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Revolving Door Dept.: It's a Lobbyists' Paradise in Washington

The oil industry is throwing a fund-raiser for a Senate candidate who sits on a congressional energy panel. And the lobbying firm representing several drug makers hosted a similar event for a former federal health official now running for Congress, earning a visit from President Bush's health policy chief.
Published on Thursday, March 25, 2004 by the Associated Press

It's a Lobbyists' Paradise in Washington

by Sharon Theimer

WASHINGTON - The oil industry is throwing a fund-raiser for a Senate candidate who sits on a congressional energy panel. And the lobbying firm representing several drug makers hosted a similar event for a former federal health official now running for Congress, earning a visit from President Bush's health policy chief.

Like flowers in spring, lobbyist-staged fund-raisers are cropping up all over the nation's capital. It's a timeworn tradition that enriches lawmakers' campaigns while giving those who seek influence a chance to bend the ears of decision-makers.

"We raise money for members of Congress because they become familiar with us as individuals and when you ask for time from them, they're more inclined to give it to you," said Louis Dupart, who estimates his lobbying firm will throw at least three-dozen fund-raisers this year.

Dupart's clients include Pennsylvania's Bucknell University on government spending, American Airlines on airport security issues, Constellation Energy on energy legislation and Verizon Communications on telecommunications policy.

Dupart was holding events this month for Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., chairman of the House appropriations committee and a member of the homeland security committee; Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., a member of the armed services and energy and commerce committees; and Rep. Ralph Regula of R-Ohio, who is on the House Appropriations Committee.

Several lobbyists told The Associated Press they need to raise at least $10,000 to lure a freshman lawmaker to one of their events, at least $15,000 for veterans and $50,000 for a congressional committee chairman or leader. And the longer a lawmaker stays, the more money they're expected to raise.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America Wildcatters Fund plans a $500-a-person breakfast next week to raise money for Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., a member of a House energy subcommittee. He is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Patty Murray.

"We're going to take every opportunity to educate members of Congress about the domestic energy industry," association spokesman Jeff Eshelman said.

The Brown-Forman/Lenox and Distilled Spirits Council political action committees held a $500-a-person, fund-raising luncheon last week to welcome a new congressman from bourbon-producing Kentucky, Democrat Ben Chandler. The event raised more than $30,000.

Guests at the events typically include clients or trade association members and their political action committees. As an incentive, invitations often advertise someone higher-ranking than the candidate as a special guest.

Former White House energy policy adviser Andrew Lundquist, now a lobbyist whose clients include the Exelon Corp. energy company, helped throw a fund-raiser for Nethercutt last week. White House Chief of Staff Andy Card headlined the $1,000-per-person event.

"We're going to be outspent in this race," Nethercutt campaign spokesman Alex Conant said, noting that Murray has also benefited from Washington, D.C., fund-raisers. "Clearly we're trying to get help from as many people as we can."

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson was a guest of honor at a March 9 fund-raiser at the lobbying firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers for former assistant health secretary Bobby Jindal, a Republican running for an open Louisiana House seat.

The firm's lobbyists include Thompson's former chief of staff, Bob Wood. The Direct Meds Inc. and DMS Pharmaceutical Group Inc. prescription drug delivery companies are among his clients.

Thompson was there to help Jindal, HHS spokesman Bill Pierce said: "He thinks he'd make a great member of Congress."

Jindal wanted a fund-raiser with Thompson, and Wood offered space at the Barbour firm, said Jindal campaign manager Timmy Teepell. The event raised $60,000.

The night of Jindal's event, Wexler & Walker lobbyists held a $1,000-a-person event for Missouri Democratic Senate candidate Nancy Farmer. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., was on the invitation as a special guest.

Walker worries fund-raisers are becoming one of few ways lobbyists can see members of Congress. Capitol access is restricted due to terrorism concerns. And, with corporate and union donations banned by a new law, lawmakers are pressing lobbyists to raise campaign money.

"They're not trying to shake anybody down," Walker said. "They're trying to get the resources they need inside the legitimate avenues available to them to run a campaign."

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