K Street rallies, grumbles about House Dems

Following electoral triumphs this fall, House Democratic leaders are meeting with Democratic lobbyists today in a bid to translate the party’s widespread enthusiasm into cash to fill campaign coffers.

Yet the meeting, one of a number of its kind, comes as some lobbyists are grumbling that they have not been enjoying the same access to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) as they have in the past.

House Democrats’ campaign chief, Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) are set to meet with lobbyists this afternoon to trumpet the party’s recent wins and preview competitive races in 2006, Democratic sources said.

A similar meeting with the Democrats’ Business Council took place Nov. 8, drawing four dozen K Street insiders to the Wasserman Room at Democratic headquarters. The lobbyists heard from members of the Democrats’ Frontline program, which supports the party’s 10 most vulnerable House incumbents, and from Emanuel.

While such sessions with lobbyists are not new, and they do go far in encouraging K Street contributions, some lobbyists were annoyed that the party’s campaign arm has been reaching out to them more than Pelosi’s office has.

Since the departure this summer of Chief of Staff George Crawford, Pelosi’s office has not been holding its Friday meeting with lobbyists on a regular basis, said several attendees.

“They’ve canceled them a lot more often than they’ve had them,” said one regular attendee.

Democratic sources could recall only two or three meetings occurring since the new chief of staff, John Lawrence, took over in July.

“It’s all about a relationship,” said another frequent attendee. “More communication is always better.”

Some lobbyists were skeptical when Lawrence took over that he would not continue the K Street gatherings that Crawford had started because he had been a longtime aide to Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who has often been averse to the lobbying community.

But they were heartened earlier this fall when Lawrence called them in and announced that he would continue the meetings.

“Lawrence apologized for not having held the meetings sooner. He said the meetings are helpful and he appreciates our help,” said a lobbyist who attended two briefings this fall.

Yet after the initial enthusiasm for the gatherings, Pelosi’s office cancelled many more, prompting moderate discontent in the lobbying community.

Jennifer Crider, Pelosi’s spokeswoman, said that many meetings have been cancelled due to legislative business, stating, “Congress has been in session on Fridays because Republicans have been unable to get it together to respond to Democratic unity. We have and will always continue to maintain an open and frequent line of communication with our allies.”

Meetings with lobbyists are a daily occurrence on Capitol Hill, with nearly every leadership office on both sides of the aisle convening some like-minded lobbying group to discuss recent developments and preview legislative strategies.

Hoyer also holds regular meetings with lobbyists and these meetings have not been disrupted, lobbying sources said.

Among the frequent attendees of the gatherings in Pelosi’s office are Bruce Andrews at Quinn Gillespie, Chuck Brain of Capitol Hill Strategies, David Castagnetti of Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, Andrew Dodson from the National Beer Wholesalers Association, Steve Elmendorf with Bryan Cave Strategies, Ronna Freiberg of Legislative Strategies Group, Matthew Gelman at Microsoft Corp., Broderick Johnson from AT&T, Michael Hutton and Melissa Schulman of Bockorny Petrizzo, Alan Roth at Lent Scrivner & Roth, Sandra Stuart at Clark & Weinstock, and Dan Turton at Timmons & Co.

Lobbying sources said that the meetings with Democratic leadership are often helpful to both sides. Lobbyists get a sense of what is happening on Capitol Hill and what the leaders plan to do next, while leaders can run plans past K Street early to avoid any surprises or disagreements farther down the line.

Hoyer has sought to make himself the first contact for K Street among House leadership, even designating certain staffers to handle outreach to lobbyists, sources said.