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K Street’s Money Chase

After BCRA, Lobbyists Have to Dig Deep Into Their Own Pockets

As Members of Congress and party committees desperately hustle to raise campaign cash for the 2006 election cycle, a select group of contract lobbyists has already ponied up thousands of dollars in precious hard money.

The 20 lobbyists who have given the most money in the current campaign cycle have collectively dished out more than $500,000, according to Federal Election Commission data compiled for Roll Call by the Center for Responsive Politics. And employees at the top 20-giving firms donated more than $1.2 million over the same period.

According to the big-giving lobbyists on this list, the solicitations and fundraising events never seem to stop — not even in the first few months after the conclusion of a presidential election.

Larry O’Brien, founder of the lobbying boutique OB-C Group had given $52,000 to Democrats through the spring of this year, putting him at the head of the top-20 list. O’Brien said the quest for cash is “almost quite literally endless.”

Former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), whose consulting firm the Livingston Group had raised more than $36,000 by early May, said that when he was in Congress, the money chase wouldn’t take off until the second session.

“Now they heat up in January of the first year, and you never look back,” he said. “I thought after the election, we’d at least have a respite of a few weeks, but they started right in from the very beginning. I’ve never seen such intensity of fundraising. It’s relentless.”

Since the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which banned “soft money,” lobbyists, like all donors, have been permitted to give more in hard dollars.

The big difference between now and a few years ago is that in the soft-money days, lobbyists could ride on “OPM — other people’s money,” said Kenneth Kies, who runs Clark Consulting’s Federal Policy Group.

“It was really easy to do OPM,” said Kies, who has long contributed large amounts of his personal cash along with that of his wife, Kathleen. “Lobbyists who never actually pulled out their own checkbooks could claim credit for their clients’ soft money.”

This year, the limit for total donations is $101,400 per person. Under the law, the amount changes each cycle at the rate of inflation. The money lobbyists give comes from after-tax dollars and is not deductible.

And their money is in high demand. The average House race in 2004 cost about $1.1 million — roughly $10,000 a week. During the same cycle, the average Senate campaign had a $6.5 million price tag.

Cassidy and Associates founder Gerald Cassidy recalled that a 10-person table for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s dinner in the early 1970s went for just $1,000, which, he said, “is a fond memory.”

The data for this story is based on Federal Election Commission filings and was downloaded and catalogued by CRP, a nonprofit campaign finance watchdog. The numbers exclude in-house lobbyists at corporations or trade associations. And the database identified people as lobbyists if they are registered lobbyists, if they work at a lobbying firm or if they describe themselves as lobbyists.

The numbers, of course, are preliminary and based only on FEC data available as of May 9. In fact, all the lobbyists on the list contacted for this story reported having contributed significant chunks of money in addition to what the data shows. Because of reporting lags, those donations are not included in the charts.

Stuart Pape, managing partner of Patton Boggs, said the survey criteria “resulted in the presentation of an incomplete picture.”

According to the most recent FEC data, Patton Boggs attorneys, not just its D.C.-based lobbyists, throughout the country have given upwards of $90,000, he said.

Figures for the WPP Group include entities such as Wexler and Walker Public Policy Associates, Timmons and Co. and Quinn Gillespie and Associates, but not employees of other WPP subsidies that aren’t lobbying firms.

Most of the money from the Interpublic Group of Cos. comes from Cassidy and Associates, while Omnicom’s main lobbying contributors hail from Clark and Weinstock and the lobbying division of PR firm Fleishman-Hillard.

O’Brien said that he and his wife, Helen, also a Democrat, both maxed out in previous election cycles. By now, he has given $70,000, not including donations by his wife.

“I’m at 70 percent of my two-year limit, and this is June of the off-year,” he said. “I’ll have to pace myself, and I’ll be having that kitchen-table conversation with my beloved wife sooner than I had anticipated.”

O’Brien and other big donors say they try to leave themselves a little room to give next year when election politics are in full swing.

“The intensity factor about the re-election for incumbents just goes up in the second year as you get closer,” he said. “In that environment, sometimes helping out maybe gets a little more notice than it otherwise would.”

CRP spokesman Steve Weiss said lawmakers, even those in safe districts, raise money for many reasons, including to scare off potential competitors and to amass surpluses they can share with other candidates and with their party.

“The parties make it clear, in no uncertain terms, that lawmakers are expected to give excess funds to candidates in need or the party committees,” Weiss said. “If they want to compete for a key committee slot, they are going to have to pony up excess campaign funds.”

Clark and Weinstock’s Sandra Stuart, another member of the top 20, added: “The party committees are requiring more help from the individual Members, so they’re under pressure to make sure they have enough in their campaign operation.”

The CRP’s data shows that lobbyists, so far, have given most of their early money to Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.). Allen is expected to run for president, and Matsui won a special election earlier this year to succeed her late husband.

Scott Sinder, a member of the law and lobbying firm Collier Shannon Scott where Doris Matsui worked, said his firm is always active in the political funding process, but the unusual circumstance of the special election made it a particularly active check-writing time for his colleagues.

Senators up for re-election have also received significant K Street funding. They include Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). The 13th most popular Member for lobbyists is House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

Mark Irion, whose firm Dutko Worldwide ranks in the top 20 of givers, said this year’s election cycle is on the usual “high throttled” pace. Already this year, his bipartisan firm’s lobbyists have helped sponsor events for Sens. Cantwell and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) as well as for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and DeLay.

Daniel Mattoon, a partner at PodestaMattoon, said he and his wife, Jane, both maxed out in the previous election cycle.

“I want to make sure my friends stay in power, and my view is you need to put your money where your mouth is,” said Mattoon, a former deputy chairman at the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Democrats actually received about $100,000 more in early money from the top 20 lobbyists.

David Johnson, a partner at Johnson, Madigan, Peck, Boland and Stewart, for one gave a $25,000 contribution to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, a group where he served as executive direction in the 1980s.

Republican Kies said that in addition to giving from his own bank account, he also relies on the support of his colleagues across the country to fund lawmakers in D.C.

Particularly in the Senate, though, Kies said, several races will matter, including that of Santorum. “When you do the math on the Santorum race, the millions of dollars he’s going to have to raise — per day, it’s a lot of money,” he said.

Big donor lobbyists insist that they don’t receive a direct tit-for-tat for the money they give.

“Everyone knows it’s part of the business in the lobbying scene. You have to give money and raise money and have client PAC money going into things,” said Wright Andrews, a partner at Butera and Andrews, whose son Cliff is also a top donor lobbyist.

Gloria Dittus of Dittus Communications said she writes her own checks but does little, if anything, in the way of raising cash from others.

“We support people that our clients are supporting,” she said. Dittus said she also supports the campaigns of longtime colleagues on the Hill and personal friends.

The Duberstein Group’s Michael Berman said he’ll write checks but doesn’t do the fundraising scene like he did in the past. “I’m 66 years old, and I like to have my evenings to myself or with my wife,” he said.

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