Big money buys seats at lawmakers’ dinner tables

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Want to dine with five U.S. senators? Then just drop by Wednesday night and, oh, by the way, bring $30,400.

That’s what it costs to be a “co-chair” of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s Women’s Senate Network party, thrown by power lobbyist Heather Podesta.

“What do you get when you put the minds of key Democratic Women Senators, the brush strokes of Women Artists, the recipes of Women Chefs, and the design of a Woman Architect together in the same house?” Mrs. Podesta said in an e-mail addressed “Dear friends.”

Who knows? But it will cost you to find out, according to the e-mail, which lays out contributions required for access to the event.

“This is kind of awkward, but we actually don’t talk about our fundraisers,” said DSCC communications director Eric Schultz. “We keep our private events private.”

For the DSCC dinner, to be held at the $2 million Woodley Park home of Mrs. Podesta and lobbyist husband Tony, five senators will be in the house: Amy Klobuchar, Mary L. Landrieu, Jeanne Shaheen, Maria Cantwell and Kay Hagan. “Our meal will be prepared by some of the nation’s best women chefs,” the hostess’ e-mail said.

“The woman senators try to get together on a regular basis,” said Erikka Knuti, communications director for Mrs. Klobuchar. “They’re pretty private. I don’t know what they talk about. The senator doesn’t tell me.”

Well, what do attendees of such parties really get for their money?

“Those people who gave $30,000 have a seat at the table, the dining table with you, and they sit down and they explain to you what they want, what they’re concerned about and perhaps even specific legislation they care about,” said Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a Washington watchdog group.

“And they don’t have to say to the candidate, ‘I bring in a lot of money for you,’ because the candidate knows that,” he said.

The party and the money it will collect are completely legal. Although an individual can contribute $2,400 to a candidate or incumbent politician, the maximum a person may give to a national party or political action committee in any one year is $30,400.

The Podestas are one of the most prominent socialite couples in Washington, and they wield significant clout. Newly released records show they have been in and out of the Obama White House a combined eight times from Inauguration Day through July.

From January to August, the Podesta Group, managed by Mr. Podesta, was the lobbying firm sponsoring the most fundraisers - 14, according to a study by Public Citizen.

But the Podestas are by no means the only ones throwing lavish parties or hosting expensive outings. Donors have dozens of opportunities each week to plunk down cash to join a member of Congress for intimate face time.

Two days before Halloween, Rep. Linda T. Sanchez, California Democrat, hosted a “Night to Dis-Member ‘Fiend’-Raiser” at the home of lobbyist Tom Trotter.

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