Congress’ Wary Outreach to K St.
The House Republican whip operation, which during its 12 years in the majority relied on lobbyists to help it line up votes on a raft of bills, has a new outreach coordinator as it begins life in the minority. Kyle Nevins, an aide to Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), has taken over the office’s coalitions portfolio that links the GOP vote-counting unit with its allies on K Street.
On the other side of the aisle, the majority party is working to ramp up its own outreach efforts with not only business interests but unions and consumer groups as well. On Thursday, plugged-in K Street Democrats met with staffers for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
But, lobbyists say, Members from both parties have scheduled few big meetings with lobbyists this Congress. That’s in part because the outreach operations are just getting off the ground with new staffers such as Nevins and Mike Hacker, a former Quinn Gillespie & Associates lobbyist who recently joined the Democratic whip team to do coalitions.
But it’s also a function of a Congress that began with new lobbying ethics rules and ongoing, critical attention to the intersection of K Street and Congress.
On the Republican side, the fewer and smaller meetings also are part of being in the minority, said GOP lobbyists.
Nevins, who could not be reached for comment through Blunt’s office, has organized a few small coalitions meetings — with a handful of insider lobbyists such as former Blunt Chief of Staff Gregg Hartley of Cassidy & Associates — that are targeted more toward specific issues “to get the feel of where an industry is,” said one lobbyist familiar with the meetings.
Nevins also has sent lobbyists e-mails with updates on floor action and legislative timing, but the effort won’t look like it did when Republicans were in the majority. For one, snagging an invite to a GOP whip meeting might not be the hot ticket that it was in the past when lobbyists took on roles as adjunct whips during big legislative battles.
“When you’re in the minority, you have less knowledge of what’s going on, so House Republicans will play more a role in messaging,” said one Republican lobbyist. “The combination of being in the minority and stricter ethics rules will certainly diminish the attendance and the stature of the people who go.”
That said, this lobbyist added, “still a lot of people will go because they want to stay connected.” And lobbyists said Nevins is a good fit for the task.
Nevins is “very knowledgeable and approachable, and he certainly communicates the message of his team,” said Information Technology Industry Council lobbyist Ralph Hellmann, a former aide to then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.)
But momentum has shifted to the Democrats. Lobbyists are eager to get invited to private groups with majority lawmakers or key aides for many of the same reasons Republicans used to relish the GOP whip meetings: to brag about the meetings to their clients.
The outreach efforts also have practical purposes for Members and staff.
Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic lobbyist, said that all the Democratic offices have outreach operations and “the more points of contact, the better.”
“If you’re going to bring legislation to the floor, they need to be getting all the intelligence they can get,” he said. “The worst possible thing is to find out that the AFL just sent a letter on it or that the [National Rifle Association] did and you’re going to lose votes. You just can’t get enough information.”
As for attendance at GOP meetings, another Republican lobbyist said his colleagues might worry because “there are always the spies in the room. Someone from some association or company goes and tells [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Hoyer’s folks who all these people are who are working against you. This is a rough town.”
Republicans aren’t the only ones who worry about word getting out. Democratic lobbyists who attended the meeting Thursday with Hoyer’s aides said they were told not to discuss the meeting publicly. And a regular Friday meeting with Pelosi top aide John Lawrence and lobbyists has not taken place this Congress.
“I think they’re just too busy,” said one Democratic lobbyist. “They’re still figuring out what they’re doing. I think it’s a pain having to deal with lobbyists downtown. Lobbyists have a very hard time taking off their lobbying hats and putting on their Democratic hat. They bitch about their clients, and then they talk to reporters about the meeting.”
But this lobbyist said, “you do need to have some kind of structure” because lobbyists are the ones raising campaign money.