For Republican lobbyists, the meeting last December was a cross between a war dance and a pep rally. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and its House counterpart had invited dozens of K Street heavies to the NRSC’s headquarters on Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi and two other party luminaries issued the marching orders: Raise, in short order, $ 10 million in $ 100,000 chunks from corporate donors. The money would be reserved for issue advertising in closely contested congressional races. This time, the Republican leaders vowed, organized labor wouldn’t best them in issue-ad spending.
Listening to the drumbeat were some of the party’s top fund-raisers—Brenda Larsen Becker, of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association; Richard C. Creighton, president of the American Portland Cement Alliance; and other lobbyists from such groups as the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors. The assembled talent has raised tens of millions of dollars for Republican Party committees, leadership political action committees (PACs) and individual members of Congress.
The Democrats have their own stellar lineup of lobbyist- fund raisers. High on the list are Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., of Patton Boggs; Daniel A. Dutko, of the Dutko Group; and Rick Diegel, the political director of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Together with other top Democratic lobbyists, they have poured tens of millions of dollars into party coffers in recent years. Dutko and Boggs are trying to raise six-figure sums for Leadership ‘98, a new PAC initiated by Vice President Al Gore to get Democratic candidates elected this year.
The growing need for money has made lobbyists ”even more-central players,” says Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University and author of The New Fat Cats, a book on leadership PACs. ”I think it’s made the relationship between members and lobbyists much more intimate.” By dint of these fund-raising feats, many of these lobbyists have won the appreciation of their party leaders and forged personal ties that carry over into other aspects of their lobbying activities, Baker said.
Lobbyists have faced increasing demands to raise unregulated ”soft money” for issue ads, to steer more PAC dollars into party coffers and to help with fund-raisers for the spate of new leadership PACs. And since the passage of the gift- ban legislation in 1996, which limits a lobbyist’s opportunities to socialize with members, K Street has used party fund-raisers— including golf, tennis and ski outings—as their favored venues for mingling with their congressional contacts.
While many members bemoan the time they must devote to raising campaign cash, lobbyists often reap peripheral benefits from their activities. ”I don’t think that lobbyists mind the new pressures, because (the situation) solidifies their links with members,” said Kent Cooper, the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a group that tracks the influence of money in politics. Successful fund raisers ”instantly go to the front of the line,” when they call on Congress, he adds.
For some hired guns, Cooper says, this set of connections to officeholders ”is what they’re selling to clients.”
Certain of these lobbyists have become fund-raising majordomos because they can bring in enormous amounts of soft money. Others enter the golden circle because they command vast sums of hard dollars from their clients’ PACs. Still others are key players because they can do both. Many of these heavy hitters represent such deep-pocketed special interests as tobacco, insurance or trial lawyers.
”It’s become quicker, faster and harder because of the burden of doing so much and (with) the costs of campaigns going up,” notes Nicholas E. Calio, a name partner of O’Brien Calio. Calio has strong ties with House leaders and many blue-chip clients. He has been working to help both of the Republican congressional committees raise the $ 100,000 contribution targets.
The enormous demand for campaign funds has added an element of brazenness to the relations between Congress and K Street. Dutko says he gets calls from lawmakers he’s never met. ”There’s so much pressure on the members themselves to raise money, that it’s turned into a frenzy.”
For some members, the growth of fund raising by lobbyists only serves to underscore how unruly the election process has become and how necessary a reform of campaign finance seems to be. ”Lobbyists are getting hit every which way,” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif. ”I think the whole rush for more and more money has gotten out of control.” The New Fund-Raising World
For years, lobbyists have been vital cogs in campaign fund-raising operations, but in recent years their roles seem to have shifted, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Fund raising by lobbyists is not publicly disclosed, and precise numbers are not available. But more than three dozen interviews with party committee officials, outside consultants and lobbyists suggest there are higher stakes than ever in the fund-raising game, in which some K Streeters have emerged as major players. Indeed, since the Republican capture of Congress in 1994, Republican and Democratic lobbyists alike have had to cope with the endless escalation of the fund-raising schedules and targets. After those elections, a few GOP House leaders spread the word that if lobbyists wanted access, they ought to cough up more money. The implied quid pro quo had the effect of intensifying the search for big bucks on both sides of the aisle. Last year, federal candidates raised $ 232.9 million, a new record for a nonelection year, according to the Federal Election Commission.
At the same time, the explosion in soft-money contributions considerably increased the fund-raising burden for lobbyists. A recent study from Common Cause, a liberal advocacy group that’s pushing for an end to unregulated campaign giving, showed that last year, party committees raised a record amount of soft money for a nonelection year—$ 67.4 million—of which about $15 million came from Washington-based interests, including lobbyists, corporations and unions. New York-based interests chipped in only about $ 7 million in soft money.
