WASHINGTON – Lawmakers traditionally escape Washington winters by signing on to lobbyist-sponsored junkets at exclusive, warm-weather resorts. Now, in a new twist on an old routine, they're inviting lobbyists and other supporters to join them on weekend retreats in exchange for political donations (search).
With events timed to coincide with congressional breaks like this week's recess, more and more lawmakers are padding their campaign and political action committee bank accounts by mixing recreation and fund raising at golf outings, ski trips or beach retreats.
Such events hold special appeal for Washington lobbyists, who find a day or two of schmoozing with members of Congress (search) at a resort preferable to angling for a few minutes of face time at crowded Capitol Hill cocktail parties.
"If you can't find five minutes to talk about what you want to talk about in the course of a weekend, you should be in a different line of work," lobbyist Tony Podesta said. "Most of these weekends, it's not like they're opportunities to buttonhole, but more to bond.
"It's more quality time," he added.
Former Rep. Robert Walker (search), R-Pa., said getaway-style fund-raisers have become more common in the past four or five years, as more members of Congress establish their own political action committees and sponsor events through the PACs. Taxpayer money cannot be used for the fund-raisers.
The dozens of invitations now flooding fax machines, mailboxes and e-mail accounts of prospective donors roughly 18 months before the next congressional elections illustrate the fierce competition for campaign cash — and the need to find creative ways to get it.
Oregon Republican Sen. Gordon Smith, for example, has sent invitations for a $5,000-per-ticket golf tournament in June at the Bandon Dunes Golf Course in Oregon to raise money for his Impact America political action committee.
Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo held a fund-raising "ski fest" last weekend at Sun Valley for $2,500 a person. Crapo invited donors "to celebrate his ascension to the Senate Committee on Finance." The event featured a reception and dinner Friday night and breakfast, skiing, cocktails, a sleigh ride and dinner Saturday.
Wyoming Sen. Craig Thomas is promising "VIP mountain guides for all abilities" to contributors who attend his fund-raising ski outing next month at a resort in Jackson Hole. Donations of $1,000 and up to the Republican's Western Action political action committee are requested.
Such outings typically carry higher overhead for the sponsoring campaign or political action committee than standard Washington cocktail receptions, but they are still moneymakers. One reason is that lobbyists and other donors usually cover their own travel and hotel costs, and sometimes they must also ante up for their ski tickets or other activities, on top of the requested political donation.
Some fund-raisers try to give donors a home-state experience without leaving Washington.
Playing off March Madness, Democratic Rep. Ben Chandler of Kentucky is offering donors who give $250 or more an "evening of Big Blue Basketball and Blue Dog Politics" at a Washington reception March 16. "You're invited to participate in Ben's pool — fill out a bracket at the event and the winner will receive a basket of Kentucky goodies! Bourbon, etc." the invitation says.
Others are using winter's bluster to draw donors to events in warmer climates.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee invited lobbyists and other donors to mingle with senators at a weekend retreat in Miami Beach earlier this winter. Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu held a fund-raising "Big Easy Weekend" earlier this year in New Orleans.
Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young was escaping the tundra of his home state to raise money on a swing through Florida starting Tuesday for his Midnight Sun PAC. Donors can give $1,000 to attend a reception with Young at the Al Carbon restaurant, or $5,000 to go to a reception and dinner at the Miami restaurant Chocolate.
Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., is inviting $2,500 donors to partake of golf, fishing and dinners during a "surf and turf" event for the RedPAC political action committee Thursday through Saturday in Boca Grande, Fla.
Individuals may contribute up to $2,100 per primary or general election to each candidate's campaign committee. They can give up to $5,000 per year to a political action committee.