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To mark our 30th anniversary, we’ve reached into our archives to highlight key events and players who made a difference since we made our debut. A version of the following article appeared in the Nov. 2, 1998, edition…
In early September, Erik Hower sat in his cramped second-floor office near Dupont Circle and began tallying campaign contributions made by lawyers and lobbyists at Washington’s premier firms. Hower, the executive director of the Conservative Leadership Political Action Committee, says he made the list to satisfy his own curiosity and didn’t think anyone else would be very interested in it. But before he knew it, the list had made its way into the hands of Grover Norquist, a conservative lobbyist and close ally of House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). As the Nov. 3 election drew closer, the list was circulating among Republicans on the Hill and creating a buzz on K Street. It’s no wonder. The 20-page report shows that folks at many of Washington’s top law and lobby firms have funneled substantially more cash to Democrats than to Republicans in the 1997-98 election cycle. In a time of Republican dominance in Congress, that has some conservatives wondering about the allegiances of lawyers and lobbyists who vie for access to them, but write checks to Democrats. “It’s time for K Street to catch up with the rest of the country,” says Norquist, who is president of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform. A House GOP leadership source agrees. “We found it to be quite useful,” he says of the list. “There are a lot of people who claim to be your friends, but when push comes to shove, they don’t support you.” This source says Republicans are using the information as a guide to help them assess lobbyists’ commitment to the GOP: “There’s no quid pro quos, but a lot of people put in requests for favors … and it’s good to know who’s in the trenches with you.” The list has quickly become part of a larger effort by the GOP to change the campaign contribution and hiring patterns in Washington’s advocacy community. The leadership source says one congressional office has gotten calls from headhunters who said they didn’t know that placing Republicans at firms and associations was so important to the GOP. “One firm realized they had forwarded the r�sum�s of only Democrats [for a job] to head a major business association, and they were going to start their search over again,” this source says. Norquist says the new data should be used to help members of Congress be more selective when they decide which lobbyists to meet with. “When a lobbyist wants to talk to a congressman, they’re basically saying, �Can I take your time to make money for me, and after I’ve made that money, I’m going to shovel it to the Democrats,”‘ Norquist argues. Other lobbyists say they agree that K Street needs to adjust its giving patterns to reflect the fact that the Republicans control Congress, but it can’t happen overnight. “A lot of Republicans here are younger, so we’re kind of the new breed,” says Benjamin Ginsberg, former counsel to the Republican National Committee and now a lawyer and lobbyist at Patton Boggs, which was founded by Democratic powerhouse Thomas Hale Boggs Jr. The firm’s employees gave almost $80,000 to Democrats and about $40,000 to Republicans, according to the Conservative Leadership list. “The Democrats ruled the roost for 40 years … but there’s been a huge evolution here as well as at other firms,” Ginsberg says. “Has it been enough? Probably not. I wish it was happening faster.”
Update: Efforts by Norquist and others to transform partisan patterns on K Street were highly effective. Republicans landed at top law and lobby firms and in association jobs with increasing frequency. And campaign dollars tipped toward the GOP. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign finance data, lobbyists gave 52 percent of their campaign contributions to Democrats in the 1998 election cycle. Two years later, Republicans received 51 percent. And in 2006, with control of Congress at stake, lobbyists gave 57 percent of their money to Republicans. What comes around, goes around, however. With the Democrats back on top in the House and Senate, lobbyists have given 58 percent of their money to the Dems in the 2008 cycle.

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