- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 7, 2010

Republican Trey Gowdy has lots to say about Washington politics in his campaign for a congressional seat in South Carolina — and much of it isn’t too flattering.

As he sympathizes with voters weary with “business as usual” in Washington, Mr. Gowdy pledges to help reverse the country’s path toward a “socialistic, Washington-centric agenda.”

“I may not be able to totally change Washington by myself, but Washington will never change me,” Mr. Gowdy has said on the campaign stump.

Still, there’s one long-standing Washington tradition that this outsider and other congressional candidates continue to embrace. This week, Mr. Gowdy is scheduled to trod the well-worn Washington fundraiser circuit, where lobbyists and political insiders trade campaign contributions for a chance to schmooze lawmakers and candidates whom they’ll later try to lobby.

“We’ve seen many examples,” said Nancy Watzman, a consultant with the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, which tracks fundraisers. “Candidates who love to bash on Washington, yet they’re still coming to Washington to raise cash. They make at least a couple of stops; it’s like they’re making a pilgrimage.”

According to the foundation, Mr. Gowdy has three political fundraising events planned in the nation’s capital this week. And he’s hardly alone. Even with Congress out of session and many lawmakers out of town, dozens of fundraisers are scheduled at Capitol Hill town homes and restaurants throughout the city.

Mr. Gowdy’s spokesman said that of the three fundraising events scheduled this week, only one is a true fundraiser, and that’s being sponsored by the National Rifle Association.

“In our congressional district, the NRA is pretty much as conservative a group as you can get,” said Gowdy spokesman George Ramsey, noting that the group’s backing is important for voters in the South Carolina district. “The others are more meet and greets, and coffees.”

When asked about raising money in Washington at the same time he’s campaigning against business as usual in Washington, Mr. Ramsey said, “They’ve bought into his ideas and philosophies, not the other way around.”

Sunlight Foundation data show two other fundraisers were scheduled for Mr. Gowdy, the first hosted by the Rhoads Group, a Washington-based lobbying organization whose recent clients include Deloitte LLP, the state of New Jersey and defense contractor EADS North America, according to Senate lobbying records.

The hosts of the other event for Mr. Gowdy are listed as the Independent Community Bankers of America PAC and the Mortgage Bankers of America PAC. On what he described as the coffee meet and greet events, Mr. Ramsey said, “I am sure there will be checks involved” but added that the events weren’t major fundraisers.

But Mr. Gowdy, who upset the incumbent, Rep. Bob Inglis, in the Republican primary, isn’t the only candidate raising cash inside the Beltway.

Republican and Democratic candidates alike are drawing big contributions by turning to donors in the Washington area, as well as New York City. In an analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, those two regions alone accounted for all of the top 10 most generous neighborhoods doling out cash for federal political campaigns.

The center reviewed federal contributions by region and found congressional campaigns, both incumbent and challenger, frequently stray far from their home districts in search of campaign cash.

According to the analysis, which did not cite Mr. Gowdy’s campaign, out-of-state fundraising raises a question about whether it’s political necessity in a tough economy or just an avenue for special interests to influence candidates.

Two of the biggest recipients of out-of-state campaign money are running against each other.

Republican Sharron Angle, hoping to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada, has raised almost three-fourths of her contributions from out of state. Mr. Reid took just more than three-fourths of his campaign war chest from outside of Nevada, records show. Neither campaign returned messages Thursday.

The Reid-Angle race is considered a tossup even though Mr. Reid has raised nearly $20 million compared with about $3.5 million for Ms. Angle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Ms. Angle was scheduled to raise more money this week in Washington at a fundraising event hosted by, among others, a lobbyist for the National Association of Wholesaler Distributors, according to party invitations obtained by the Sunlight Foundation.

Mr. Gowdy is the solicitor, or district attorney, for South Carolina’s 7th Judicial Circuit. After winning the June 22 runoff election against Mr. Inglis, 71 percent to 29 percent, he will face Democrat Paul Corden, Constitution Party candidate Dave Edwards and Libertarian Rick Mahler in the general election.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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