Sunday Not So Super for Pols

Posted January 30, 2008 at 6:35pm

The Super Bowl isn’t the schmoozing, fundraising and business opportunity it once was for Members of Congress, party committees and the K Street set.

Before the passage of campaign finance reform and strengthened ethics rules in recent years, campaign committees found the Super Bowl an ideal place to woo big donors, who often cut huge checks at parties arranged to coincide with the festivities.


But with the New England Patriots set to take on the New York Giants in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday, an informal survey of the various party committees, lobbyists and Congressional offices in Massachusetts, New York and Arizona turned up few Super Bowl-related activities.


In fact, it seems that about the most exciting Super Bowl event that any member of the Arizona delegation will be attending this weekend will be Rep. Ed Pastor’s (D-Ariz.) participation in a remote ringing of the New York Stock Exchange’s closing bell, which will take place in Glendale on Friday afternoon.


One Capitol Hill Republican said this week that the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 and the strengthened ethics and lobbying rules passed last year have made lavish Super Bowl fundraising events not only a possible ethics land mine, but also not worth the effort.


“These days, the expense of doing something versus what you can raise doesn’t justify the cost,” the Republican said. “Plus, people are scared of breaking all the new ethics rules. There’s just an added confusion of what you can and can’t do.”


Another explanation proffered by several Capitol Hill press flacks this week is that the intense presidential primary season, highlighted by next week’s Super Tuesday showdown — Arizona, New York and Massachusetts are among the 22 states voting — has politicians focusing their time and efforts elsewhere.


But Charley Manning, a Republican media consultant in Massachusetts — and no relation to the Giants’ starting quarterback, Eli Manning — offered one other explanation for the dearth of Congressional Super Bowl events, at least in the Bay State.


With the Patriots on the verge of being only the second team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl after a perfect season (and the first team to do it since the 16-game regular season schedule was put in place), Manning contends that Sunday’s game will be far more important to Massachusetts voters than any brand of politics could be.


In fact, Manning said, any candidate trying to gain some political leverage off of Sunday’s game could risk losing more votes than he or she might gain on such an important night for Patriots fans.


Lobbyists said that in many cases they are steering their clients clear of hosting and attending fundraisers and other events connected with the Super Bowl to avoid press scrutiny.


Like most lobbyists, Ari Storch, the co-chairman of Artemis Strategies, said his clients and colleagues won’t be doing anything surrounding the Super Bowl this year.


“Everybody’s decided to scrub it,” said Storch, who has attended the big game in the past. “It was about the ethics rules. So many people feel like they’re walking on eggshells.”


Martin Gold, a lobbyist at Covington & Burling, has represented the National Football League for nearly 25 years. Although he is planning to go to the game, he said times have changed.


“In past years, several of the party political committees made use of the Super Bowl as a fundraising venue, but that practice died out,” he said. “It’s not being done this year.”


Gold added that his work at the game will include meetings with NFL officials.


“You do hope you have a good time, but it is work,” said Gold, who hasn’t missed a Super Bowl since 1993. “We have meetings and things like that.”


While Members of Congress might not view the Super Bowl as a fundraising bonanza any longer, not every politically oriented group is keeping its coffers closed on Sunday.


The grass-roots organization Mobilize.org, a nonprofit that focuses on youth voter issues such as college costs, is hosting a $10-per-person event at Washington, D.C., pub Sign of the Whale.


David Smith, Mobilize.org’s executive director, said his group wants to encourage civic and political engagement among younger voters.


“This year it’s going to be even more exciting because of the timing of the Super Bowl and Super Tuesday,” Smith said. Mobilize is “all-partisan” he said, with participants generally favoring Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).


For some lobbyists, business and partisan ties will be the last thing on their minds when watching Sunday’s game. Lobbyist and New England fan Tom Hogan, a Rhode Island native, said watching his Patriots potentially make history with an undefeated season will be too much pressure to bear.


“I have to watch it alone so I can pace and use language unbecoming of a lobbyist, particularly against any New York team!” Hogan wrote in an e-mail.