, Stacey Alexander of Elmendorf Strategies and Libby Greer of Cauthen, Forbes & Williams.Murray, who serves as the forums treasurer, said he expects to send out solicitations in the near future asking potential corporate, union and other donors for pledges worth about $10,000 each to participate.The founders say they are sensitive to keeping the research forum in line with the Blue Dogs principles of fiscal conservatism. Other Member-affiliated organizations such as the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation have drawn scrutiny over their fundraising techniques and ties to donors.While political action committees associated with Congressional caucuses are subject to federal election contribution limits, nonprofit groups and charities are allowed to collect unlimited amounts of money from corporations, labor unions and trade associations.Were going to make sure this doesnt evolve into a social organization, Murray said. Were going to keep our nose to the grindstone and make sure this is very policy-oriented.This is not going to turn into a golf boondoggle, he added.The research forums main purpose will be to produce a series of roundtable discussions and programs, according to the board members.The group plans to bring together journalists, association, union and think tank members along with Members of Congress to determine what issues are relevant in the near term. A larger forum will follow in the next couple of months. Transcripts of the forums will be available online to non-members of the group.A lot of ideas dont get to see the light of day, said Greer, former chief of staff to Blue Dog Rep. Allen Boyd (Fla.). We want to give them a place to breathe.
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.