- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2009

President Obama banned lobbyists from raising or giving money to his presidential campaign, but his Democratic colleagues in Congress aren’t following suit. House leaders are set to dine Monday night inside the home of two lobbyists with donors who are paying $5,000 or more apiece to attend.

The proceeds from the fundraiser at the $1.4 million Woodley Park home of a powerhouse lobbying couple - Heather and Tony Podesta - will go to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Seven Democratic members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, are scheduled to attend.

It’s the second of six such fundraising dinners scheduled at the Podesta home this month that will give donors access to Democratic luminaries, including the chairmen of congressional committees.

The invitation, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times from an invitee, promises a seated dinner with a celebrity chef. The suggested contributions are $5,000 for guests, $15,000 for PAC supporters and $30,400 - the federal maximum to a committee - to be a host.

Since political power has shifted to Democrats, the tide of money and lobbying power also has moved from Republicans to Democrats.

“I’ve certainly seen a ton of Democratic fundraisers,” said Nancy Watzman, who keeps an unofficial tally of political fundraisers for the Sunlight Foundation’s Political Partytime Web site. “What we know from other cycles is that money follows power.”

Mr. Obama voiced a hard line against lobbyists during his presidential campaign. The campaign and, subsequently, the Democratic National Committee banned donations from or bundled by lobbyists.

“You won’t see this type of activity still going on for the DNC. But members of Congress and the DCCC never agreed to those restrictions,” said Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a Washington watchdog group.

Mr. Van Hollen, DCCC chairman, co-sponsored the 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act that, among other provisions, requires lobbyists to disclose bundling activity.

The law, designed to bring lobbying activity out into the open, requires fundraisers such as the one Monday night to be disclosed, said DCCC spokeswoman Jennifer Crider.

“If you look at the DCCC’s fundraising report, we’re transparent about the fundraising that we do and who we do it from,” she said. “That’s appropriate, and that’s exactly the type of thing that Democrats fought for.

“One of the hallmarks of the Republican culture of corruption is that there were lobbyists right in the Capitol writing legislation,” she said, adding that the 2007 law ended such activity.

The DCCC’s latest filing with the Federal Election Commission shows the group is $16.3 million in debt, with $2 million cash on hand.

A spokesman for Mrs. Pelosi said Congress’ lobbying reform “guaranteed transparency and accountability.”

“The New Direction Congress took unprecedented steps to break the link between lobbyists and legislation after years of Republican control of Congress, where the special interests paid Republicans to play,” Nadeam Elshami said.

Mr. and Mrs. Podesta - both powerful lobbyists - list clients such as American Airlines, Eli Lilly & Co., BP America, BAE Systems and Google, according to Senate disclosure reports.

They also are longtime fundraisers.

Mrs. Podesta directly donated $108,000 to candidates and committees in the 2008 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. After Monday night’s event, she expects she and her husband will have raised $1 million for Democrats in 2009, she said.

Mrs. Podesta said that raising money for Democratic members is “our way of giving back.”

“Podesta is capable of bringing in a great deal of money for Democrats and the Democratic Party,” Mr. Holman said. “It’s a symbiotic relationship - members of Congress and candidates get money, and Podesta gets credit and prestige in the Democratic ranks of Congress.

“This is just the ongoing of a very lucrative source of funds coming from lobbyists.”

Mr. Podesta’s brother, John, served as chief of staff in the second term of the Clinton administration, bringing order to the campaign-finance scandal that had rocked the White House. He served in that position until President Clinton left office in January 2001. He also was co-chairman of the Obama-Biden transition team.

On the whole, Democratic committees have seen a bump in contributions in January.

The national congressional committees’ January haul, for the most part, reflected the Democratic majority in both houses. Fundraising at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee rose 18 percent to $2.7 million and 13 percent to $2.4 million, respectively, in January 2009 versus January 2007.

Fundraising at the National Republican Congressional Committee fell dramatically over the same period, from $5.6 million to $1.5 million. However, fundraising at the National Republican Senatorial Committee doubled to $1.8 million.

Money follows political power, said Michael Toner, a former FEC chairman and a partner at Bryan Cave LLP, particularly corporate money.

“There’s no question K Street corporate PACs are being very generous with the Democratic officeholders now - they’re the committee chairs - particularly on the House side,” he said.

Other Democrats listed to attend the Podesta fundraiser are House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller of California, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman of California, and Appropriations energy and water development subcommittee Chairman Peter J. Visclosky, among others.

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