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Campaign Fundraisers in D.C. Continue Despite Recess

Rep. Todd Akin’s quest for a Senate seat took him about 900 miles from Missouri this week for a visit to K Street.

The Republican candidate’s swing through Washington, D.C., where his campaign hit up lobbyists and political action committees for contributions, is hardly unique. After Congress all but shut down last month so Members could campaign in their states and districts, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle reappeared this week for refueling.

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) held his annual Maker’s Mark Tasting and Bottle Dipping on Monday at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) was in D.C. for a Tuesday fundraiser. Ditto for Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

Members who represent areas near D.C. are also mingling with the K Street crowd. The National Association of Realtors planned an event this morning with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

“If you’re running for office, this is one of the money centers,” Democratic lobbyist and high-dollar donor Steve Elmendorf said. “It never stops. People raise money all year round all the time.”

Many of the October fundraisers were scheduled before Congress recessed because the House and Senate were expected to work until Columbus Day.

Akin, whose campaign aides did not respond to a request for comment, booked multiple D.C. events, including a Wednesday luncheon co-hosted by former aide Tom Carpenter, now a lobbyist at Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates.

The Congressman is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, but he has had a difficult time raising campaign money because many GOP insiders have distanced themselves following Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape.” McCaskill said Wednesday that her campaign brought in nearly $6 million in the third quarter.

“We feel like our support is starting to come back,” said Carpenter, whose event included GOP Sens. Tom Coburn and James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as honorary hosts.

Those Senators gave money and lent their names but did not appear at the luncheon. “We’re hopeful other Senators will come back on board,” Carpenter said.

The Sunlight Foundation’s Kathy Kiely said the return of many politicians seeking D.C. cash during the recess shows the importance of big money in politics, especially with the price tag for the 2012 elections being one for the record books.

“What it’s saying is essentially those campaign dollars are more significant than the hands you would shake or the people you would meet on a day out on the campaign trail,” she said. “For Akin, he needs the money, and he feels he can use that money to reach more voters.”

But it affords the influencer set a level of access that ordinary voters typically can’t fit into their budgets, Kiely added. “People in Washington who can afford to write big checks get more attention of politicians than people back home who can’t afford to write big checks,” she said. “It’s a stark statement of the distorting effect that money has on politics.” 

Even though many D.C. fundraising events have gone on as planned despite Congress’ early exit, some have been scrapped. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who is not up for re-election, canceled an aviation industry breakfast set for today, according to an event organizer. 

Some lawmakers have opted for what might be the best of both worlds: pre-election fundraisers in their districts, such as one coming up for Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) in a Denver suburb and the mid-month golf outing for Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) in his home state, according to listings from the campaign committees.

And even if Members aren’t doing events in D.C. or on their home turf, the dash for dollars goes on.

“The phones are still ringing,” Democratic fundraiser Mike Fraioli said.

The appeals for support will not end on Election Day. Lobbyists say they expect an influx of invites for debt retirements and meet and greets when Members and Members-elect arrive in the capital in mid-November.

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