Blue Dog Lobbyists: Now With Bite

Posted January 19, 2007 at 5:47pm

When lobbyist Jeff Murray and his firm, the C2 Group, held a reception earlier this month to honor Members of the conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition on the occasion of their swearing-in for the new Congress, the event drew a crowd of 300.

That’s six times the number it was two years ago, Murray said.

The increase is a clear sign of the business community’s redoubled affection for the Blue Dogs, a group that lobbyists for corporate America view as a natural ally in the Democratic-controlled Congress. The Blue Dog Coalition is best known for its fiscal conservatism, though its members also have bucked the Democratic Party on business and social issues.

The network of former Blue Dogs and their one-time aides now working on K Street, such as Murray, is relatively small. But those lobbyists say that their clients are seeking closer ties to the Blue Dogs, hoping that the conservative Democrats will influence how their party oversees business policy, ranging from an upcoming farm bill to energy policy.

“On every issue that comes up, I am having clients ask, ‘Where are the Blue Dogs on this?’” said Quinn Gillespie & Associates lobbyist Bruce Andrews, a former aide to Blue Dog Rep. Tim Holden (D-Pa.).

Former Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas), a one-time Blue Dog who’s now a lobbyist at the law firm Arnold & Porter, said clients are telling him that they’ve “been dealing with Republicans” in recent years but now want to “get acquainted with the Blue Dogs.”

Blue Dogs meet every Tuesday at 5 p.m. when Congress is in session. Former Members who are now lobbyists are still welcome to attend — potentially a crucial perk for clients.

“‘Once a Blue Dog, always a Blue Dog’ is the motto,” said former Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-Texas), who is now a senior policy adviser at the firm Olsson Frank and Weeda. “Once you get in the kennel, they don’t tend to kick you out.”

“For a group of members that receive so much attention, the lobbying community that is closely identified with them is surprisingly small,” said Murray of the C2 Group, who worked for then-Rep. Bill Brewster (D-Okla.) and then later for another Blue Dog member, Rep. Bud Cramer (D-Ala.).

The Blue Dogs have planned their policy retreat next month to begin immediately after the Democratic retreat. In the past, former Members who were Blue Dogs also could participate, but Vickie Walling, chief of staff to Blue Dog Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.), said this tradition may now be curbed due to recent changes in lobbying and ethics rules.

“There’s a little bit of nervousness because of that,” Walling said. “We’re not sure if legally we can do that now.”

The business community sees in the Blue Dogs an opportunity to pick off majority votes, but lobbyists closest to the coalition say that today’s breed of Blue Dog is more loyal to their party and more likely to influence the debate from the inside.

“The business community sees the Blue Dogs as having an open-door policy — open minds and open ears to their proposals,” said former Blue Dog and Rep. Max Sandlin (D-Texas), who’s now a lobbyist with Fleishman-Hillard Government Relations. “At the same time, the Blue Dogs are a part of the Democratic Caucus and certainly are going to work in the confines of the Democratic majority and try to work from within to try to influence legislation.”

A dozen years ago, a small group of conservative Democrats — some of whom later switched parties, including then-Rep. Billy Tauzin (La.) — began to meet, bound together by a belief in balanced budgets. In the early years, they sometimes holed up in Brewster’s office.

“He literally had animal hunting trophies on the wall, and we were surrounded by ammunition,” Andrews recalled. “It was a group who came together out of self-protection.”

Federalist Group lobbyist Gordon Taylor, who was chief of staff to then-Rep. (and Blue Dog) Chris John (D-La.), recalled that in the early years the Blue Dogs also held their meetings at the same time as the Democratic Caucus meetings. Taylor said that his boss, along with other Blue Dog members such as Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), urged the coalition to become an alternative voice within the Caucus itself instead of an alternative to it.

“You can’t have an effective conversation if you’re on the outside of the door,” Taylor said.

Stenholm, a former co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, now represents a number of clients in the agriculture sector. He said that since so many Blue Dogs are on the House Agriculture Committee, it bodes well for his lobbying business as Congress negotiates a farm bill reauthorization this year.

“The Blue Dog clout has been increased dramatically because many of the freshman Democrats are Blue Dogs,” Stenholm said. (There are now 43 Blue Dogs.) “Therefore the agenda for the 110th Congress is going to naturally go toward the center.”

Blue Dogs also serve on the House’s most powerful committees, including Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce. And one former Blue Dog staffer, Ed Lorenzen, now is an aide in the office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Other former Blue Dog staffers who now lobby include Francis Creighton of the Mortgage Bankers Association; Beau Schuyler, a principal at Parven Pomper Schuyler, a new firm that focuses on lobbying moderate and conservative Democrats such as the Blue Dogs; Jason Cole, a lobbyist with UBS; and Monique Frazier, a lobbyist for HSBC, among others.

“We actually have former Members and staff downtown, which is something that hasn’t ordinarily been the case,” said Walling of Tanner’s office. The Blue Dogs, she added, “as a whole, are probably more business friendly, but business like any other group has to make a viable case. One thing I’ll say about the Blue Dogs that I’ve been impressed with for a long, long time, is they’ll always allow you to come in and talk to them.”