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Legislators pack Podesta fundraiser

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 10, 2009

UPDATED:

Despite President Obama's campaign pledge that the days of lobbyists setting the agenda in the nation's capital are over, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was dropped off in an alley and hustled into a rear door at the home of a prominent Washington lobbying couple who hosted a dinner Monday night to help raise cash for Democrats.

Asked if she had a minute to speak to a reporter, Mrs. Pelosi, a California Democrat, said, "No, I really don't," before being escorted into the fundraiser through the rear entrance of the $1.4 million Woodley Park home of Tony and Heather Podesta.

Mrs. Pelosi left the fundraiser around 10 p.m. through the home's front entrance, but declined to comment on the evening's events then, too.

Mrs. Pelosi and other high-ranking Democratic members of Congress were the big draw at the fundraiser, aside from what Mr. Podesta described as "several fabulous celebrity chefs."

He told The Washington Times outside his home that the dinner was an annual event held for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) - the fundraising arm for House Democrats - and for a number of the members of Congress.

Asked whether all the Obama anti-lobbyist rhetoric had put a chill on the evening, he said the dinner was "at capacity."

"We are filled," he said during a friendly conversation, adding that he and his wife had erected a tent in the back of the house because of the number of people expected to attend.

Mr. Podesta also said the politicians, lobbyists and donors were not talking business but about the food, which included braised lamb, ice cream, and homemade fudge for Mrs. Pelosi, an admitted chocoholic.

Another partygoer was Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who arrived late and by himself in his Toyota Camry. He asked a reporter for directions to the Podesta residence, saying Monday night was the first time he had been invited to the Podestas' home for the annual event.

"That's why I'm attending," he said. "It's a fundraiser for Democrats, and I'm a Democrat."

When asked what's discussed at events attended by politicians, lobbyists and donors, he said, "It's my first time, I don't know."

After leaving the party, Mr. Waxman said attendees talked about expanding the party's margin of victories and that he was looking forward to a successful Obama administration.

The invitation, a copy of which was obtained by The Times from an invitee, promised a seated dinner with a celebrity chef. And to get in the door of the lobbyists' home, donors were expected to give $5,000 as guests, $15,000 as PAC supporters and $30,400 - the federal maximum to a committee - to be a host.

The invitation was sent out by Mrs. Podesta to raise money for the DCCC.

Mrs. Podesta is a well-known lobbyist in Washington, and her client list includes powerful special interests with a big financial stake on issues pending in Congress.

HealthSouth, for example, stands to lose out on possible Medicare cutbacks, while Boeing stands to gain billions of dollars in work in connection with an Air Force tanker contract on which Mrs. Podesta has lobbied, according to records.

The food service company Aramark hired her firm to monitor federal nutrition policies involving the national school lunch program.

Since Mr. Obama's election, Mrs. Podesta has picked up several new clients, too, including American Airlines, the Newspaper Association of America, the Swiss Reinsurance Company and Friends of Cancer Research.