WASHINGTON – It's party time for trade associations, companies and interest groups at the GOP convention in New York, and each is trying to outdo the next in gimmicks to lure movers and shakers.
The dozens of special-interest parties include a trapshooting tournament and "Wild West" bash sponsored by the American Gas Association (search), a Travis Tritt (search) concert courtesy of General Motors, ice cream socials with Mastercard and Verizon and an NFL Hall of Fame breakfast.
"It's the place to be seen and to see people," said James Albertine, a Washington lobbyist and immediate past president of the American League of Lobbyists (search) attending the GOP gathering. "It's not a vacation, for lobbyists at least. It's work."
The convention offers lobbyists valuable face time with policy-makers from the statehouses, Congress and the Bush administration and a chance to line up new clients. For companies, it is also an opportunity to promote their brand names and specific products.
Nextel, for example, beat out the competition to become the event's official cellular provider. General Motors is providing the convention with more than 200 cars, eight buses and pickup trucks, including vehicles promoting its hybrid-fuel technology.
A local committee helping the Republican National Committee throw the convention raised at least $60 million and is still soliciting donations. While the national parties can no longer collect corporate, union and unlimited donations known as soft money, convention "host committees" can.
The New York host committee refused to disclose how much each donor gave until after the convention. More than five-dozen companies ranging from the Allied-Domecq liquor empire to the Waste Management garbage hauler donated enough to earn a "thank you" on a convention Web site.
Several businesses and trade associations are using the convention to get a little closer to particular lawmakers, throwing events in their honor around New York.
PepsiCo is holding a reception honoring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search), R-Tenn., at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, using a "Temple of Dendur" theme in the museum's Sackler Wing as the backdrop. Frist and fellow Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander (search) will be honored at a reception at Sotheby's sponsored by Nissan and the American Gas Association.
General Motors is sponsoring a brunch at the Tavern on the Green for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. The MassMutual Financial Group, Liberty Mutual, Fidelity Investments and Raytheon are holding a clambake for Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his state convention delegation that includes music by "Saturday Night Live" alumnus Joe Piscopo and his 17-piece band.
"Guests will have the opportunity to preview the most exclusive and prestigious jewels in the world. Try them on, indulge yourself," says the invitation to a "Jewels of Cartier" event that lobbyists are helping throw in honor of Texas Rep. Henry Bonilla at the Cartier Mansion.
The chairman of the Senate energy committee, New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici, will be feted at a reception financed by the America Petroleum Institute, Anardako Petroleum, BP, Chevron, Texaco, Shell and other petroleum industry giants.
A who's-who of the railroad industry, including the Association of American Railroads, Union Pacific, Burlington Northern and CSX are financing a luncheon and tour of a Johnny and June Carter Cash exhibit at Sotheby's for Frist's predecessor as Senate Republican leader, Trent Lott of Mississippi, who serves on the Senate transportation committee.
Top Washington business lobbies and other interest groups also have busy calendars in New York. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Rifle Association and National Federation of Independent Business are all offering hospitality to lawmakers and other convention guests.
The largesse extends to top officials of President Bush's re-election effort.
Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, a top Washington law and lobbying firm, is throwing a party at the Bryant Park Grill for Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman. The Patton Boggs law and lobbying firm is joining with the Bristol Myers Squibb pharmaceutical company to honor Mehlman and campaign chairman Marc Racicot at a nightclub.
Republican fund-raisers are also getting in schmooze time. Some stop short of actually taking checks at their New York events, however.
"It's often a good way to set up for fund raising later," said David Keating, executive director of anti-tax Club for Growth, which raises unlimited donations for its efforts to elect Republican candidates.