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K Streeters Launch Blue Dog Nonprofit

Walling, the former chief of staff to leading Blue Dog Rep. John Tanner (Tenn.), has worked closely with the Blue Dogs during her 36 years as a Congressional aide. She said the nonprofit comes as bipartisan cooperation hits an all-time low.“We are really going to work hard to put together the kind of forums and information to be helpful to start finding the sweet spot or centrist approach,” Walling said.There are several Member-affiliated nonprofits, including the CBC Foundation and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.Ethics lawyers said setting up such a group brings a certain amount of public relations risk, giving fuel to critics — including political opponents — who charge that Members of Congress are too closely tied to lobbyists and corporate interests.“It’s not the most popular thing,” said Covington & Burling lawyer Rob Kelner, a campaign finance and lobbying expert.But the forum’s founders say the current political environment — where Blue Dogs are facing tough re-elections and partisan politics are dominating the political discussion — makes it the right time to start an organization that is focused on policy solutions for fiscal and national debt issues as well as energy and health care.The research forum is not the first organization to attempt to be the incubator for centrist political ideas. In the mid-1980s, Al From started the Democratic Leadership Council as a place to come up with a set of ideas that would move the Democratic party to the middle.“It’s pretty well-known the difficulties the Congress and the House are having because of the polarization,” Stenholm said of the reason he and his K Street colleagues decided to form the group. “It can be very helpful now to have experts from various entities that might be perceived as centrist to give them an opportunity to discuss those [ideas] and present those ideas to Congress.”The foundation is set up as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit. While its tax status means that contributions are not tax deductible for donors, Blue Dogs tend to be money magnets.The Blue Dog political action committee has raised $1.8 million so far this election cycle. The PAC raised $2.6 million in the 2008 cycle.The research forum will not lobby, but the tax status gives it more flexibility if the group decides to broaden its mission in the future, according to Murray.And for now, the research forum will not have any staff.“We want to slow grow this so that we are careful about where we go,” said Cramer, who was elected to a two-year term as president of the nonprofit.

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