Financial lobbyists wooed negotiators

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Key House members weighing a $700 billion Wall Street bailout have filled their campaign coffers this year at more than 250 fundraising parties hosted by financial-sector lobbyists, including a beer tasting and a Washington Redskins game, according to a watchdog group.

Nancy Watzman, director of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation’s Party Time project, which tracks campaign fundraisers, said the same House members who were “wined, dined and sushied” by the financial sector are deciding the fate of the largest proposed financial industry bailout in U.S. history.

The House Financial Services Committee held hearings Wednesday on the Treasury Department’s proposed $700 billion bailout to buy distressed bonds that are causing chaos in the U.S. credit markets.

According to the foundation, a “beer tasting” fundraiser for one committee member, Rep. Tom Feeney, Florida Republican, was held July 30 and hosted by several lobbyists, including one for Citigroup Management Corp.

But a Feeney spokeswoman, Pepper Pennington, said such events don’t sway the congressman.

“The contributions have no influence on Tom Feeney’s principles or his legislative activity,” she said, adding that a recent Wall Street Journal article quoted Mr. Feeney as railing against the “failed regulation, reckless management and casino culture on Wall Street.”

Another invitation obtained by the Sunlight Foundation touted a fundraiser for Democratic Rep. Gregory W. Meeks of New York at FedEx Field for the Washington Redskins’ Sept. 14 win against the New Orleans Saints. A spokeswoman for Mr. Meeks did not respond to questions about the fundraiser by deadline Wednesday.

Yet another invitation included a July 29 “sushi reception” for Rep. Kenny Marchant, Texas Republican. But Mr. Marchant’s chief of staff, Brian Thomas, said the event “didn’t take place.”

“In general, we do have events, just as the Democrats do,” Mr. Thomas said. “Do people support you if you support their issues? Absolutely. But there are a lot of issues in the financial services community, and we’re on both sides on the issues - nobody is buying anyone with sushi.”

There’s no law mandating that lawmakers or lobbyists disclose political fundraising solicitations, but invitations are regularly sent, Ms. Watzman said. She said the foundation collects hundreds of fundraising invitations, but she noted it’s likely events such as the “sushi reception” are canceled.

But Ms. Watzman also said there’s no way to know for sure because the fundraisers are usually closed to the public. Calling for greater transparency, she said she tried to attend the fundraisers at the recent Democratic and Republican political conventions, but was regularly turned away.

The foundation issued its findings on fundraisers one day after a separate report by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) raised questions about the influence of financial sector political contributions in a key financial deregulation bill.

According to the CRP, members of Congress who voted to deregulate banks by supporting the 1999 Financial Services Modernization Act were far more likely to fill their campaign coffers with donations from financial sector than politicians who opposed easing restrictions.

The center’s analysis included presidential campaign contributions, too. So Sens. John McCain, Barack Obama, John Kerry and Hillary Rodham Clinton - all of whom raised tens of millions of dollars for their White House bids - topped the list of recipients.

Mr. McCain was absent for the deregulation vote, while Mr. Kerry supported it along with Mr. Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. Neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Obama were in the Senate in 1999.

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