LOBBYING - Money-Meisters

March 21, 1998, 7 a.m.

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.”

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