K Street Outreach Project

Some GOP Lobbyists Donating Campaign Cash to Democrats

Posted April 24, 2007 at 6:06pm

Are K Street Republicans going purple?

While corporate political action committees have been busy adjusting to the new reality on Capitol Hill by shoveling campaign money to Democrats, a subtler sign of the times may be emerging: Some GOP lobbyists are opening their own wallets for top Congressional Democrats.

In the past two months, a pair of K Street titans — U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue and Business Roundtable President John Castellani — have both cut checks to the presidential campaign of Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.). So has Matt Kirk, who a year ago left his job as President Bush’s top Senate lobbyist to run the Washington, D.C., office of The Hartford Financial Services Group.

And Dodd isn’t the only gavel-wielding Democrat to attract Republican dollars. House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) — whose prospective leadership of the panel became a campaign issue last year when Republicans tried to use it to leverage business donations — also has found some support from top GOP lobbyists.

Nancy Dorn, a former aide to Vice President Cheney and then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) who now lobbies for General Electric, gave $1,000 to Rangel’s re-election account in October. H. Stewart Van Scoyoc, a Republican who has built one of the largest lobbying shops in the city, contributed $1,500 in February.

For Republicans who did fork over campaign cash, their contributions to Democrats were the exceptions to solid personal giving to their own party. Castellani, for example, whose organization represents chief executives of top corporations, also contributed $2,300 to the presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R). A spokesman said he contributed to both Romney and Dodd because they are the candidates “who have best articulated and supported policies that will promote economic growth and job creation.”

And when it comes to their own money, most Republican lobbyists are avoiding Democrats altogether. More than 30 top Republicans downtown have given no money to the new majority so far this year, according to a Roll Call review of Federal Election Commission records.

But several Democratic lobbyists said they’ve seen other evidence that their Republican counterparts are edging onto their turf.

Since the elections, they said, Republicans have started crowding Democratic fundraising events. Whether they are there on their own dime is unclear — and the more likely case is that, like Democrats, they use corporate PAC money to pay the price of admission. And some GOP consultants are volunteering to tackle assignments in Democratic Congressional offices.

“It’s just clear many Republicans are seeing the need to spend more time with Democrats,” one Democratic lobbyist said.

Republicans lobbyists who have been reaching across the aisle said the practice simply makes sense for their clients. As a result, Republican lobbyist Tim Rupli has nearly split his fundraising energy this year, hosting 12 events for Republican lawmakers and 10 for Democrats.

“We’re advancing our clients’ agenda. The idea that being a political partisan is a requirement for that, to me, is absolutely absurd,” Rupli said. “I just think that parties have become far less important than individual Members. And I think there are some great individual Members.”

The practice was not unheard of for Republicans even when their party controlled both sides of the Capitol. Most often, veteran GOP lobbyists said they developed connections with Democratic lawmakers on the basis of personal friendships, common views on particular policy items, or both.

GOP lobbyist Dan Mattoon said he consistently contributed to Democratic Reps. John Dingell (Mich.) and Rick Boucher (Va.), long before the November power switch installed them into leadership positions on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “They’re two friends and I was supportive of them because they were supportive of issues I cared about,” he said.

Mattoon, who recently launched his own firm after splitting from longtime partner Tony Podesta, said he hasn’t ruled out expanding his circle of Democratic beneficiaries to include freshmen.

The new attitude has been on display elsewhere in recent weeks. Just this week, former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, signed up to help host a fundraiser for New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), his former House colleague now running for president.

One Republican lobbyist said that while corporate and trade association lobbyists deserve some slack to maneuver in their employers’ best interests, contract consultants who benefited from years of GOP rule should not turn their backs on the party now. “People who were wearing their Republican hat when everything was wonderful should not all of a sudden try to be something they’re not, and at the expense of people who are your friends,” he said.