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The calls come in with numbing regularity, especially as the legislative season draws to a close.”Hey, it’s Bob Goodlatte,” begins the Virginia Republican in a call saved on the voice mail of one lobbyist, who wishes to remain anonymous. “I hope everything is going well with you. I have another big favor to ask,” adds Goodlatte, who was first elected in 1992 and now chairs the House Agriculture Committee. “I have my final fund-raising event of the year coming up on this Thursday, September 28, at the Capitol Hill Club, from five-thirty to seven, and seats are a thousand dollars,” he adds, then, moving into the windup, mentions one of the lobbyist’s clients. “It’s been a little while since they’ve contributed. I wonder if you could go to bat for me with them and see if you could get them to make a contribution.” It’s certainly not the only call the 54-year-old congressman will make. “Fund raising is part of the political reality,” says Laura Bell, finance consultant for Goodlatte’s campaign PAC, in an e-mail, “and in order to get your message out, you need the finances to do so.” That is true even for someone like Goodlatte, who has no serious opposition in his race for re-election to his northwestern Virginia seat. Yet, like the entire lobbying community, Goodlatte is also under intense pressure to raise money for members in much tighter races, using the “leadership” political action committee he quaintly calls the “Good Fund.” It can’t be a chore that anyone relishes, and it’s not going to diminish, either, despite a year of scandal in the lobbying community that, at one point, appeared to be the perfect storm needed for reform. Indeed, if Congress really did want an excuse to tackle the inherently corrupting �problem of money and politics, it wasn’t going to find a better symbol than convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. With his black fedora and trench coat, his Indian tribal clients who forked over $100,00 a month, and a raft of incriminating e-mails�which referred to Native Americans as “troglodytes” and “monkeys”�Abramoff presented a picture of crassness and greed rarely seen before in Washington. Yet nearly a year after his guilty plea on three felony counts of defrauding American Indian tribes and public corruption, and after pious breast-beating by members of Congress, there has only been a scintilla of change. Anti-reformers argue the Abramoff affair was an aberration and that no new laws are needed because Abramoff violated statutes already on the books. But Abramoff’s end goal was still the essence of the lobbying business: influencing public policy on behalf of private interests. And the principal, though not the sole, currency for that transaction remains what it has always been�namely, money and gifts, from expensive meals to overseas trips to campaign contributions, distributed to the right members of Congress. “The decision-making process has been corrupted by the influence of lobbyists and those with money and political power,” says Rep. Martin Meehan, the Massachusetts Democrat who co-sponsored a major reform bill this year. The more money the lobbyist raises, the more powerful the lobbyist; the more powerful the lobbyist, the more money he can charge for the privilege of representing a client’s views to a member of Congress. It’s not that the client buys influence directly; rather, one buys the privilege of trying to influence a lawmaker, the right to skip to the front of the line to make one’s case, the right to present draft legislation that will receive serious consideration. And nowhere are the ties between lobbyists and lawmakers more pervasive and more symbiotic than in Washington. Here, K Street values the people it hires�almost all of whom are former congressional staffers�more for whom they know than what they know. Ex-aides to senior congressional leaders command princely salaries; a corporate polluter will pay dearly for a lobbyist on a first-name basis with the member of Congress who chairs the subcommittee that oversees the Environmental Protection Agency. According to the Senate’s Office of Public Records, there are some 14,000 actively registered lobbyists in Washington today�three times the number just 10 years ago. BUYING POWER Despite several bills that would have done everything from mandating more frequent lobbying disclosures to banning lobbyist-sponsored parties at political conventions, the only changes for D.C. lobbyists occurred in the House of Representatives, which on Feb. 1 banned former members who are registered lobbyists from their traditional privilege of continued access to the House floor and the House gym. And last summer the House enacted a rule change requiring that all earmarks be disclosed, along with their congressional sponsors. House rules must be approved at the beginning of each new Congress, so it’s possible, although unlikely, that even those minor reforms may not be reinstated next year. “The political leadership needs to feel forced to act on reform, and if something isn’t on the front pages of America’s newspapers all the time, it doesn’t happen. There are too many other issues on the front burner,” says Meehan. Indeed, with the balance of power in the House up for grabs next month, and the price of television air time ever more expensive, the quest for campaign dollars has gotten only more frantic. And more expensive. According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, D.C.