The raising of soft money for the four congressional committees has surged; a few years ago, these committees weren’t even part of the mix. For instance, the NRSC raised $ 10.7 million in soft money in 1997—the highest total ever in an off year and four times the $ 2.6 million that the committee raised in 1993, according to Common Cause. For Democrats, too, the uptick in soft money has been sizeable: At the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, soft money soared to $ 4.8 million last year, up from $467,188 in 1993.
Furthermore, leadership PACs have mushroomed in the House and the Senate, especially on the GOP side. Not only do Lott and his whip, Don Nickles of Oklahoma, both have such PACs, but so do several junior Senators, such as Paul Coverdell of Georgia and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. On the House side, each of the four top leaders has his own PAC, each taking in hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
”The cliche is true, that it’s become something of an uncontrollable arms race,” says Paul A. Equale, the executive vice president of the Independent Insurance Agents of America. A leading Democratic Party fund raiser, Equale has rounded up money for House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., and for Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle, D-S.D., and regularly throws fund-raisers for members in his office, pulling big contributions from the insurance industry.
The pressures that politicians feel to raise more funds are ”transferred to the private sector,” says Equale. ”Because everybody has to do more, the candidates themselves have to get on the phones to lobbyists, to distinguish their campaigns from the other guys’.”
Some analysts and party officials say the increase in competitive races and new advertising tools have fueled the money chase by members and lobbyists alike. ”The cost for television and communications of all types has gone up,” says Matt Angle, the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).
The process of hitting up lobbyists isn’t pleasant, but it’s legal, party committee officials note. ”It’s an unseemly and awkward part of the process,” says Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) executive director Paul A. Johnson. ”But it’s a part of the process, and a legitimate one.” The GOP Front Lines
On the Republican side, fund raising by lobbyists started to really pick up steam during the 1994 campaign, when House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Haley R. Barbour, then- chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), turned up the heat on their partisans in the lobbying industry. After the elections, the pace grew even more frenetic. ”The amount of money that they raise from downtown is immeasurably greater than what we ever achieved,” admits former Rep. Guy Vander Jagt, R- Mich., a longtime chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. ”The Republicans’ gaining the majority has given a tremendous impetus to this type of fund raising.”
Fund raising by lobbyists is still dominated by men, but one notable exception is the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association’s Larsen Becker, 38. Affiliated with ”the Blues” for 17 years, she runs the group’s PAC and its grass-roots lobbying effort. ”I just sort of got involved with fund raising,” Larsen Becker notes. ”It’s not written in my job description.”
But it is a big part of why she is considered a major- league player. Last year and again this June, she’s been tapped to co-chair, with Creighton, the annual joint dinner of the two GOP congressional committees. In 1997, the dinner brought in a record of $ 7.4 million (about $ 2 million of it from Washington interests), but its organizers expect to top that figure this year.
As part of the congressional dinner pitch this year, the two committees are telling corporate donors that if they pony up $100,000 for the committees’ new $ 10 million issue-ad drive, dubbed Majority ‘98, they can attend the dinner plus all other major party functions this year. To date, Majority ‘98 has had pledges of about $ 3 million, including one from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
The bulk of the money Larsen Becker corrals comes from health care groups, insurers and health care providers, and tends to be a mixture of corporate and PAC money. Last year, the Blues gave $ 203,575 in soft money to the GOP committees, surpassing all other Washington trade groups except the Tobacco Institute. With more than 90 House Republicans backing a bill sponsored by Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., that would impose federal regulations on the $ 110 billion-a-year managed care industry, these funds are important investments, campaign finance analysts say.
Besides the congressional dinner in June, Larsen Becker has also agreed to co-chair an April 21 fund-raiser for Lott’s PAC, a repeat of the one that she helped organize in Feb. 1997 at the Willard Hotel. That one netted Lott’s PAC a cool $ 600,000, and this one could do better, since it’s pegged to Lott’s silver anniversary in Congress. This past winter, she also helped out with a fund-raiser for Nickles in Florida and has pitched in for Gingrich’s Monday Morning PAC. ”Members are now looking not only at their own reelections, but also to help (colleagues and) others trying to get to Congress,” she explains.
More broadly, she points out that Senators are now forced to chase money from the time they’re elected. ”Everybody’s doing it all the time, to ward off competitors and let people know that they’re strong incumbents.”
Though she says her fund raising reflects ”commitment to the political process and the party,” she is quick to add that these efforts also yield professional dividends. ”It ties into our legislative strategy of building relationships. You develop relationships with members and, hopefully, that builds trust and support down the road.”
Another leading GOP lobbyist who has used fund raising to solidify relationships is Dirk Van Dongen, the president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors. He was Larsen Becker’s co-chair for Lott’s leadership PAC event last year, and he is teaming up with her again for the Lott bash next month.
