GOP Lobbyists Push to Retake House

Posted April 8, 2008 at 6:36pm

K Street’s Republican younger guns are launching a new fundraising push to help their party try to retake the House.

The effort, called Club 218 in a nod to the number of seats required for a majority in the chamber, has its first event set for Tuesday.

That night, the group’s roughly 50 members will gather at the Capitol Hill Club for a reception benefiting a pair of potentially vulnerable GOPers: Reps. Vito Fossella (N.Y.) and Jon Porter (Nev.). Lobbyists behind the effort expect to host about one event a month, with each benefiting a couple of needy candidates.

The idea is to harness the checkbook power of an emerging class downtown: late 30s and early 40s Republican operatives who, while unable to max out to the party committees, can each muster thousands of dollars in personal contributions.

Members of the group pledge to contribute $5,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee and give an additional $5,000 to candidates, in addition to rounding up attendees for their events.

“It’s a group of friends and former colleagues who have worked together productively in the past. This is another avenue to grow those relationships and do something good with them,” said Tim Kurth, an aide to then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and now a lobbyist for BlueWater Strategies.

Indeed, the group’s membership constitutes an alumni list of former White House staff and senior Congressional players. It includes Drew Maloney of Ogilvy Government Relations, Mike Chappell of Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock, Brett Shogren of The Washington Group, Michael Beer of Williams & Jensen, Nelson Litterst of the C2 Group, Chris Cox of DC Navigators, Mat Lipinski of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, and Justin Lilley, who has a solo practice.

Helping coordinate the group’s efforts from Capitol Hill is another relatively fresh face — House Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.). He’s committed to attending their events, providing guidance with the NRCC, and scouting candidates who could use the club’s help, a GOP leadership aide said.

For its part, the NRCC will provide the group regular updates on the political terrain to help determine where it can make the most impact, committee spokeswoman Julie Shutley said.

They have their work cut out for them. Voter turnout and registration has soared for Democrats during the presidential primary contests. Republicans, meanwhile, are having a tough time trying to restore their battered brand. They lost a special election to fill Hastert’s seat, and polling shows they could lose the upcoming contest for a Louisiana seat they’ve held for 32 years.

In November, the NRCC has to defend 29 Republican open seats with little money in the bank to help. The committee finished last month with $5 million in cash on hand, compared with $38 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. And NRCC officials are still sorting through the mess left by a former treasurer who might have embezzled funds.

Amid that backdrop, club members are finding bright spots. “We’ve actually done a good job on candidate recruitment, many of the retirements we have are in safe districts, and we’ve got some good challenger opportunities that we’re helping to get the message out on,” co-founder Maloney said.

Maloney said part of the club’s function will be to serve as an “echo chamber for all the positive things happening in Republican leadership and in campaign circles.”