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Lobbyists pledge allegiance to Team Bush

Power players in the lobbying industry are lining up behind Jeb Bush’s bid for the White House.

The growing support will be on full display Friday, when lawyers, consultants, industry executives and lobbyists will gather for a fundraiser at Washington’s Union Station. Entry into the event requires a contribution of at least $2,700 to the Bush campaign, the maximum amount an individual can give to a candidate during a primary.

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The luncheon is seen as a chance to pledge allegiance to his nascent campaign, an oath that several prominent lobbyists have already taken.

When Bush announced his 2016 bid on Monday in Florida, several lobbyists were in the crowd cheering him on, including the chief executives of two powerhouse lobby firms, Kimberley Fritts of the Podesta Group and Lanny Griffith of BGR Group.

“I thought his speech was one of the best speeches I’ve ever seen him give. He’s all in and I’m all in,” said Fritts, who previously worked on Bush’s campaign for Florida governor. “People stay true to their political mentors, and Jeb is mine.”

The fundraising push for Bush is shifting into high gear now that he has officially entered the race for the White House. Many lobbyists appear ready to pony up. 

“In talking to people, there is always that question of, ‘Hey, it’s early,’ ” said one industry lobbyist, referring to potential fundraising roadblocks at the beginning of the race. “But there’s [also the] metaphor of ‘money talks, but early money screams.’

“If you’re in D.C. working on behalf of an industry, you’re working to try and hedge your political and policy risk,” added the lobbyist. “Part of staying in the dialogue is staying connected to people who may end up in positions to make policy in the next administration.”

Some of K Street’s most influential movers and shakers have pledged to pool together at least $27,000 in donations to the campaign for Friday’s fundraiser. 

In addition to Fritts and Griffith, those pursuing that fundraising goal include Kirk Blalock of Fierce Government Relations; Brian McCormack, a vice president for political and external affairs at Edison Electric Institute; Sara Fagen, a partner at DDC Public Affairs; Reg Brown at WilmerHale; and Jack Oliver, a senior policy adviser at Bryan Cave who handled donor relations while working for former President George W. Bush’s two presidential campaigns.

Donors in a second tier have pledged to bundle $13,500 each. Among that group are Rob Collins, a former Republican campaign operative now at lobby firm S-3 Group; Ron Kaufman at McKenna Long & Aldridge; Ashley Davis at West Front Strategies; Stacey Hughes at The Nickles Group; and Ziad Ojakli, Ford Motor Co.’s chief lobbyist.

Dirk Van Dongen, the president of the National Association of Wholesalers-Distributors, is bundling $27,000 for the Bush event and has been organizing other fundraisers around town. He held a meeting of GOP operatives in January at the group’s offices that requested big checks for Bush’s fundraising vehicles.

“There is absolutely no doubt that we have the largest field of candidates and potential candidates in memory,” he said. “But from the standpoint of Jeb Bush, I have had no difficulty in raising money for him to date, for his leadership PAC and his super-PAC.”

The former governor has been fundraising at a breakneck pace since the beginning of the year, when he announced he was exploring a run for president. The Right to Rise super-PAC — which Bush can no longer coordinate with now that he’s an official candidate — reportedly raked in $90 million by the spring.

“He works really hard; I don’t think anybody is going to outwork him in this campaign,” Ojakli said of his attraction to the candidate. “He’s a policy wonk, self-professed, but he’s also able to see the bigger picture.”

Fundraising is one area where Bush’s famous family gives him an advantage. Most of the 44 bundlers bringing the most cash to the event on Friday have connections to either his brother or father or both.

A veteran of the George W. Bush White House said Jeb Bush is drawing strong support from establishment Republicans, many of whom backed Mitt Romney’s successful run for the GOP nomination in 2012.

“I think that if you look at that list, everyone would have been on Romney’s [fundraising] list,” the former Bush official said of the guest list for Friday’s event. “We obviously all like the Bushes, but we’re also all good Republican donors.”

Some lobbyists on K Street who aren’t listed on the invitation for Friday’s event are also known to be Bush supporters.

Former GOP Reps. Bill Paxon (N.Y.) and Tom Loeffler (Texas), now at No. 1 lobby firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, have helped the former Florida governor fill his campaign coffers.

Eric Tanenblatt, the co-chairman of the public policy and regulatory affairs at McKenna Long and Aldridge, is helping to organize fundraisers for Bush in Georgia.

Tanenblatt is also working to set up meetings with Bush and business leaders. The state is home to 20 Fortune 500 companies, including Coca-Cola, Home Depot, UPS, Delta Airlines and Georgia Pacific, a Koch Industries company.

Former Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.), who served as Florida’s attorney general before heading to law firm Dentons, is in Bush’s corner, as is Chris Cox, the founding principal of Navigators Global who served in the George W. Bush administration.

Al Cardenas, a senior partner at K Street giant Squire Patton Boggs, called Bush one of his best friends and is providing the candidate with advice on immigration and Latin American policy, helping to raise funds and working as a surrogate for the campaign in the media.

Cardenas, the former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, was in attendance during Bush’s announcement earlier this week, where the former governor jabbed Washington lobbyists in his stump speech.

“We will also challenge the culture that has made lobbying the premier growth industry in the nation’s capital,” Bush said. “The rest of the country struggles under big government, while comfortable, complacent interest groups in Washington have been thriving on it.”

Cardenas said Bush’s remark was not a rebuke of the lobbying profession.

“What he meant to say, and I’ve talked to him privately, [is that] politicians should not be beholden to anyone except America’s best interests,” Cardenas said. “He understands that the lobbying world — at its best — is well-informed and educates policymakers. But at the end of the day, that should be the beginning and end of their function.”