Business lobbyists flock to Centrist Democrats

One of the earliest signs that life for Democrats would be different in the majority came at a post-election event sponsored by the New Democrat Coalition, the pro-business group of centrist Democrats.

One of the earliest signs that life for Democrats would be different in the majority came at a post-election event sponsored by the New Democrat Coalition, the pro-business group of centrist Democrats.

Previous affairs drew at most 20 lobbyists, but the “meet-and-greet” at Nortel’s Washington office two days after Democrats swept to power drew around 60 mostly high-tech lobbyists looking to build a relationship, according to Kevin Lawlor, the spokesman for New Democrat Coalition (NDC) Chairwoman Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.).

Worried about what the Democratic Congress may mean for their business clients, to say nothing of the new limits on member access Democrats may impose as part of an ethics reform package, lobbyists have tried hard in the weeks following the election to build new links to the new majority.

One favored path has been through moderate to conservative blocs like the New Democrats and the Blue Dogs, who are a group of budget-minded conservative Democrats mostly from Southern states.

And it’s not just lobbyists. The people who want to talk to these groups include President Bush, who last week invited nine members — four Blue Dogs and five New Dems — to a White House meeting that also included Vice President Dick Cheney and senior adviser Karl Rove.

Eric Wortman, a spokesman for the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of budget-minded conservatives, said Bush talked in broad terms about No Child Left Behind, Iraq, Social Security reform and other efforts during the 45-minute meeting.

No specific areas of agreement were reached, but Wortman said members were nevertheless encouraged that the White House had opened a dialogue that previously hadn’t existed.

“The fact that we were sitting in the Oval Office talking to one another face to face instead of through the media was a positive first step,” said Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), a Blue Dog co-chairman, in a statement.

Both New Dems’ and Blue Dogs’ membership grew as a result of the election, which featured a number of Democratic candidates who ran counter to traditional liberal stances on issues ranging from abortion to gun control. There are 44 Blue Dogs in the 110th Congress, versus the 37 in the 109th.

There will be 63 New Dems next year versus the 47 who now claim membership.

And there was further evidence of the new popularity of the groups. Blue Dog leaders had planned on a smallish lunch with lobbyists to discuss their hopes for the new Congress. Organized by ex-Blue Dog Jim Turner, who now lobbies at Arnold Porter, the event turned into a panel discussion moderated by the former Texas Democrat after more than 300 people RSVP’d an interest, Wortman said.

Tauscher’s annual holiday party, a modest affair last year, spilled out of her Kalorama home into a white tent crammed with people.

Lobbyists and companies also have been trying anxiously to “get well” in other ways, such as helping Democrats to retire campaign debt as a last-minute gesture of goodwill.

A fundraiser held last week by the DCCC was well-attended.

“It was very raucous,” one attendee said. Without releasing the exact figure, a spokeswoman said the event raised a “very significant” amount of cash. Tickets ranged from $2,500 to $15,000 to attend the event, and the chance to talk to the new House majority leadership.

New Dems, meanwhile, are expected to take the lead in pushing incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) Innovation Agenda, a series of initiatives favored by high-tech companies, which remain the New Dems’ main off-the-Hill powerbase.

To push it, the coalition has tried to become more cohesive, requiring attendance during New Dem meetings and writing governing bylaws for the first time in the group’s history.

The coalition also has for the first time elected its own whip, Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), to try to ensure cohesiveness.