Lobbyists Ski, Hit the Beach With Lawmakers
A New Congress Equals Lots of Schmoozing and Networking for Members of the Influence Industry
Lobbyist Missy Edwards will be up in the air this month hopping from Senate fundraising events in posh resorts such as Park City, Utah, and Palm Beach, Fla.
More grounded, Marc Lampkin, a lobbyist with Quinn Gillespie & Associates, donned his comfortable rubber-soled shoes last week to protect his weary feet as he shuttled between welcome receptions on Capitol Hill.
For K Street executives such as Edwards and Lampkin, the new Congress means more schmoozing and networking as they seek access to the unusually large crop of freshmen as well as to veteran Members who will be key in crafting legislation.
The lobbyists scurried to make initial introductions, however brief, to many in the new Republican class at the multitude of events held opening week.
But many K Streeters also are paying for more serious face time with lawmakers, who have scheduled winter weekend getaway fundraisers around the country at ski and beach resorts.
“It’s kind of like back to school,” said Edwards, a Republican who last year launched her own firm, Missy Edwards Strategies.
Edwards, whose clients include the Real Estate Roundtable, Genentech and Biomass Power Association, noted last week on her Facebook page that she had 35 parties scheduled to attend on Capitol Hill on the opening day of Congress.
In a phone interview, Edwards said she never made it to most of the receptions because she was hobbling around as a result of a recent skiing injury.
Edwards described the events as “understated” and “very basic,” and added that there wasn’t talk of the pressing issues facing the Congress.
But there will be more opportunity for extended conversations with fellow lobbyists and lawmakers at fundraisers that have been planned around the country in coming months.
Edwards planned to fly to Park City this past weekend, Jan. 7 through 9, for a fundraiser for Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) at the Deer Valley Resort. Also on her itinerary is an event in Palm Beach hosted by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) at the Breakers, a luxury beach-front resort that advertises moonlit massages and a 36-hole golf course.
One advantage of such weekend fundraisers away from home was that it gave her a chance to hang out with colleagues in a relaxed setting, Edwards said.
“For me, it is a good business opportunity,” she said.
Republicans aren’t the only ones hosting weekend fundraising getaways on the slopes.
This past weekend, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) had a fundraiser scheduled at a Vail ski resort, while Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) is planning a weekend ski trip in his home state at the Sugarbush resort from Feb. 11 through 13.
Also in February, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) is hosting “Winter Ski Fest” at Sun Valley Resort in Idaho, while Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) is having a “Weekend on the Slopes” at Beaver Creek Resort in Avon, Colo.
Not all lobbyists are frequent fliers. Lampkin said that while such far-flung events were enticing when he was young and single, he would rather stay closer to home on the weekends now that he has a family.
But the lobbyist and former aide to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is still working the reception circuit closer to home, hitting 20 events alone last week on Capitol Hill.
Lampkin said he was particularly focused on getting face time with staff and lawmakers who are on the Financial Services Committee, which handles issues important to his clients, including BlackRock Capital Management, Cayman Finance, Hilton Worldwide and Visa Inc.
“Knowing people and having them know you is the stock and trade for lobbyists,” he said. “At times, you feel like you are running for office.”
The welcome-to-the-Hill events, which are not fundraisers and are paid for by the Members’ campaigns, are largely intended for family and supporters who have traveled to Washington to celebrate the swearing-in of lawmakers. But the K Street crowd was well-represented at such venues, particularly for the reception honoring Boehner, according to one lobbyist.
“It was a who’s who of the Washington downtown crowd,” the lobbyist said.
Monica Notzon, a GOP fundraiser, said that over the years, lawmakers and political parties have become more creative in planning such events to continue to attract donors, who are deluged with money-raising solicitations.
“You have to figure out how to stand out,” Notzon said. She added that the weekend events at resorts are “really good networking opportunities” for those who work for corporations as well as industry associations.
But she suggested that there was too much focus on the lavish weekend fundraisers, and she said most of the events she planned were low-dollar “beer and barbecue” events.
Aside from attractive locations, other lawmakers schedule their fundraisers around splashy events. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, is hosting a Super Bowl luncheon Feb. 5 at the Palm restaurant in Washington.
Timing is also important, Notzon said. She urges her clients to refrain from holding fundraisers in the week that Congress returns.
“I advise my clients to give everybody a break,” she said, adding that the largely ceremonial first week of the new session “really shouldn’t be about money.”
Nevertheless, freshman Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) organized a fundraising event at the trendy W Hotel for a number of new Republican Members last week. The event featured country singer LeAnn Rimes.
The shindig drew criticism from campaign finance reform groups, who said that it underscored a business-as-usual attitude in Washington despite claims on the campaign trail by tea-party-backed candidates that they wanted to sweep away old practices.
The Public Campaign Action Fund, a campaign reform advocacy group, attacked the fundraiser with Rimes as “tone deaf.”
David Donnelly, the national campaigns director for the fund, was equally critical of the weekend fundraisers at ski and beach resorts. He said such events provide an opportunity for “relationship building” that is not available at the more routine wine-and-cheese fundraisers held in Washington.
“It really is a chance to spend quality time with Senators or Representatives,” he said, adding that average Americans don’t get such opportunities.
Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for Common Cause, said public interest groups — such as hers — are also interested in talking to the lawmakers.
“Unfortunately, we can’t afford a weekend at the Breakers,” she said.