Last year, Van Dongen was in charge of gathering inside- the-Beltway funds for the RNC’s gala. In that role, he oversaw a team of top lobbyists who brought in about $ 2 million, or just under one-fifth of the event’s haul. ”I try to put together large committees, because it lowers the hurdles for fund raisers,” he said. Van Dongen was responsible for about $ 400,000 of that total. At this year’s RNC gala on March 12, Van Dongen raised about $ 150,000 of the $ 10.4 million total.
Van Dongen has been named the chairman (succeeding Larsen Becker) of the RNC’s Majority Fund. It boasts almost 100 PACs, many of which contribute $ 15,000 a year to the fund. To spur more donations, the fund hosts monthly get-togethers for its members, with such party leaders as Jim Nicholson, the RNC chairman, or Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican Conference chairman. Van Dongen’s heart and head are plainly with the GOP. ”There’s a whale of a difference between the philosophies and priorities of the two parties,” he said.
That same commitment to the GOP exists at several Washington lobbying firms, but nowhere is it more intense than at Barbour, Griffith and Rogers. Home to former RNC chairman Barbour, the firm has expanded its client list considerably since early last year, when the smooth-talking Mississippian returned to the lobbying trenches. Retained by a host of blue-chip clients, the firm has been lobbying for tobacco companies who are hoping to persuade Congress to enact the proposed $ 368.5 billion national settlement. Other significant clients include Microsoft Corp., which is facing antitrust actions by the government; and a business coalition that’s pushing bankruptcy reform legislation.
While the client list can be helpful in pulling together fund-raisers, Barbour’s background at the RNC gives him still other arrows in his quiver. He helps the RNC ferret out some of the big donors who give $ 175,000 over four years to join its elite Team 100 program, and he’s good at getting prominent corporate figures to open their checkbooks. ”Haley likes to raise money,” says a lobbyist who knows him well. ”He doesn’t get mealy-mouthed. He doesn’t shuffle his feet, and his eyes don’t shift to the ground.”
But Barbour’s gung-ho fundraising has sometimes seemed to go too far. The Justice Department is probing his role in arranging for a Hong Kong businessman to make a $ 2.1 million loan guarantee to the National Policy Forum, an issues group that Barbour set up, that had close ties to the RNC and appeared to serve as a conduit to the committee in 1994.
Recently, Barbour’s been giving money-raising help to several GOP incumbents, such as Rep. Jennifer Dunn of Washington state and Sen. Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina. The 50-year-old money-meister is also going to emcee the April 21 Lott event. In recent years, one of Barbour’s partners, Edward Rogers Jr., has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Lott’s PAC. About five times a month, the firm also hosts smaller fund-raisers for GOP members of Congress. Typically, the partners invite a mix of clients and friends, many of whom are lobbyists at other firms. In recent months, Barbour’s firm has thrown fund- raisers for Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; and for Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. On March 24, it’s hosting a party for the PAC of Sen. John D. Ashcroft of Missouri and the next night, one for House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey of Texas. The Democrats’ Brigade
With their party’s lawmakers stuck in the minority in Congress, some of the Democrats’ most aggressive lobbyists have shifted into overdrive to reverse that situation and keep control of the White House in 2000.
Few work harder or more successfully toward these goals than Tommy Boggs, the 57-year-old managing partner of Patton Boggs and the son of the late House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, D-La. As a fund raiser extraordinaire for party committees and candidates, Boggs often taps his firm’s long list of blue-chip corporate clients, such as MCI Communications Corp., and well- heeled trade groups such as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, which bankrolls many liberal Democrats and has long been battling product-liability reform in Congress.
Last year, Boggs was one of the three co-chairs—along with Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin and Black Entertainment Television chairman Robert Johnson—for a Democratic National Committee (DNC) gala that pulled in about $ 2.3 million. As a co- chair, he was responsible for winning pledges of at least $250,000, but a DNC fund raiser said that Boggs ”was really the horse in that event” and raised a lot more.
Boggs’s work for candidates and committees extends well outside of Washington and includes special events such as Super Bowl bashes. In early 1997, for instance, right before the Super Bowl in New Orleans, he hosted two parties for the DSCC and the DCCC at his mother’s elegant home in the French Quarter.
Besides the big Democratic committees, Boggs has done yeoman’s work for various party leaders. He often serves on the steering committee for large Gephardt fund-raisers—such as one planned for March 25 at the Naval Heritage Museum. And Boggs has also raised funds for Gephardt’s PAC, the Effective Government Committee, by calling on such clients as the Chicago Board of Options Exchange Inc. and several Wall Street firms, according to sources familiar with Gephardt’s fund-raising operations. Indeed, Boggs notes that in recent years, he’s asked corporate clients outside of Washington to help host fund-raisers, and the strategy has yielded good results.