-area lobbyists have given $17.4 million in the 2006 election cycle, based on Federal Election Commission data available Sept. 11, compared with $14.5 million for the entire 2002 election cycle. “What’s changed is the amount, not the pressure,” notes GOP lobbyist Steve Hart of Williams & Jensen. “Back in the 1970s we used to get calls for $100. Now we get calls for $5,000.” For many lobbyists, however, it is the intensity of the 2006 fund raising, not just the buckets of money raised, that is the hallmark of this year’s money chase. “There’s so much at stake here,” says longtime Democratic lobbyist Tom Jolly. “That’s because many people feel very intense about Bush, like he’s not been held accountable and that he’s done an incredible amount of harm in the world.”So they want the reins of the oversight subcommittees to show the American people,” adds Jolly, referring to potential Democratic control of the congressional subcommittees empowered to investigate the Bush administration and its agencies�with potentially deeply embarrassing results. “The Republicans, on the other hand, say, �We need to stop [a Democratic takeover] at all costs because they could destroy the last two years of a Bush administration,’ ” Jolly notes. Some lobbyists maintain there is nothing inherently wrong with the money chase at all; it simply needs to be made more transparent�and more quickly available for public scrutiny. “Most of these fund-raisers are either here in D.C. or in a member’s home state,” notes Hart. “What’s wrong with members being forced to go out and talk to lots of people? Otherwise, they would sit in their offices and talk to the few people they already know.” Besides, adds Ropes & Gray partner Thomas Susman, who teaches lobbying at American University’s Washington College of Law, it would be impossible to eliminate money from campaigns. “We can do a lot of things to take money out of politics: We can ban gifts, and entertainment and travel and honoraria,” says Susman. “But as long as you can write a check or bring a bunch of people together for a fund-raiser and bundle a lot of checks, money will be flowing into fund raising, and there will always be that big problem�that lobbyists who want to influence members of Congress will be able to influence members of Congress.” And that is the problem, adds Meehan. “The law ought to be clear that I can’t write legislation in private and that lobbyists can’t take members on vacation,” he says. LOOSE REFORM Of course, there are reasons that clamping down on the ever-growing quest for dollars seems all but impossible. The biggest impediment is the Constitution’s First Amendment and the Supreme Court’s 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo, which stated that it was unconstitutional to limit the amount of money spent on a political campaign because money equals speech. Contribution limits, on the other hand, could be regulated, the Court declared. Then citizens were allowed to give up to $1,000 per election to each candidate. Capping the limits, which have since been doubled and now include an inflation index, served the greater purpose of preventing the “reality or appearance of improper influence [from] large campaign contributions,” the Court ruled. The doubling of the individual limits was part of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Act of 2002, sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.). Most significantly, McCain-Feingold banned the unlimited soft-money contributions that individuals and corporations had been able to give to the various party committees, such as the Republican and Democratic national committees. Large donors had to find another way to do business. Enter the 527s, independent expenditure committees named for the part of the tax code that allows political organizations to raise money without being taxed. There is no restriction on how much individuals or even corporations can give to 527s, so these committees can disproportionately affect an election. At the same time, the legislation raised an individual’s total contribution limit for every two-year cycle to what is now a whopping $101,400, a figure that a couple of dozen of the city’s most prominent lobbyists actually meet, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. SHOW ME THE MONEY The real value of most lobbyists, as Goodlatte’s voice mail makes clear, is their ability to raise money. “I’ve got five members of Congress on my voice mail,” says the lobbyist who received the solicitation from Goodlatte. “It’s like, they know me, so it’s not a cold call; it’s not necessarily perfunctory. But their little fund-raiser helper has put my name and phone number in front of them, and they’ve called. �Come help me for my last D.C. event,’ they’ll say.”And those “last” events add up very quickly. During the final week in September, just before Congress took its election break, the nation’s capital was a blur of hors d’oeuvres, mediocre wine, and check-writing. On Sept. 28, for example, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hosted an event at Union Station’s Columbus Club that some 300 supporters paid $500 apiece to attend. Also that night, Goodlatte held his fund-raiser at the Capitol Hill Club, a redoubt for Republican lobbyists and Congress members. Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.) and several other GOP senators raised money at the Top of the Hill bar a couple of blocks from the Capitol, while the chiefs of staff of a collection of Republican senators held their own fund-raiser on the roof of 101 Constitution Ave. N.W. The standard entry fee: $500 or $1,000. “On four days between the 25th and the 28th [of September] I’ve got 22 individual fund-raising events on my calendar,” notes Jolly, adding that between him and his business partner, Patricia Rissler, the two would hit at least 15 and possibly as many as 20 of the 22. “You can get in and out of these things in five minutes,” says Jolly. “You shake the congressman or senator’s hand, exchange pleasantries, and say, �I’ve got to run.’ “
T.R. Goldman can be contacted at [email protected].

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