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 decisionmakers.
"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 (search), who estimates his lobbying firm will throw at least three-dozen fund-raisers this year.
Dupart lobbies for a range of clients, including Pennsylvania's Bucknell University on government spending, American Airlines on airport security issues, Constellation Energy on energy legislation and Verizon Communications on telecommunications policy.
This month, Dupart was holding events for Rep. Bill Young (search), R-Fla., chairman of the House appropriations committee and a member of the homeland security committee; Rep. Heather Wilson (search), R-N.M., a member of the armed services and energy and commerce committees; and Rep. Ralph Regula (search), R-Ohio, who is on the House appropriations committee.
Several lobbyists told The Associated Press they need to raise at least $10,000 when trying to get a freshman lawmaker to attend one of their events, $15,000 or more for veterans and at least $50,000 for a congressional committee chairman or leader.
Getting lawmakers to attend is the key reward for the lobbyists. And the longer they want the lawmaker to stay, the more money they're expected to raise.
The Independent Petroleum Association of America Wildcatters Fund (search) plans a $500-a-person breakfast next week to raise money for Washington Rep. George Nethercutt (search), a Republican member of a House energy subcommittee who is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Patty Murray (search).
"We're going to take every opportunity to educate members of Congress about the domestic energy industry," association spokesman Jeff Eshelman explained.
Guests at lobbyist events typically include clients or trade association members and their political action committees. As an added draw, invitations often advertise someone higher-ranking than the candidate as a special guest.
Former White House energy policy adviser Andrew Lundquist (search), 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 (search) headlined the $1,000-per-person event.
"We're going to be outspent in this race," 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 (search) 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 (search), a Republican running for an open Louisiana House seat.
Several firm clients have high stakes in the decisions of HHS and its Food & Drug Administration, including the Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb and GlaxoSmithKline drugmakers, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America industry group and the Brown & Williamson and Lorillard tobacco companies.
The firm's lobbyists include former Thompson chief of staff Bob Wood. The Direct Meds Inc. and DMS Pharmaceutical Group Inc. prescription drug delivery companies and the Grocery Manufacturers of America 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 campaign manager Timmy Teepell said Jindal wanted to do a fund-raiser with Thompson and Wood offered space at the Barbour firm. The event raised $60,000.
"Obviously he's going to his friends to raise money for his congressional race and these are people who have known Bobby for a long time," Teepell said.
The same night as the Jindal event, Wexler & Walker lobbyists held a $1,000-a-person event for Missouri Democratic Senate candidate Nancy Farmer, with Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota on the invitation as a special guest.
The firm's lobbyists throw fund-raisers for lawmakers who support issues they're working on, with Democratic lobbyists organizing events for Democrats and Republicans doing so for Republicans, said chairman Robert Walker, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania.
Walker worries that 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 putting more pressure on lobbyists to raise campaign money, he said.
"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."
Several congressional fund-raising invitations offer donors something more than wine and cheese. Here's a look:
— Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., invited $1,500 donors to his political action committee to a Rod Stewart concert March 4 at the MCI Center in Washington.
— House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney, R-Ohio, invited $500-and-up donors to a Washington Wizards basketball game March 9.
— Donors paid at least $1,000 each for pancakes at an annual breakfast held by two California Republicans, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter and Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, on March 10 in Washington.
— Contributors paid at least $500 to celebrate Sen. Kent Conrad's birthday March 10 in Washington. From March 12-14, $2,500-and-up donors could join the North Dakota Democrat for a "spring training weekend" in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and watch the New York Mets play the Baltimore Orioles.
— Jerry Weller offered $750-and-up donors a private tour of the International Spy Museum in Washington on March 18.
— Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, invited $500-and-up contributors to his second annual "Taste of El Paso" reception March 24.
— The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee plans a golf and tennis tournament for its $10,000-and-up donors at a suburban Washington country club April 26. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and the DCCC's chairman, California Rep. Robert Matsui, are headlining the event.