- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Despite the looming possibility of a government shutdown, federal layoffs and furloughs, there’s at least one thing members of Congress from both political parties can readily agree on these days: partying.

Morning, noon and night, more than 150 fundraising parties are scheduled all over Washington this week for Democratic and Republican politicians in bars, restaurants and private town houses and at sporting events — even to watch the woeful Washington Wizards play. Other lawmakers are gearing up for March Madness, the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament, with luxury suites for fundraising at the Verizon Center.

The flurry of fundraising comes as the end of the first quarter for reporting election contributions comes up. Also, Congress will be adjourning next week, so politicians might be scurrying to raise money in Washington while they still can.

“It’s an every-three-months tradition where we tend to see an uptick,” said Nancy Watzman of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, which tracks fundraising parties by members of Congress. “With the March 31 deadline approaching, there are a lot of parties with people looking to pump up their numbers.”

Fifty-seven fundraising parties were scheduled for Wednesday alone, according to Sunlight, which points out that the group still doesn’t know about all of the events going on across town. Last week was busy, too.

Democratic Rep. Bruce L. Braley of Iowa appeared at a fundraiser for the Populist PAC, which was held in a $1.8 million Capitol Hill home where donors got to mingle with politicians like Rep. John Garamendi, California Democrat. Mr. Braley’s office declined to comment Wednesday.

There usually are up to a half dozen fundraisers happening at once across the city over breakfast, lunch, dinner or after-hours get-togethers. On Wednesday night, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was scheduled to host a big fundraiser at Union Station, where political action committees paying $15,000 would receive four tickets. That turns out to be a bargain. A $5,000 contribution just gets one ticket.

Republicans were planning several fundraisers Wednesday at the Capitol Hill Club for, among others, Reps. Mike Rogers of Michigan, Tim Scott of South Carolina and John Shimkus of Illinois, according to the Sunlight data.

Many fundraisers are just a short walk away from Congress. A block away, the town house with a sign for the Associated General Contractors of America was where, among other Republican lawmakers in recent weeks, freshman Republican Rep. Lou Barletta had a lunchtime fundraiser.

Mr. Barletta won office after campaigning that his opponent, former Democratic Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski, was too entrenched in Washington. His campaign noted in one online fundraising solicitation that Mr. Kanjorski was “raising thousands of dollars from special interests in Washington and Wall Street bankers.”

“Representative Barletta has consistently voted to keep our government operating while supporting policies that will grow our economy and create jobs,” Barletta spokeswoman Megan Sweeney said Wednesday.

Fundraising parties are closed to members of the public who aren’t willing or able to pay the usual suggested donation of anywhere from $500 to $5,000 or more. It’s possible but not always easy to figure out who attends these events because lawmakers must file information on their contributions with the Federal Election Commission, but that can take weeks or months. By then, the old parties are forgotten. The information also doesn’t give a complete picture.

But other times, it’s easy to tell. That’s because after work, politicians sometimes go to lobbyists’ Capitol Hill homes to raise money for their political campaigns.

Such was the case last week for Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, who attended a fundraising event in his honor at the “Williams & Jensen” town house, according to an invitation obtained by Sunlight. Williams & Jensen is a prominent law and lobbying firm whose roster of clients includes pharmaceutical companies, mutual funds and technology interests.

Several fundraisers are banking on basketball to net campaign cash. According to the Sunlight Foundation, Mr. Braley has a fundraiser scheduled for Thursday at the Verizon Center, while Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Maryland Democrat, appears to have fundraisers for three games.

Four lawmakers have fundraisers scheduled for the Verizon Center for the Washington Wizards-Miami Heat game on March 30, while two Republican lawmakers from Oklahoma — Sen James M. Inhofe and Rep. John Sullivan — had fundraisers scheduled for the Wizards-Oklahoma Thunder game Monday.

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

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