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Republicans Solicit Lobbyists for Input on Party Platform

In a series of small, private meetings, Republican officials have solicited input for their party platform from lobbyists and policy experts on Capitol Hill.

Recent sessions held at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C., have covered financial regulation, defense, foreign policy and energy, among other topics.

Most of the attendees remain tight-lipped about the meetings. And an RNC spokeswoman, Kirsten Kukowski, said the party has no record of who has been invited and who has attended “because it’s too hard to keep track of.”

But high-profile K Streeters who have attended include Candida Wolff, Citigroup’s executive vice president for global government affairs, who was the chief Congressional liaison for President George W. Bush. A Citi spokeswoman confirmed that Wolff attended a financial services platform meeting but said the lobbyist had no comment.

Hill aides for Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who co-chair the GOP platform committee, have sat in on the meetings, according to participants. Those lawmakers’ offices also declined to comment or referred comment to the RNC.

The sessions are coordinated by RNC staff, in particular Elise Stefanik, policy director for the party’s platform. Stefanik declined comment through Kukowski, who said there would be more such meetings but noted they are closed to the press.

“We have a staff that works on this full time, and they are making sure they’re reaching out to every single person they can,” Kukowski added. “We are looking for discussion, people to bring new ideas and a new perspective.”

For both major parties, the platform sets out broad policy positions and visions on sweeping issues from health care to foreign policy, same-sex marriage to tax reform, education to the economy.

The meetings at the RNC are a precursor to more formal sessions of the platform committee scheduled for later this month in Florida, before the GOP convention, which takes place Aug. 27-30 in Tampa. Then, the platform will be brought up for an official vote on the floor of the convention.

Democratic party officials have also sought myriad views as they craft their document. Just this past weekend, the party held its platform drafting committee meeting in Minneapolis – which included a “listening to America” portion, according to DNC spokeswoman Melanie Roussell.

The participants there included Doug Peterson of the National Farmers Union, Ethan Rome of Health Care for America Now, the Human Rights Campaign’s Allison Herwitt, Planned Parenthood’s Connie Lewis, Terry O’Neill of the National Organization for Women and Bill Luddy of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, according to a list emailed by Roussell.

“This is an inclusive process. Anyone who wants to testify is invited to do so,” Roussell said of the DNC platform sessions. “This is not the same as closed-door meetings with lobbyists at the RNC.”

Public Citizen lobbyist Craig Holman, who has not attended any of the RNC sessions, criticized the Republicans for being overly cozy with hired guns.

“Republicans this time around are really focusing on integrating K Street with the Republican Party,” Holman said.

He said it helps the party forge ties with corporate executives who direct their companies’ political spending.

“Working with K Street lobbyists in trying to develop the party platform is just one more part of that strategy,” Holman said. “It provides lobbyists with immediate direct and disproportionate access to pursue their clients’ interest.”

But Kukowski stressed that the lobbyists and other outside participants were not writing the party’s platform and instead are simply offering policy ideas. “We cast a wide net,” she said.