Defying 'outsider' label, some lobbyists give to Trump, Cruz and Sanders

Defying 'outsider' label, some lobbyists give to Trump, Cruz and Sanders

It may be one of the smallest clubs in Washington.

A handful of lobbyists around town have made a show of support to the “outsider” candidates running for the White House in 2016: Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz's Dem challenger slams Time piece praising Trump Race for Republican Speaker rare chance to unify party for election 32 male senators back Senate women's calls to change harassment rules MORE (R-Texas), Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSanders ally pushes Dems on cutting superdelegates Sanders: ‘Trump's agenda is dead’ if Democrats win back majority Hannity snaps back at 'Crybaby' Todd: 'Only conservatives have to disclose relationships?' MORE (I-Vt.) and businessman Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpClinton takes swipe at 'false equivalency' in media coverage of 2016 election Trump asked Netanyahu if he actually cares about peace: report Official: Trump to urge North Korea to dismantle nuclear program in return for sanctions relief MORE.

All told, 27 registered lobbyists gave a combined $27,000 to the three candidates last year, according to forms recently filed to the Senate that were analyzed by The Hill.

“I’m not your typical Republican lobbyist,” said Tripp Baird, who runs Off Hill Strategies and gave $1,000 to Cruz. “I’m a lobbyist who is definitely more comfortable around the conservative movement than I am your traditional K Street crowd.”

Baird’s résumé includes work at the conservative group Heritage Action, and he specializes in connecting blue-chip clients like Google to members of the House Freedom Caucus, the conservative voting bloc.

The donors interviewed by The Hill gave different reasons for supporting the anti-establishment candidates: some cited loyalty, others talked of believing in a cause and at least one wanted a piece of history.

Chris Hessler, a lobbyist at AJW, purchased $50 worth of swag at the official Trump store to put in his vault of campaign memorabilia.

“I’m a history major. We’re observing a rather unique moment in American history,” said Hessler, who has a history of working for moderate Republicans. “I’m in it for the political memorabilia of the moment.”

Buying items in a campaign’s shop counts as a contribution under federal law. For his $50, he received two bumper stickers, a duo of rally signs and a hat. 

The other two Trump donors on K Street are Adam Olsen, of Sconset Strategies, who donated $500 in July, and James Gelford, an in-house lobbyist at the March of Dimes Foundation, who reportedly gave $222.43 in August. They did not respond to requests for comment. 

While lobbyists are often vilified on the campaign trail, Cruz, Trump and Sanders have been the most vocal in attacking the Washington establishment during their campaigns.

At a press conference last year, Trump declared: “I know the system better than anybody. The fact is that whether it’s Jeb [Bush] or Hillary [Clinton] or any of ’em — they’re all controlled by these people. And the people that control them are the special interests, the lobbyists and the donors.”

“You know what’s nice about me?” he asked. “I don’t need anybody’s money.”

With the “outsiders” using them as a punch line, lobbyists have mostly gravitated toward the other presidential candidates.

Lobbyists gave more than $731,000 to the campaign of Democratic front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton takes swipe at 'false equivalency' in media coverage of 2016 election Former presidents, first ladies come together to honor Barbara Bush Romney: Parts of Comey book read 'too much like a novel’ MORE last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Jeb Bush, who dropped out over the weekend, also raked in cash from K Street, with advocates giving more than $1.6 million to his campaign and the super-PAC supporting him, Right to Rise.

But a few lobbyists have aligned themselves with Cruz — 15 individuals or groups gave him a total of $23,702 in campaign contributions in 2015.

Lisette Mondello, with the Mondello Group, says her $500 donation to Cruz is partially attributed to her being a Texan. Mondello also worked for former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), the lawmaker that Cruz replaced.

“I’ve supported Sen. Cruz in the past for his Senatorial race to replace my former boss and believe he has done an outstanding job for our state and nation,” Mondello told The Hill in an email.

Ed Rogers of BGR Group, who has given $2,700 to Cruz, has said he “doesn’t have the Cruz allergy many of my Washington friends suffer from.” 

But he’s also given to a number of other White House candidates, including Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP Senate candidates trade barbs in brutal Indiana primary Students gather outside White House after walkout to protest gun violence Overnight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes MORE, Bush and Chris Christie, who dropped out after the New Hampshire primary.

“I’m an anybody-but-Trump guy,” Rogers said, though he complimented Cruz’s ability as a politician.

“When I listen to him, I think, ‘That clears the bar with me,’ ” Rogers said. “He is a conservative Republican ... an authentic Republican.”

Rogers said that Cruz would want to get things done while in the White House, despite being known for his involvement in the 2013 government shutdown fight.

Some of that “grandstanding has been counterproductive,” Rogers said, adding: “By all accounts, he has been a contrarian forever, so he’s been consistent in his contrarianism.”

Other lobbyist donors to Cruz include former Rep. Kent Hance (D-Texas), who switched parties after leaving Congress in 1985, who gave $2,000, and Charles Cooper, the founder of law firm Cooper & Kirk, who gave $5,400 — a financial bet that Cruz will be in both the primary and the general election.

There are fewer lobbyist donors to Sanders, who has made campaign finance reform one of the signature issues of his presidential run.

The records reviewed by The Hill found only a dozen lobbyists donating to Sanders, for a paltry total of $1,746.

“Just because I’m a lobbyist, not all lobbyists are in the tank for corporate America,” said one lobbyist who has donated to the Vermont senator but was not authorized to speak on the record.

“Bernie has opened the door to moving the country further to the left. It’s amazing to me. I’ve never heard Republicans talk about poverty as they are now. They’re devoting more time to addressing it,” the lobbyist said. “He has had an impact on the conversation [on several issues] in a very positive way.”

Sanders often touts receiving small-donor donations that average about $27, and the contributions from lobbyists don’t deviate much from that. While some on K Street reported writing checks ranging in size between $25 and $250, the biggest donation Sanders received from a lobbyist last year was $500.

The lobbyist behind that $500 donation was Michael Correia, the director of government relations for the National Cannabis Industry Association.

Correia said he made the contribution because Sanders has been the most positive candidate about the drug reform movement — including criminal justice sentencing reform.

He cut a check for Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP senator: Democratic opposition to Pompeo 'driven 100 percent by politics' Pompeo lacks votes for positive vote on panel CIA declassifies memo on nominee's handling of interrogation tapes MORE (R-Ky.), who suspended his race for the White House earlier this month, for the same reason.

“My job is basically representing the cannabis industry on Capitol Hill,” he said. “Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders have been the biggest vocal advocates for the movement in general.”