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Lobbyists want spot on Team Scalise

Greg Nash

Lobbyists are rushing to cozy up to new House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.

Scalise (R-La.), who had been serving as chairman of the influential Republican Study Committee, does not bring an extensive network of downtown contacts to his new job as third in command of the House Republican Conference.  

Advocates at trade associations and lobby firms want to change that, and are looking for ways to get on good terms with the Louisiana Republican.

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“Lobbyists are now looking at what clients have facilities in his district so they can connect with him in a more effective way,” said one Republican strategist with ties to the lobbying community.

Scalise beat out Rep. Peter Roskam (Ill.) for the whip job on Thursday, completing a House leadership shakeup that started with the surprise loss of Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) last week.

Those who know Scalise have been tracking his ascent since 2008, when he was elected to his first term in Congress and joined the House Energy & Commerce Committee, a powerful panel with wide ranging jurisdiction over matters important to business. As such, energy and telecommunications lobbyists tend to know him best.

“I think that people who didn't realize the importance of the Study Committee and didn't see his ascension are going to be scrambling” to get to know him, said Ralph Hellmann, a partner at the Lugar Hellmann Group who worked in House leadership and within the Republican Study Committee while on Capitol Hill. 

“He has successfully driven a number of legislative projects to victory, whether it's taking on carbon taxes or helping the Republican Study Committee do a budget… People may underestimate what a good legislator he is,” Hellmann said. “If people are surprised, I don't know what they've been watching the last few years.”

A Republican energy lobbyist said Scalise’s victory in the leadership race proves how effective he is at rallying support among his colleagues.

“Winning on the first bout is a pretty good sign that he appeals to colleagues outside of the RSC conference,” he said.

But unlike Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who will succeed Cantor as majority leader, Scalise hasn’t posed massive fundraising numbers during his rise through the ranks.

A report from the Center for Responsive Politics, Scalise has raised $5.7 million in campaign cash since 2008. Cantor, meanwhile, raised $5.4 million in the last two years alone.

Still, Scalise is no stranger to big-time players on K Street.

Lobbyists who have contributed to Scalise’s campaign include Wayne Berman at the Blackstone Group, Jay Cranford at Clark Geduldig Cranford & Nielsen, Tiffany Moore and Elizabeth Frazee of TwinLogic Strategies, senior in-house lobbyist for DirecTV Andrew Reinsdorf, Kyle Nevins at Capitol Counsel and former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), who now has his own firm.

“In lobbying, the name of the game is fundraising, that's all they care about with us,” said another Republican lobbyist and fundraiser. “Sure, we can give them advice, but if we aren't contributing, what are we doing? If we’re not contributing, we don't deserve a seat at the table.”

Scalise’s office is pushing back hard against the notion that there’s any way to cultivate a beneficial relationship with the third most powerful Republican in the House.

“We frown upon anyone using [his or her] relationship to capitalize on Mr. Scalise's hard work,” Scalise’s office told The Hill.

It’s nearly certain that Scalise will have to shift his fundraising activities into a higher gear now that he’s majority whip.

Scalise’s leadership PAC — a fundraising tool used by lawmakers to curry favor with colleagues — has only raised $206,000 in this campaign cycle and given away $76,000, a fraction of the $2.6 million Roskam has donated to other committees.

“Scalise supports his colleagues will continue and increase that support, chief of staff. As members ask him to help with their political races, he is doing everything he can to help his colleagues and the team,” said Lynnel Ruckert, his chief of staff. 

His leadership committee, called the Eye of the Tiger PAC, gave the National Republican Congressional Committee $12,000 and large chunks of cash to Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) and Rep. Vance McAllister (R-La.), divvying up the rest of the funds among other conservative members and candidates.

“With his rise to majority whip, that will combined with the fact that he's a very likable guy with strong relationships with his other members of Congress will really help his fundraising numbers grow as he assumes the leadership position,” said Ron Bonjean, the Republican partner of public affairs firm Singer Bonjean Strategies.

Scalise has one big thing in common with McCarthy, as they both employ Aaron Poe as a fundraising consultant.

McCarthy, as majority whip, raised and spent more than $1.4 million with his leadership PAC so far this election cycle.

A Republican strategist said that lobbyists are already looking for opportunities to hold fundraisers for Scalise.

“Everyone's trying to get closer to him,” said the GOP lobbyist, who is also a fundraiser. “It's gross, but it's how this city works.”