Lobbyists’ Dollars Still Flowing

Posted February 9, 2009 at 6:23pm

The schism in the Democratic Party over whether to accept campaign contributions from lobbyists and political action committees is continuing into the 2010 cycle.

The DNC is sticking to its 2008 election cycle pledge not to take money from federal lobbyists or PACs, DNC spokeswoman Stacie Paxton said.

But the House and Senate Democratic campaign committees are still happy to receive dollars from lobbyists and PACs, according to more than a dozen Democratic lobbyists.

“I haven’t seen any change,” said Rich Gold, head of Holland & Knight’s public policy and regulation practice. “We do a fair amount for both committees. I don’t see that changing.”

Andrew Lowenthal of Porterfield & Lowenthal agrees.

“I certainly have gotten [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] solicitations,” Lowenthal said. “I haven’t noticed any diminishing of Senators seeking participation in their fundraising efforts.”

The DSCC declined to comment on its fundraising policies. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did not return several calls or e-mails asking for comment on the subject.

But lobbyists’ involvement in campaign committee fundraising is hardly a secret.

Last week, for example, Quinn Gillespie & Associates held its annual DSCC fundraiser, a Feb. 3 event at Charlie Palmer Steak that raised $375,000, according to Manuel Ortiz of Quinn Gillespie.

DSCC Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.), Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Kay Hagan (N.C.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) were all in attendance, Ortiz said.

One major reason encouraging the campaign committees to take checks from lobbyists and PACs may be the large debts that they have left over from the 2008 cycle.

The two Democratic campaign committees ended 2008 with a combined $27 million in debt — $16 million for the DCCC and $11 million for the DSCC, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

Lobbyists and corporations donated tens of thousands of dollars in 2008.

The DCCC had more than 300 lobbyists and companies contribute to its coffers; the DSCC received funds from more than 200 lobbyists and corporations last year, according to Senate records.

First-quarter 2009 PAC and lobbyist contributions to the committees will not be known until the FEC reports are filed March 31.

The DNC’s decision to stick with its policy of not taking lobbyist and PAC money under its new chairman, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, didn’t surprise or upset K Streeters.

“I don’t think anybody cares about the DNC,” one Democratic lobbyist said. “What can the DNC do for you, especially when a presidential is four more years away? Our efforts are still very welcome, requested and solicited on a regular basis by the legislative branch.”

But the divide between the campaign committees and the DNC has nonetheless been noted.

In particular, lobbyists say they are frustrated by the continued implication that they — and by extension their contributions — are somehow tainted.

“Are they going to ask Members of Congress not to take money?” asked David Wenhold, president of the American League of Lobbyists. “If you are doing this as a party stance, then it should be across the board.”

Across the aisle, the Republican National Committee and the House and Senate Republican campaign committees have always accepted PAC and lobbyist money, and they have no plans to change.

Several GOP lobbyists were skeptical of the DNC’s high road.

“Shaking down Washington lobbyists while the leader of your party is denouncing the very same practice is not change, it’s hypocrisy,” one Republican strategist said.