On two nights this week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will rub shoulders with lobbyists and power brokers representing some of Washington’s biggest political interests in an early effort to bolster his 2014 treasury.
As President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner huddle in an effort to avert the fiscal cliff, the Kentucky Republican is bulking up his campaign coffers this week with back-to-back fundraising dinners just blocks from the Capitol.
The twin events — in which PACs are asked to contribute $2,500 and individuals $1,000 to secure a seat — are being hosted by major players in the energy, transportation, pharmaceutical, and financial industries, among others, according to invitations posted by the Sunlight Foundation. On both Monday and Tuesday, the evening events are slated to begin with a 30-minute reception, followed by a more formal 7 o'clock dinner.
McConnell’s reelection is still two years away, but the burst of early fundraising is a sign of how seriously he is taking his 2014 campaign. McConnell sits atop the Democratic target list in the next election and he is determined to discourage a formidible challenger from entering the race. Actress Ashley Judd has been among the potential Democratic candidates who has flirted with a run.
Jesse Benton, McConnell’s campaign manager, said in an e-mail that the senator was “prepared to raise the resources necessary to execute a presidential-level campaign in Kentucky.”
“Every left-wing group in Washington has targeted him so they can try to ram through their agendas and it is important we are well-prepared to fight back," Benton wrote.
As of the end of September, McConnell had already banked $6.8 million for his race. But he appears unsatisfied with that sum: The 70-year old politician held his first check-collecting event of the 2014 cycle less than 24 hours after the polls had closed in last month's election. It was a dinner and reception at the Senate GOP campaign headquarters.
This week’s fundraising events are well-timed for special interests and lobbyists looking for insight or an advantage in the ongoing fiscal-cliff negotiations. News about the Senate GOP leader’s openness to hiking tax rates on the wealthy, for instance, leaked out of a McConnell dinner with lobbyists last week.
“This is the prototypical access buying,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group in favor of strict contribution limits. “It certainly appears to a reasonable person that those interests that can afford to sponsor a fundraiser certainly get inside information and a chance to share their view at a critical time.”
Though McConnell has largely taken a backseat to Boehner in the fiscal-cliff talks, he remains one of the most crucial Washington players in any potential accord. His blessing would be necessary on any deal to avert the automatic spending cuts and taxes set to take effect on Jan. 2.
McConnell is not the only lawmaker holding Washington-area fundraisers this week, according to the Sunlight Foundation. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., is holding a Wednesday luncheon near the Capitol and Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., has scheduled a duck-hunting expedition in Maryland. Fincher’s fundraiser and office did not immediately return calls about whether that event was still taking place, as Congress remains in session.
As for McConnell, the political committees of several major companies and groups are hosting Monday’s gathering, according to the invitation. They include Amgen, Home Depot, Delta Airlines, the United for Health PAC, the Southern Company Employees PAC, the Ford Motor Company Civic Action Fund, the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America PAC, and the Capital One Financial Corp. Assoc. Political Fund.
The Tuesday dinner and reception counts among its hosts the PAC of Koch Industries, the giant company owned by leading GOP financiers and brothers Charles and David Koch. The Koch brothers invested millions in losing efforts to unseat Obama and win the Senate for Republicans in 2012. The other listed hosts for Tuesday’s dinner are a group of lobbyists and influence-brokers with ties to telecom behemoth AT&T: Tim McKone, Ward White, Dan Mattoon, and Dan Gans.
Proceeds from both fundraisers will go to the “McConnell Victory Kentucky” fund, a new joint committee that the veteran Republican created in November so he could simultaneously raise money both for his reelection and the Kentucky Republican Party.
Both receptions and dinners will take place in the office building of Washington lobbyist Rick Murphy, whose firm counts among its clients Google and tobacco giant Altria. McConnell’s campaign rents space in the building, paying Murphy $750 per month, federal campaign records show.
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