The K Street impresario also is heavily involved in arranging get-togethers for members—both Democrats and Repubicans—at a Capitol Hill townhouse that Boggs owns. Historically, these events were tilted heavily to Democrats, but since the Republican takeover of Congress, that has changed: Last year, about half of the events that the firm hosted were for Republicans, by Boggs’s estimate.
While Boggs has long been a mythic figure in fund-raising circles, several other Democratic lobbyists, such as Dan Dutko, 53, the chairman of the Dutko Group, are also prodigious cash collectors for the DNC and for candidates. Dutko’s fund raising topped $ 750,000 in the 1996 election and earned him a night in the Lincoln Bedroom. Along the way, Dutko has been retained as a lobbyist by numerous corporate clients such as telecommunications firms—some of which have become significant party donors.
Last year, Dutko was the national finance chairman for the DNC’s Victory Fund, which organized a series of big fund- raisers, many of which President Clinton attended. The events pulled in almost $ 7 million—about 70 per cent of it in soft money—at a time when the DNC was trying hard to pay off mounting legal bills associated with the campaign finance scandals of 1996. Further, Dutko was a co-chairman last fall of a Florida fund-raising weekend that both the President and Vice President attended, at the posh Amelia Island resort. The weekend festivities raised about $ 3.5 million for the DNC.
This year, Dutko is likely to be one of the four or five leading fund raisers for Gore’s new PAC and is expected to produce around $ 500,000 to help it support an array of candidates in this year’s elections, according to sources close to Gore.
Besides his national Democratic Party work, Dutko is also known for helping arrange fund-raisers for members of Congress. He’s working on one for Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana that’s scheduled for next month. Recently, Dutko has done fund-raisers for Daschle and for Rep. Charles E. Schumer of New York.
”Lobbying is not simply visiting a member’s office and leaving a piece of paper,” Dutko declares. ”To be effective, you have to visit them in their offices, and see them socially and in a whole variety of ways, so they have a sense of you as a person.”
Not all of the Democrats’ big-money generators share this modus operandi. In fact, some union lobbyists and PAC directors have very effectively stepped up to become leading fund raisers without the constant schmoozing, according to committee officials.
One of the best is Diegel, 55, the PAC director of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). He’s earned a reputation at the congressional committees as a great handicapper of political races. Once he’s committed to a candidate, Diegel is a master at persuading other labor lobbyists to come along. And he was instrumental in getting together funds for then-candidate Loretta Sanchez of California, who went on to beat GOP Rep. Robert K. Dornan in 1996. Thanks partly to Diegel, the IBEW and its executives and subsidiaries chipped in $ 231,700 in nonfederal soft money to Democratic Party purses last year, according to Common Cause. That total made them the sixth-highest among soft-money donors to the Democrats.
Diegel, who’s been with the union since 1970, says that the IBEW will be heavily involved in this year’s House races. ”We’ll be involved in House races in every state in the Union,” he says, and almost every Senate race. Diegel adds that he expects organized labor to respond to several pending state initiatives that would curb the use of union dues in the political process. Soft-Money Loophole
Campaign finance reforms that would close the soft-money loophole or put limits on spending are regarded with disdain by many GOP leaders, such as Lott. At a Florida fund-raiser last year, the Senate Majority Leader extolled unregulated, soft-money donations as ”the American Way.” For their part, the Democrats exploited the soft-money loophole to the hilt in raising foreign contributions in the last presidential election. While the White House has now endorsed bills that would ban soft money, it has not really used its clout to push the legislation, say campaign finance reform advocates.
Critics such as Waxman worry that the present system is breeding new and ethically questionable forms of influence- peddling on Capitol Hill. By way of example, Waxman, who’s also a leading foe of the tobacco industry, points to the reported role that Haley Barbour played in getting Lott and Gingrich to ”slip in a $ 50 billion tax break for the tobacco industry,” during the balanced budget bill negotiations last year. The provision was later overwhelmingly reversed, after members heard widespread criticism from their constituents.
Other critics question whether it is fair for the doors of Congress to be opened wider to those lobbyists who successfully raise funds. ”They’re charging top dollar for immediate access to key members,” Cooper of the Center for Responsive Politics says. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the co- sponsor of a bill that would ban soft money, sees lobbyists’ growing role in raising soft money as symptomatic of a system that needs to be fixed. ”The effect of soft money is that it reduces the influence of the average citizen,” he said.
There’s no doubt that lobbyists who double as fund raisers are in demand on Capitol Hill. As one GOP consultant sees it, lobbyists will continue to be on a ”money-raising treadmill,” and increasingly besieged by desperate members. ”Twenty years ago, the candidate himself never called the lobbyist for money,” says the consultant. ”Now, the only way you’re going to get the money is for the candidate to call.”