Departing D.C., Members Grab for the Gold

Posted July 31, 2008 at 6:09pm

If you thought this was a grueling week on Capitol Hill, take a look at K Street. Not only did the downtown set have to deal with last-minute legislative maneuvering, but lobbyists also faced multiple threats to their wallets: Members, in a late crunch before skipping town for the August recess, took a last opportunity to hit up the influence sector.

Lobbyists turned over their office suites for receptions, they packed rooms at upscale haunts such as Charlie Palmer Steak, and they crammed into dives like the burger joint Billy Goat Tavern. The fundraising pressure was especially strong from Democrats.

The House GOP held 30 events this week, while on Wednesday, Democratic House candidates alone held more than 30 events, according to the parties’ fundraising lists.

“It’s sort of like pre-exam week in college. Everybody at the last minute decides they have to spend the last week studying,” said Democratic lobbyist and fundraiser Steve Elmendorf, who runs Elmendorf Strategies. “This always happens the week before a recess or filing deadline, where people just load up with events. You could do breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee and dessert. You could go to concerts.” Or wine tastings or even poker night.

“There’s breakfast, lunch, cocktails and dinner opportunities galore,” GOP lobbyist Tim Locke of the Smith-Free Group said on Thursday after hosting a fundraising luncheon for Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.). “This is the time of year when you just scurry around.”

The Democratic lineup included a defense industry breakfast with Rep. John Murtha (Pa.) for Rep. Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) at the Hyatt Regency, a luncheon with Rep. John Dingell (Mich.) to benefit Rep. Edolphus Towns (N.Y.), and an evening reception for candidate Jon Powers, who is running in New York’s 26th district, that included hosts House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.).

Rep. Paul Hodes (N.H.) invited supporters to kick off the week on Monday night with a Crosby, Stills & Nash concert at Wolf Trap.

For Republicans, the week kicked off Monday with a poker night for Sen. David Vitter (La.) hosted by Steve Hart of Williams & Jensen and Kyle McSlarrow, head of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. On Tuesday, lobbyists feted Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) with a wine tasting to benefit his re-election. On the House side, Club 218, a group of young Republican lobbyists, along with Rep. Adam Putnam (Fla.), hosted a reception at the Capitol Hill Club for Rep. Dave Reichert (Wash.) and Darren White, a candidate for a New Mexico House seat.

The fundraising push peaked Thursday with at least 10 events at the Capitol Hill Club, according to Dan Mattoon of Mattoon & Associates.

“This is the last gasp here in Washington until September,” Mattoon said. “Some Members are going to start running paid media in August and September, so they are bulking up to have as much as possible in their campaign accounts.”

With 11 primary contests in August, there has also been a push to bank money for those.

“The entire year has been like that,” said Kenneth Kies, head of Federal Policy Group. “It’s the most aggressive fundraising environment I’ve ever seen. I get 20 to 30 e-mails a day.”

That can translate into a lot of events in one day. For Jade West, senior vice president of government relations at the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, the fundraising frenzy meant trekking to several events after a day trip to give a legislative presentation in South Carolina.

“I have seen the same people over and over this week at events,” West said, likening the environment to Keystone Kops.

“It’s been a pretty hectic fundraising week as Members close out the session before August recess,” said Democrat Josh Ackil, a partner in the tech lobbying firm Franklin Square Group. He noted that K Street has showed enthusiasm for Democratic challengers and the party’s candidates in open seats, giving even more fundraising competition to incumbent Democrats looking to raise money.

“I can’t wait to take a break during August,” Ackil said.

But the first couple of weeks in August are likely to be a temporary calm. Lobbyists attending the political conventions will have plenty of invitations to events and fundraisers.

And with Congress expected to be in session just three weeks in September, lobbyists are expecting an even crazier fundraising schedule when they get back.

“It’s really been a double impact,” said mCapitol Management lobbyist Patrick Murphy, who hosted a reception at his home this week for Democrat Dan Seals, a candidate for the 10th district seat in Illinois. “Everyone’s pushing for the end of the month, and the next big push will be September.”