With election approaching, pace of fundraising quickens

How many fundraisers are there for a lobbyist to attend in these anxious days before an expected nail-biter of a midterm?

How many fundraisers are there for a lobbyist to attend in these anxious days before an expected nail-biter of a midterm?

Martin Edwards, who directs government affairs at the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), givesan estimate: “About the same number as there are stars in the sky.”

INGAA’s modest political action committee, which gives only around $50,000 each cycle, will write 12 checks this week to Democrats and Republicans, the most it will hand out this year.

“My fax machine never stops. I think I hear it now,” Edwards said.

This is the last week of the session. With chances for breakthroughs on big issues such as immigration reform or minimum wage seemingly low, there may be more activity off the Hill as lobbyists try to help their friends return to complete all their unfinished work.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, the only one of the four congressional reelection committees to publish a fundraising list, has 80 events listed on its website.

Democrats are scrambling too to build up their war chests in Washington before members head home to campaign. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is holding a dinner with ranking members at the restaurant Bistro Bis tonight. Ticket prices range from $10,000 for event chairs to $500 for guests. A second fundraiser is scheduled for Thursday with House Democratic chiefs of staff.

With the control of the House, and possibly the Senate, in the balance, lobbyists say fundraising pressure is as intense as they can remember for a midterm election.

One Republican lobbyist said typically House members could meet their party fundraising obligations through their own campaign accounts.

But with three-dozen races or more up for grabs, the competition for money has been more intense this cycle, and members have had to more aggressively seek out fundraising help from individuals and PACs beyond their own network, the lobbyist said.

The Energy and Commerce Committee provides an example of how the process works. As an “A” committee, Energy and Commerce had a higher fundraising obligation than most other committees, with the exception of the appropriations and Ways & Means panels.

Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) and committee Republicans pledged to raise $4.2 million for the battleground program, the GOP effort to target money to party’s most endangered incumbents.

As chairman, Barton is expected to raise the most money, followed by subcommittee heads and then the rank-and-file.

Lobbyists said Barton has been active in helping members meet their targets, tapping into the network of interests that appear before his committee.

Members are “very, very close” to reaching their goal, said Barton spokeswoman Karen Modlin.

Energy companies are typically big Republican donors — a trend that has continued this year. But with Democrats, and even a few Republicans, calling for taxes on the oil industry’s huge profits, some in the industry plan to donate more this year than in the past.

Jeff Eshelman, a spokesman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, reflected that the year had been one of “intense political scrutiny” for the oil and gas industry, as high gas prices and record profits put the industry under the political microscope.

“Our companies now recognize that we must do something to tell our story and to elect pro-business legislators,” Eshelman said in an e-mail.

“We believe this will be a record year for involvement in House and Senate elections.”

And that’s not just a reflection of the pressure the industry feels. IPAA PAC bylaws state that money can only be spent on competitive races. With more races at play this year, the group expects to donate $410,000 to candidates and political parties, which would be more than $100,000 more than the PAC spent even in the presidential race in 2004.

With the possibility that Democrats will retake the House a strong possibility in some analysts’ minds, one Democratic lobbyist also reported that energy companies have more actively given to the minority party candidates in recent weeks. Those efforts have yet to show up on fundraising reports, however.

Other groups, spurned on by unresolved legislative issues or other motivations, are stepping up their fundraising for candidates they like as well.

Latino Leaders, for example, a group dedicated to supporting Hispanic candidates for office, next week is holding a breakfast fundraiser for Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey at the Phoenix Park Hotel.

Mickey Ibarra, the executive director of Latino Leaders and founder of his own lobbying firm, said the event is expected to raise $100,000 for Menendez, a Democrat in a tight race with Republican Tom Kean, Jr.

Ibarra, who directed the intergovernmental affairs office in the Clinton administration, said the event could be the largest Latino fundraiser ever held.