- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2011

Like other politicians eager to show the public they’re not beholden to Washington’s special interests, Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico has proudly refused to take campaign contributions from federal lobbyists.

The fine print on his fundraising notices made clear that “People for Ben does not accept contributions from registered federal lobbyists,” a stance that won him praise from editorial writers in his home state as recently as February.

Yet on a recent evening, Mr. Lujan was the featured lawmaker at a Cinco de Mayo-themed political fundraiser held in the Capitol Hill home of a prominent Washington lobbyist, Robert Raben. The fundraiser benefited the Committee for Hispanic Causes, also known as the CHC BOLD PAC, a political action committee chaired by Mr. Lujan. More than a dozen other lawmakers were mentioned on the invitation to the fundraiser.

A Lujan spokesman pointed out that Mr. Raben wasn’t in attendance, but acknowledged that the congressman’s position on taking campaign cash from lobbyists had changed.

“In the wake of the (Supreme Court’s) Citizens United case, which allows millions of dollars from secretive third-party organizations to flow into our electoral system with no accountability, we must have the resources necessary to fight back, stand up for the people of New Mexico and - given his responsibility as chair of BOLD PAC - elect Democratic members to Congress,” spokesman Andrew Stoddard wrote in email to The Washington Times.

In February, Mr. Lujan was cited by the Santa Fe New Mexican as an example of reform for his policy of refusing donations from federal lobbyists. Calling for campaign finance reforms in the statehouse, the newspaper said it noted “with delight” Mr. Lujan’s refusal of campaign contributions from lobbyists, saying “his example at the federal level should have state legislators scurrying to sponsor this overdue reform.”

Indeed, an invitation for an fundraiser held 10 days later for Mr. Lujan in Washington included the statement that People for Ben did accept contributions from federal lobbyists. The same disclosure was on an invitation to three separate fundraisers held at the Tortilla Coast restaurant in Washington during March, benefiting Mr. Lujan’s campaign.

But the warning to lobbyists to stay away appears nowhere on an invitation to an upcoming fundraiser May 20-22, dubbed a “Santa Fe Weekend Getaway” and asking for $2,500 per contributor: Transportation, lodging and expenses not included. The getaway will include a “welcome dinner, breakfast and art gallery reception with Congressman Lujan … plus opportunities to visit Santa Fe’s famed museums, art galleries, shops, nearby casinos and golf courses,” the invitation said.

The invitations to Mr. Lujan’s fundraiser were made public by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, which tracks political fundraising activities among federal candidates.

Craig Holman, legislative representative for the D.C.-based watchdog group Public Citizen, called Mr. Lujan’s decision to take lobbying contributions “a violation of his pledge” not to do so.

Mr. Lujan, 39, took office in 2009 after holding several offices in the New Mexico government, including as a member of the state’s public regulation commission. His father serves as speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives.

President Obama swore off contributions from federal lobbyists and political action committees during his 2008 campaign, and instructed the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to follow the same rules.

Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, Mr. Obama’s choice for DNC chairman in 2009, has decided to accept lobbyist money now that he has left the DNC and is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Virginia in what’s expected to be an expensive race. Mr. Kaine attended a fundraiser last week held at a Capitol Hill lobbying firm, Cornerstone Government Affairs.

A Kaine campaign spokeswoman noted that “as a candidate, Gov. Kaine has always welcomed lawful donations from anyone who shares his vision for progress for Virginia and the nation.”

Mr. Kaine’s replacement at the DNC, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, has sworn off lobbyist and political action committee donations to her congressional campaign now that she is running the organization. Weeks after she was named by Mr. Obama to lead the DNC, but two days before she actually started the job, she had a fundraiser for her congressional campaign soliciting political action committee donations.