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Nation: Watchdogs’ Bad News — Events List off the Web

The National Republican Congressional Committee last week stopped publishing on its Web site a schedule of fundraising events hosted by lobbyists and interest groups for GOP House candidates.

The change comes just as the House passed a lobbying reform package that includes more stringent disclosure requirements for fundraisers and specifically targets bundling — a move aimed at shining light on what fundraising activities lobbyists conduct for Members to gain influence with them.

The events calendar on the NRCC site listed a daily tally of GOP fundraisers, including golf tournaments, concerts and destination excursions. It had long been a detailed source for reporters and Congressional watchdog groups monitoring the intersection of money and politics.

But in the wake of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s influence-peddling scandal, and the ethics-wary climate it helped to usher in, the site had become a liability for the committee. The NRCC had been the only one of the four Congressional campaign committees to make such a list public.

A committee spokesman said the sunsetting of the events calendar had been planned ever since NRCC Chairman Tom Cole’s (Okla.) ascension to the post at the beginning of this Congress. The NRCC is in the process of retooling its Web site, and a new site should be unveiled in the next few weeks.

“We inherited the Web site and we are in the process of relaunching the site,” said NRCC spokesman Ken Spain. “We are the only campaign committee that had kept an events page on our Web site, but we planned to discontinue that practice with the relaunch of the site.”

It turns out it was only mere coincidence that the calendar was taken down in the same week that the House passed the long-stalled lobbying reform legislation.

“This was planned from day one,” Spain said.

The bundling provision, included in the larger reform package passed by the House on Thursday, would force lobbyists to report any political checks they solicit or arrange and then hand over to campaigns.
— Lauren W. Whittington

Conservative Legislator Starts Exploratory Effort

State Sen. Andrew Harris (R) created an exploratory committee late last week, meaning he’s another step closer to challenging Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R) in the Feb. 12 Republican primary and can begin raising money.

“During the last month, I have received hundreds of phone calls from Republicans across the First Congressional District asking me to consider running for Congress,” Harris said in a statement. “The grassroots support has inspired me to take this next step in the process.”

Harris, a leading conservative in the Legislature, has been critical of the moderate Gilchrest on several fronts, particularly on the Congressman’s support for Democratic measures to withdraw troops from Iraq.

This is not the first time Gilchrest has attracted opposition from the right — or the first time Harris has taken on an entrenched incumbent. In 1998, the obstetric anesthesiologist won his legislative seat by ousting the moderate state Senate Minority Leader in a GOP primary.

In an interview, Harris said the difference between what he’s doing and previous Gilchrest challengers is that he has enlisted the support of several state and local Republican leaders. Five state Senators and three state Delegates — including the state House Minority Leader — already have agreed to be on his exploratory committee, as has Dick Hug, the top fundraiser for former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R).

“You’ve never had a Republican challenger come out with this level of support,” Harris said.

In an interview earlier this month with Reason magazine, Gilchrest said he was not worried about the prospects of a primary challenge from a pro-war candidate.

‘‘It’s inconvenient,” he said. ‘‘My eternal soul will last a lot longer than my short, pathetic political career.”
— Josh Kurtz

Pearce Warns Donors: DCCC May Be Coming

Two Democrats are vying to knock off Rep. Steve Pearce (R) in November 2008.

But in a fundraising appeal earlier this month, Pearce told supporters that it could be worse.

“Another liberal — or two, or three — could jump into the race,” Pearce says in his letter, which was first reported by New Mexico political blogger Heath Haussamen. “Or worse, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) could get involved in our race. That’s the last thing we need. They have the funds and power to make a real impact in any race they choose and we need to keep them out of the Second District.”

Without mentioning them by name in his fundraising letter, Pearce goes after each of the Democratic candidates, saying one (Doña Ana County Commissioner Bill McCamley) “has a left-wing record including a history of voting for tax increase and fighting against prayer at county commission meetings,” while the other (retired minister and 2006 nominee Al Kissling) “favors the death tax and has said he’s ‘more scared of our own American National Guard than Islamic terrorists.’”

Pearce says the best way to combat the Democrats is to contribute to his campaign before the second quarter of the year ends on June 30.

National Democrats have targeted Pearce before in his Southern New Mexico district, but it isn’t clear whether they plan to do so again. McCamley, a 29-year-old graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, is considered an up-and-comer.
— J.K.

GOP: Goode Things Can Happen vs. Ellsworth

National Republicans think they have found the right candidate to challenge freshmen Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D) in the 8th district next year.

Greg Goode (R), who works for Indiana State University, told local reporters that he is seriously weighing a Congressional bid.

The 34-year-old college official previously worked on Capitol Hill. He was chief of staff to then-Rep. Brian Kerns (R-Ind.) and a legislative aide to Kerns’ predecessor, former Rep. Ed Pease (R).

Goode now works in the university’s government affairs office.

“We believe he will make an excellent candidate,” said Ken Spain, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “As long as Brad Ellsworth continues to vote 90 percent of the time with [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), he will continue to make himself increasingly vulnerable.”

The conservative 8th district supports Republicans in presidential elections, but Ellsworth was a popular former sheriff who may be able to survive ideologically driven attacks.

“Congressman Ellsworth shares his district’s values and has provided an independent voice for the people he represents,” said Ryan Rudominer, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman. “Though we’re still 17 months from Election Day and the NRCC is down and desperate, Ellsworth’s already accomplished just what he said he’d do on a range of issues — fighting for strong ethics reform, lessening our dependence on foreign oil, and standing up for our nation’s fighting men and women. Hoosiers of all political stripes can be extremely proud of that record.”
— Nicole Duran

Simon Says She Won’t Run Again After All

Just weeks after jumping into the race, attorney and 2006 nominee Ellen Simon has dropped her bid for the Democratic nomination to the 1st district.

With the seat currently held by beleaguered Rep. Rick Renzi (R), the Democratic primary is attracting a high level of interest because Renzi is seen as extremely vulnerable in 2008 — if he doesn’t choose to retire and create an equally attractive open seat in the process.

“In recent weeks, I’ve decided to take on an important issue that is very close to my heart, an issue that, if I were to run, would undoubtedly compete for my attention,” Simon said in a statement.

Simon is launching a nonprofit organization designed to address deceitful advertising in political campaigns.

Renzi beat Simon in November by 8 points, but an FBI raid on a business owned by his wife last month led both Republicans and Democrats to question his political viability in 2008.

The competitive Northern Arizona 1st district leans Democratic, but Renzi has been successful in putting together a winning coalition since his first victory in 2002. However, Democrats feel their chances for flipping the seat are markedly improved now that Renzi is on the ethical hot seat.

Among the Democrats interested in running is Mary Kim Titla, a former television news reporter who announced her candidacy last week, according to Indian Country Today.

Several Republicans also are eyeing this seat, although they appear to be waiting to see what Renzi does before making their move.
— David M. Drucker

Congressman Taking Donors on Birdie Hunt

Democrats like to suggest that Rep. Terry Everett (R) could be a candidate for retirement in 2008, when he will be 71 years old. But Everett does not appear to be ready to step off the political stage just yet.

On Sunday and Monday, Everett and his supporters will be hunting birdies — though they’ll be wielding golf clubs, not shotguns. The Congressman will host a two-day fundraiser at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Prattville, with ticket prices ranging from $500 to $3,000 for political action committees willing to sponsor specific holes.

Democrats believe they can make the eight-term Congressman’s 2nd district competitive in an open-seat scenario. Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright (D) is among those mentioned as a possible contender.
— J.K.

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