Republican presidential front-runners courting an anti-Washington mood among their primary voters are counting on Washington lobbyists to pay their bills.
Tonight, the hosts at a $1,000-a-head event for Newt Gingrich, being held two blocks from the White House, include former Louisiana Representative Robert Livingston, Kenneth Kies, a leading tax lobbyist, and Clint Robinson, Research In Motion’s vice president of government relations, according to a copy of the invitation.
The three are among more than 60 lobbyists raising money for Gingrich and Republican rivals Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Together, they represent almost 500 companies, associations and interest groups that will be affected by the next president’s policies; Verizon Communications Inc. alone has six of its outside lobbyists raising money for Republican candidates.
“The clients are the ones who are winning here,” said Craig Holman, who presses for stricter campaign finance laws at Public Citizen, an advocacy group based in Washington.
Lobbyist fundraisers are an elite class of donors because they use their influence with friends and clients to drive donations to a candidate. Overall, registered lobbyists and others working for policy groups or law firms that lobby donated more than $500,000 through Sept. 30 to candidates running for president, with Romney taking in $206,550, more than anyone else, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group.
While President Barack Obama’s campaign doesn’t accept contributions from registered lobbyists, he has taken in $84,459 from non-registered employees at firms that lobby.
Former House Speaker Gingrich is in need of fundraising help after vaulting to the lead in national polls. At the end of the third quarter, he had raised $2.9 million, compared with $17.2 million for Texas Governor Perry and $32.6 million for former Massachusetts Governor Romney. Gingrich also had $1.2 million in debt.
The event at the Occidental Grill & Seafood restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue tonight had 16 hosts as of last week. Livingston, who at one point in 1998 was slated to succeed Gingrich as House speaker, counts Verizon among the clients who have paid his firm $6.5 million so far this year.
Livingston said his motivation to help Gingrich raise money isn’t about business. “I have eight grandkids and I want them to grow up in a decent, healthy, wonderful country,” he said.
Lobbyists Sam Geduldig and Drew Maloney are among the more than 75 hosts who agreed to raise at least $1,000 for Romney as part of a Dec. 14 “young professionals” event featuring Romney’s son, Tagg. Individual tickets are going for $100.
And Dirk Van Dongen and Jade West of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, which has spent $319,646 to lobby this year, have helped Perry ease into Washington, with a meet-and-greet in October and a Sept. 27 $1,000-a-head kickoff fundraiser for which hosts raised at least $10,000.
“You use your personal time to do it,” Van Dongen, president of the association, said in an interview. “You tend to support a candidate because you have a relationship to begin with or there’s something about the candidate from a policy or ideological point of view with which you more highly identify.”
When lobbyists bundle donations through events or phone solicitations that add up to more than $16,000, campaigns are required to disclose their names and amounts raised, though only on a quarterly basis. As of Sept. 30, Romney listed eight lobbyists -- including Maloney -- who had raised almost $1 million combined. Perry listed one, Dan Brouillette, who had brought in $77,000. Gingrich had none.
Romney acted early to line up top Washington fundraisers. Spencer Zwick, Romney’s national fundraising chairman, invited lobbyist Rick Hohlt to meet him for drinks in March 2010 at the Willard Hotel.
“He just wanted to tell me about the campaign and, ‘Would I be interested in helping?’” Hohlt, who runs his own firm, said in an interview. “It’s one thing if the guy just walks onto the field. It’s another thing saying, ‘Why don’t you play with us and here’s why.’”
GE to Pfizer
The lobbyist-bundlers represent clients big and small, from Indian tribes to General Electric Co. and drugmaker Pfizer Inc. The health-care and financial industries are represented by the biggest proportion of the group, followed by energy, technology and telecommunications, according to records filed with Congress.
The Republican presidential candidates benefiting from their fundraising have all pledged to repeal new regulations to rein in the financial industry and to do away with the health-care law that expanded insurance coverage.
Verizon, which has spent $12.3 million through Sept. 30 on lobbying, pushed to weaken Internet rules proposed by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski.
Stakes are High
“There’s a lot at stake in the White House race this year in a way that is different from what was at stake in the past,” said Anthony Corrado, a campaign finance expert at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. “That’s stimulating much more fundraising activity out of interests who are concerned about the direction of government policy.”
Spokesmen for Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE and New York-based Verizon and Pfizer all said that the partisan political activity of their outside lobbyists had nothing to do with them.
“We don’t know who they are, we don’t know what they’re doing and it’s not an issue we pay attention to,” said Edward McFadden, a Verizon spokesman.
Even so, such activity helps a lobbyist’s client roster, said Rogan Kersh, a public policy professor at New York University.
“Bundling checks or other high-profile fundraising can earn invitations to White House parties, occasional meet-and greets with presidents or top staffers,” Kersh said. “That appearance of proximity can carry great weight.”