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Blue Dogs’ Bite Gets Stronger

Blue Dogs get ready: The ranks of obsequious lobbyists looking to curry favor — and contribute to your war chest — is set to explode.

For years, the Blue Dog Coalition, a 49-member group of fiscally conservative, pro-business Democrats, has enjoyed fundraising success. Even in the leanest years of a Democratic minority, Blue Dogs reigned supreme among their party’s fundraisers, the most likely target of businesses looking to dole out contributions to Democrats.

But with the Democratic House majority expected to grow, perhaps significantly, corporate America will need all the help it can get to try to sway Blue Dogs to limit the possible damage to business that some of their more liberal colleagues might want to inflict.

“With many more Democrats coming to Washington after this election, Blue Dogs will enjoy even greater numbers and influence,” lobbyist Scott Parven of Parven Pomper Strategies said.

Since the 2006 elections, the Blue Dog political action committee has become one of the fastest growing, and is among the largest in Democratic leadership. Already it has nearly doubled its fundraising this cycle from the $1.2 million raised in 2006. This cycle, through the end of May, it had raised more than $2.2 million, according to CQ MoneyLine.

That puts it nearly on a par with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s (D-Md.) AMERIPAC, which as of the end of April had raised more than $2.2 million.

“We’ve always been fairly successful with fundraising, even when we were in the minority,” said Vickie Walling, chief of staff to Tennessee Rep. John Tanner, a founding member of the group.

Among the groups donating the maximum $5,000 to the Blue Dog PAC this cycle are the American Beverage Association, T-Mobile, Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, AFLAC Inc., Quest Diagnostics Inc. and Lockheed Martin’s PACs.

So far, the Blue Dogs appear to be primed for significant wins in 2008. Already in two special elections, two Blue Dog-endorsed candidates, Travis Childers (Miss.) and Don Cazayoux (La.), won in long-held Republican districts, bolstering their ranks to 49 out of 236 Democrats.

Lobbyists close to the Blue Dogs say they likely will open their membership ranks again next year, potentially growing to make up as much as a quarter of the Democrats in the House.

The election outlook has created a fervor among lobbyists of both parties of trying to make Blue Dog friends.

“Much of corporate Washington has glommed onto them like white on rice,” said Chuck Merin, a longtime Blue Dog supporter and lobbyist at BKSH & Associates. “These are business groups that ignored them for years, but the great thing about those guys is they weren’t born yesterday.”

In fact, the coalition, which was formed in 1994, has a cadre of K Street allies, including former Blue Dog chairman and ex-Rep. Charlie Stenholm (Texas) of Olsson Frank Weeda and former Blue Dog members and Texas Reps. Jim Turner of Arnold & Porter and Max Sandlin of Fleishman-Hillard Government Relations.

There are also a number of former Blue Dog staffers downtown, including Gordon Taylor of Ogilvy Government Relations, who was chief of staff to then-Rep. Chris John (La.); Ford Motor Co.’s Bruce Andrews, a former staffer to Rep. Tim Holden (Pa.); Francis Creighton of the Mortgage Bankers Association, a former staffer to Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.); Beau Schuyler of UST Inc., a former Tanner staffer; and Jeff Murray of c2 group, former chief of staff to Rep. Bud Cramer (Ala.).

The group also has had success garnering contributions from right-leaning causes such as the National Rifle Association.

“We’ve supported the Blue Dogs since the Blue Dogs were conceived or born,” said NRA Institute for Legislative Action Executive Director Chris Cox, a former Tanner aide.

The NRA has contributed $4,950 this cycle to the Blue Dog PAC, according to FEC records.

Cox isn’t alone.

Democratic lobbyists say they’ve noticed an influx of GOPers crashing Blue Dog events.

Dan Gans of Polaris Government Relations and former Reagan and Bush administration staffer turned lobbyist Tim Rupli are among those who have been spotted at events. Both Gans and Rupli have a history of giving to both Republicans and Democrats.

Over the years, the Blue Dogs have garnered support among business groups by allowing them to meet with Members at their regular breakfasts.

Ex-lawmakers turned lobbyists also are welcome at their weekly meeting, held on Capitol Hill when Congress is in session. While the Blue Dogs had considered closing the meetings following the new ethics rules, they have kept the open-door policy.

Walling says that former Blue Dogs “drop by” from time to time, but that generally they don’t participate in the meetings.

“Once a Blue Dog, always a Blue Dog,” said Turner of Arnold & Porter. “I don’t know of any regular participation by former Members who are Blue Dogs. … I think I would be a little uncomfortable if I were there and one of them was talking about one of the things that were pertinent to my clients.”

The Blue Dogs’ rising star has been on view this Congress. Indeed, 11 of its members are freshmen, part of the class of 2006 that included a gain of 31 Democrats overall.

But despite the growing necessity to make inroads with the Blue Dogs, many lobbyists say they are frustrated that the group does not take a more pointed pro-business stance.

The group’s fiscal responsibility mantra, “pay as you go,” which requires offsets to any budget hikes, is often in opposition to business interests.

“It’s a joke,” said one Democratic lobbyist. “They do meetings with business and business groups but they never vote that way. But what are you going to do? Give up on the entire Democratic Caucus?”

But Merin argues that the Blue Dogs are most effective behind the scenes.

“The private sector has never fully understood the role behind the scenes the Blue Dogs play in encumbering some of the more aggressive instincts of other members of the Democratic Caucus,” Merin said.

“What cannot be codified is the discussions Members have with their leadership and Democratic colleagues about why they cannot and will not support an initiative.”

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