K Street Files: GOP Redoubt to Hold Democratic Fundraiser

Posted October 22, 2008 at 6:23pm

It’s tough out there being a Republican on K Street. With Democrats looking for major gains in Congress and Democratic presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) leading in the polls, some GOPers are now doing the unthinkable: sidling up to Democrats at a “Mark Warner for Senate” fundraiser.

[IMGCAP(1)]The Democratic Senatorial candidate has garnered much attention downtown, but Monday’s upcoming breakfast fundraiser has raised eyebrows because of the cadre of Republicans sponsoring the event.

The list of 10 co-hosts, all lobbyists with BGR Holding, the formerly all-Republican lobby shop, include former Bush White House aide Eric Burgeson; Lanny Griffith, who worked in the George H.W. Bush White House; Ed Rogers, who was an aide to Bush and Ronald Reagan; and Bob Wood, who served as chief of staff to former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

The firm’s two Democrats were also on the invite: David DiMartino, the former deputy chief of staff to Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Michael Meehan, the former chief of staff for Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

The co-hosts for the event at BGR’s Pennsylvania Avenue office are expected to contribute $5,000.

A swing toward schmoozing Democrats might be inevitable, but several Republican lobbyists said they were surprised that the longtime Republicans would be so bold as to put their names on the invitation.

“To try to pivot to supporting a Democrat is disingenuous,” one Republican lobbyist said of the invite. “Nobody is fooled by this action.”

BGR isn’t making any apologies.

This is the firm’s second Democratic fundraiser since hiring Meehan earlier this year. The first was for Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D).

“The firm’s committed to becoming bi-partisan,” said Meehan, who heads BGR’s public relations operation and is a neighbor of Warner’s. “I came here in March and at that time the BGR PAC had given only to Republicans. Hopefully by Election Day it will be 50-50.”

Meehan says the firm also has plans to add several more Democrats to its ranks.

Looks like BGR’s going to be seeing a lot more blue.

Bailout Lobbying Ban. Financial institutions taking part in the $750 billion bailout may already have been swallowing hard under the conditions set forth by the Treasury Department, especially those limiting executive compensation.

But Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is trying to make their lives just a little bit tougher. Feinstein announced earlier this week that she will introduce legislation that will prohibit rescued companies from using taxpayer dollars for lobbying.

Feinstein’s office has yet to lay out an actual legislative proposal, but so far those within the lobbying community aren’t too worried. Even watchdog groups were skeptical of whether the legislation would have any teeth to stop the firms from lobbying.

“Policing this policy is a very serious question,” said Craig Holman of Public Citizen. “In fact there has been a law to this effect for almost a century where government funds are not supposed to be used for lobbying Congress, but the law has been widely ignored.”

Holman says that while he would encourage Feinstein’s legislation, it could very easily be bypassed if companies set up separate entities.

Other lobbyists pointed to the Byrd Amendment, which is a similar provision already on the books that forbids organizations that take federally appropriated dollars to use that money to lobby.

“We are evaluating all current statutes but, thus far, we have not identified language that is specifically applicable to financial firms receiving rescue funds as part of this unprecedented program at Treasury,” Feinstein spokesman Gil Duran said.

The Senator’s staff is drafting the legislation. Duran said it should be ready no later than next session, leaving the door open for the bill to be introduced during the coming lame-duck session.

It is unclear how Feinstein’s legislation might affect trade organizations such as the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, whose primary purpose is to lobby on behalf of financial-services companies. SIFMA declined to comment.

This isn’t the first time lawmakers have tried to gin up support to increase registration requirements for lobbyists. This summer, Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) announced legislation that would tighten disclosure requirements for foreign corporate clients.

The legislation, which is also backed by Democratic White House contender Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), would require lobbyists to disclose and report any activities on behalf of foreign corporations to the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Putting Stock in Democrats. Citi has promoted Democratic lobbyist Jimmy Ryan, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), to senior vice president of federal government affairs. He will head Citi’s federal government affairs division along with Republican Heather Wingate, who previously did not share the title. Both report directly to Nick Calio, who is executive vice president for global government affairs.

Over at J.P. Morgan, Naomi Camper, also a Democrat, was promoted to head of federal government affairs.

Up in New York, Chase Vice President Tom Block, who is not currently a lobbyist and said he claims no party affiliation, is leaving the firm to start his own consulting practice.

“My thought is to try to start my own consulting business — not lobbying, but more Washington strategies,” he said, adding that he will remain based in New York. “There’s been a lot of interest from clients on issues ranging from the financial issues to tax policy and what the government’s going to look like after November.”

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