Curtailed Recess Puts Summer Fundraising, Lobbying in Flux
Senators may seek new campaign events in D.C. if they will be here anyway
The official Senate calendar isn’t the only agenda in flux after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he would cancel much of the chamber’s cherished summer recess.
The change may also disrupt plans for fundraising events outside Washington — as well as the dockets of lobbyists, who typically take their annual respite along with the congressional recess.
Though many lobbyists and Washington political donors say they’re skeptical the Senate will remain in session for much of August, K Street has begun to reassess the summer.
Far-flung fundraising events long planned for weekdays in August could end up in peril, while senators may seek new campaign events inside the Beltway, if they’re going to be here anyway. The question is: Will donors stick around, too, especially since the House plans to spend its summer break away from Washington?
“If they do put on fundraisers in D.C. in August, the only people attending will be the D.C. cab drivers,” quipped Ken Kies, a tax lobbyist and top Republican donor.
“The vacation fundraising activity could take a hit,” Kies added, if senators can’t get to their scheduled events out of town.
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Mike Fraioli, who runs the Democratic fundraising firm Fraioli & Associates, said it was difficult to begin scheduling in-town events, given the uncertainty of the August schedule. But he said, if it becomes clear that a grueling August looms inside the Capitol, senators will find a way to pull together political events after hours.
“Particularly if you’re in a race where it’s competitive, you’d rather be home campaigning,” Fraioli said. “But if you’re here, there’s money to be raised.”
Locked in stone?
Lobbyists said they had not yet received word about canceled events, but numerous K Street sources said they’d been in touch with Senate aides and fundraising professionals about what to do in August. Senators are wary to cancel their events, especially if their work schedule changes and some recess time gets added back, as has happened in the past.
“I think people think that they may end up amending the cancellation,” said GOP lobbyist Stewart Verdery, who runs the Monument Policy Group. “This has happened before. Is this locked in stone? We don’t know yet.”
The Senate’s extended session into August likely would hurt vulnerable in-cycle Democrats the most, such as North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III. Fundraising consultants for both senators did not respond to requests for comment.
But Republicans also have big plans for destination August fundraisers.
Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran’s eighth annual summer retreat fundraiser at the posh Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is slated for Aug. 12-14. An organizer did not respond to request for comment. Ditto for Idaho Sen. Michael D. Crapo, who has an event planned for Aug. 14-15, in Sun Valley in his home state.
McConnell’s plans for a break the week of Aug. 6 for a state work period means Sen. Dan Sullivan’s annual fishing trip back home in Alaska, slated for Aug. 8-10, could be safe. Missouri GOP Sen. Roy Blunt is the special guest, according to an invitation to lobbyists.
As for monitoring the Senate’s official business in August, lobbyists say they’re unsure what to expect. If the chamber focuses mainly on nominations, then K Street can shrug it off and go on their planned vacations.
“I’ve heard more than one lobbyist say, ‘They can stay here, but I’m not staying here,’” said former House GOP aide Kathryn Lehman, a lobbyist with Holland & Knight. “If you have a deposit down and a vacation plan, my guess is you’re probably going on vacation.”
But anyone who works in the Senate would likely still remain plugged in.
“While there are low expectations of major pieces of legislation making it through the Senate during August, it still forces the K Street community to pay attention to what’s going on,” said Ron Bonjean, a partner in Rokk Solutions and a former Senate aide. “Adjustments are being made to make sure that clients are having their issues monitored.”
Stephanie Silverman, CEO of the lobbying firm Venn Strategies, said she was uncertain how much lobbying would actually take place in August but noted that if the chamber takes action on appropriations bills, that “might cause a few people to cancel summer vacations.”
Verdery, who is following the immigration debates closely, said he doesn’t expect a major deal to come together in August, but if senators were to craft something for September, then crucial behind-the-scenes work may happen this summer.
“It’s going to take a lot of work through the rest of the summer,” Verdery said.
“We’re not telling people to cancel vacations, if they’ve got them scheduled,” he added. “They may be at Rehoboth, or summer camp with their kids, but they can still email and call.”