K Street Warms Up to Would-Be Speaker

Posted May 25, 2010 at 6:42pm

K Street is starting to see red.

With House Republicans poised to make major gains in November and Minority Leader John Boehner working to become the next Speaker, lobbyists are not-so-quietly cozying up to the Ohio Republican.

Several GOP lobbyists said they are advising their clients to try to make inroads with Boehner before the 112th Congress, even though a Republican takeover next year is far from assured.

“House Republicans will matter more in November because we are going to pick up quite a few seats,” said Quinn Gillespie & Associates lobbyist Marc Lampkin, a former Boehner Congressional aide. “Being bullish on Republicans in the House is a good investment right now.”

For many lobbyists, that means advising clients to increase their campaign contributions to Republican incumbents — particularly to vulnerable Members whom Boehner has put at the top of his political priority list.

The message from K Street seems to be resonating. The Minority Leader, optimistic about the prospect of taking back the House, is raising money at a fast clip.

Boehner’s fundraising picked up dramatically during the first quarter of this year. His Freedom Project political action committee, for example, raked in $60,000 in February. That’s almost double the $35,000 that the PAC reported bringing in at the same point two years ago. As of mid-April, Boehner’s campaign committee had raised $3.2 million, while his Freedom Project PAC had brought in $1.9 million by the end of March. Raising that money means putting in face time with downtown.

Boehner and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.), along with the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation, held a fundraiser Tuesday for vulnerable Republican Rep. Charlie Dent (Pa.) at the Capitol Hill Club. And Boehner has a Freedom Project fundraiser today at the Capital Grille, a favorite haunt of lobbyists, that is expected to draw heavily from the pharmaceutical industry, according to lobbyists familiar with the event.

Boehner allies say his fundraising appeal has skyrocketed now that the GOP no longer controls Congress and the White House. Not to mention, they say, that the beleaguered Republican National Committee’s fundraising has been dismal this cycle.

“I think his presence for some people carries more gravitas than it used to,” said Altria’s top lobbyist, Bruce Gates, who is close to Boehner. “The guy you hung out with at the club, golf course or legislative coalition meeting, suddenly you look at him a little differently.”

The lobbyists’ strategy to up campaign contributions to Republican Members isn’t that surprising to Democrats who have complained that K Street has never warmed to the majority party, even after it swept control of Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008.

“These guys are going to have to run the table to win back the House,” one Democratic lobbyist said. “It’s a long time between now and November. While folks may be prematurely measuring the drapes, I think everything needs to fall into place for that to happen.”

Uphill Climb

Democrats have fresh hope that they will hold on to the House after Rep. Mark Critz’s (D) decisive win over Republican Tim Burns in the Pennsylvania special election last week.

And despite Boehner’s intensity, House Democrats are still outraising House Republicans when it comes to PAC contributions. House Democrats have raised about $106 million so far this cycle from PACs, according to a CQ MoneyLine analysis. House Republicans have raised about
$58 million over the same time period.

That’s not deterring Boehner, however. who is also regularly headlining events outside of Washington, D.C., something that was less common in the previous cycle, according to Republican lobbyists.

Boehner spokesman Don Seymour said the Ohio Republican has appeared at 192 fundraising events this cycle and, through these events, has raised more than
$9.8 million for GOP candidates and party committees.

“He’s headlined more than 80 events in 20 states all over the country, including Ohio, Louisiana, Florida, Wyoming, California and elsewhere,” Seymour said.

He added that Boehner is expected to headline more events as the midterm elections draw near.

Kitchen Cabinet

A regular on the cocktail and fundraising circuit, Boehner has long been friendly with a number of corporate and contract lobbyists — a network that he is increasingly relying on now as he eyes the Speakership. Altria’s Gates, along with his wife, Joyce Gates, who once served as Boehner’s chief of staff, and Quinn Gillespie’s Lampkin are considered key members of Boehner’s inner circle, as are Gary Andres of Dutko Worldwide, Terry Holt, a former Boehner aide who is now with the Republican lobbying firm HDMK, and John Fish, an in-house lobbyist with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

Ohio native Steve Clark of Clark, Lytle & Geduldig, his partner Sam Geduldig, who was Boehner’s political director, and Glover Park Group’s Brian Gaston, another one-time Boehner staffer, are also tight with the top House Republican.

“I think that he has an excellent relationship with a lot of people on K Street,” Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) said. “He raises a lot of money through the Freedom Project, and of course, he transfers a lot of money to the team, to the [National Republican Congressional Committee] and to Members.”

Member Relations

His K Street ties notwithstanding, Boehner has also worked hard to shore up his relationships under the Dome — a move that his allies say will solidify his support for Speaker.

“He is a popular leader of the Republican Conference, he is a good team builder and he’s holding the Conference together really well,” Kline said.

Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio) said Boehner has taken to the national stage in the past year in part because President George W. Bush is no longer in the White House.

“I think that he feels much more comfortable in the role of Republican leader without having somebody that’s close to him in the White House,” Tiberi said. “He seems like he has a weight off his shoulders in a way. I certainly think he has found his legs this year. In five months, he has really done a much better job as leader.”

Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, whom Boehner tapped earlier this year to serve as the chairman of the GOP leadership, said that when he announced Boehner would hold a fundraiser for him in Portland, he noticed an increased interest among his donors about meeting the Republican leader.

“Business leaders are saying, ‘I’d like to meet him,’ ‘I want to meet him,’ ‘I’ve seen him,’ ‘I like him,'” Walden said. “And they know they are not coming for free.”

Walden added, “He’s cool under fire and has been consistent in his principled views, and there’s a growing base of support.”