- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Republican governors promise their parties will be among the “safest” at next month’s Republican National Convention in St. Paul, protecting partygoers from new ethics rules restricting lobbyist parties honoring members of Congress.

Rules surrounding parties hosted by or in honor of governors were left unchanged, giving them greater fundraising prowess than in previous years.

“The lobbying rules make us one of the safest and easiest ways to be active,” said Chris Schrimpf, spokesman for the Republican Governors Association (RGA).

Members of Congress, who have a host of parties ahead of them during the national political conventions, have a fine tightrope to walk under the new Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, which places heavy restrictions on lobbyist-sponsored parties for federal candidates.

The RGA is not a lobbyist, so members of Congress aren’t restricted from accepting gifts or meals from it, eliminating the rules that forbid members from accepting meals at parties and lifting the requirement that all foods have to fit on a toothpick.

The RGA and its counterpart, the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), are so-called 527 tax-exempt organizations that can collect unlimited amounts of money on behalf of gubernatorial candidates. Both groups have targeted the conventions as opportunities to raise money in exchange for access.

The RGA has put together packages of tickets to its convention parties, hotel rooms and convention credentials in exchange for donations of $5,000 to $250,000. The DGA is using its convention in Denver to do the same, offering packages for donations of $25,000 to $250,000.

A $250,000 donation to the RGA, for example, gets donors 10 packs of tickets to six events, including a reception with the RGA chairman, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, and Gov. Matt Blunt of Missouri; a luncheon with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich; and a concert featuring country singer Clay Walker and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s band, Capitol Offense, in addition to hotel rooms and convention credentials.

The DGA’s events include lunch with the governors at the Palm Restaurant; a late-night party at Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper’s bar, Wynkoop Brewing Company; a reception with Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter; and a “salute” to the governors at Elitch Gardens amusement park with the band Big Head Todd.

DGA spokesman Brian Namey said the events are sold out.

Donors with the largest checks will get more party tickets, convention credentials and hotel rooms.

The interpretation of the lobbying law hasn’t been consistent, so some members are avoiding the parties, said Craig Holman, governmental affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a government watchdog group.

The House Ethics Committee has read the rules to mean that only parties honoring a single member of Congress are banned. The Senate counterpart said parties honoring one or many members are banned.

“Most lobbying organizations are trying to adjust to the new rules, not because they want to but because members of Congress are nervous about going to some of these parties,” Mr. Holman said.

The RGA put the donation packages on sale this month and already has surpassed the amount of money it raised during the 2004 Republican National Convention, Mr. Schrimpf said. He declined to be more specific.

The RGA raised $15 million during the first two quarters of the year. The DGA raised $11.2 million in the same period, less than the RGA but more than double the $5.2 million the DGA raised in the comparable period in 2007.

“We’re breaking all of our records,” Mr. Namey said, citing what he called enthusiasm for Democratic candidates. “We’ve never been in a stronger position financially or politically.”

Both groups advertise that the money raised at the conventions can be used to benefit their parties’ gubernatorial candidates this year and in 2010, when 36 state seats will be up for grabs.

“After [the 2008 presidential campaign] is over, it’s going to be all eyes on 2010,” said the DGA’s Mr. Namey.

A number of companies are co-sponsoring the events with the RGA or DGA. The Edison Electric Institute and Nuclear Energy Institute are co-hosting events during both conventions. Travelers insurance company and Mpower Pictures media company are co-hosting events with the RGA.

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