Democratic Donor Surge

In the Quest for Cash, Some Lobbyists Are Near Maxing Out

Posted May 4, 2007 at 6:19pm

If the personal campaign donations of K Street Democrats are any indication, lobbyists with ties to the party in control of Congress must have gotten huge raises this year. Fifteen of the top 20 most generous hired guns for the first quarter of this cycle gave all or most of their cash to Democratic candidates and party committees, while the remaining handful favored the GOP.

Larry O’Brien, a Democratic lobbyist at the OB-C Group who routinely gives the maximum amount to federal candidates, said he easily could have reached the cycle’s $108,200 limit by now. “I’ve never felt in the past, a situation like this where in the

first quarter of the first year of the cycle, I could’ve been tapped out,” said O’Brien, whose clients include Honeywell Inc. and Anheuser-Busch. “The volume of activity right at the onset of the cycle was just ferocious. There is no question I could have maxed out by now.”

O’Brien said he has started to pace himself to leave some money in reserve for next year.

Like other high-dollar donors, O’Brien already has cut huge checks to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Gerald Cassidy, the founder of Cassidy & Associates and the subject of a recent monthlong series of articles on washingtonpost.com, said he has given nearly $70,000 already in response to Democrats’ call for early money. In addition to giving a pair of $28,500 donations to the DCCC and the DSCC, he has contributed to the presidential campaigns of Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Joseph Biden (Del.).

“They’re both good friends, and they would both make outstanding presidents,” Cassidy said. As for the fast fundraising pace this cycle, he added, “I think we’re trying to capitalize on the momentum of the party. We’re going to need to be ahead financially going into ’08.”

Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which compiled the data for Roll Call, said the percentage of dollars flowing to Democrats from lobbyists is no surprise. “It’s fairly high,” she said, “but it’s not out of line with what we’re seeing for the first quarter. Democrats have an advantage.”

Some Democratic lobbyists, perhaps, are sharing with their party the personal wealth the 2006 elections have helped them earn. Both Steve Elmendorf and Julie Domenick started their own firms, Elmendorf Strategies and Multiple Strategies, respectively.

“My theory is that early money matters, and when you have momentum you should keep it up,” said Elmendorf, a top Democratic strategist whose clients include Ford Motor Co., Shell Oil Co., Home Depot and Microsoft. “There is pressure to give money in the first quarter and second quarter so that incumbents can hold off challengers.”

Domenick, who so far has given more than $60,000 to Democratic coffers, including a pair of $25,000 checks to the DSCC and the DCCC, said she expects to max out long before Election Day 2008.

“Particularly for the Frontline members and new Members, it’s important that they get early money,” she said. “That’s the Democratic strategy, and I totally support that.”

Some lobbyists spread a little money to both sides of the aisle. Richard Ladd, a Republican with the defense and military focused firm Robison International, said he gives to Members of either party who support national security and defense. So far this cycle, he has given $2,100 to Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) for Congress.

Some firms have more than one partner who has given generously. The Duberstein Group has three top givers: Democrats Steve Champlin and Michael Berman and Republican Henry Gandy. The PMA Group’s Melissa Koloszar and firm founder Paul Magliocchetti both made the list, while Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld’s Vic Fazio and Joel Jankowsky have burned through a few pens writing checks as well.

“I have a lot of Republican friends, but I don’t give them money,” said former Rep. Fazio (D-Calif.), who has given nearly $50,000 — all to Democrats. The early money, he said, helps the campaign committees to invest in new technology and to find new ways of reaching out to future donors.

While the top 20 list of lobby donors may be ruled by Democrats, it still includes longtime GOP stalwarts such as Ken Kies of the Federal Policy Group and Dan Mattoon, who started his own Mattoon & Associates in January.

Kies, who has given nearly $70,000 already, said he wouldn’t mind if Congress banned donations from lobbyists. “I’m waiting for that. Wouldn’t it be nice,” he said. He also has given to Democrats, including Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), who is a member of the Ways and Means Committee, and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee.

“I’ve always supported Democrats whose views were consistent with our clients,” said Kies, whose clients include General Electric, Bank of America and Caterpillar. Members of both parties, he said, “notice when people are giving their personal money, because Members, like everybody else, recognize that that’s a bigger sacrifice than showing up with someone else’s check.”

Kies acknowledged Democrats are more energized so far this cycle, but said there’s plenty of time for GOPers to catch up.

“Everybody should probably take a deep breath,” he said. “One shouldn’t draw too many sweeping conclusions from the first couple of months.”

Marnette Federis contributed to this report.