Lobbyists try to Smooth Way for New Lawmakers
WASHINGTON (AP) _ George Nethercutt, the Republican who knocked off House Speaker Tom Foley, mingled in the hallway of a Washington lobbying firm with about 40 lobbyists for mining, transportation, energy, agriculture and high-tech interests.
Over coffee, the lobbyists made introductions and small talk. Then they retired to the conference room at Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, where partner Pamela Garvie introduced the incoming freshman lawmaker and he made brief remarks including one vital disclosure: his assignment to the House Appropriations Committee.
Wednesday’s reception at offices a block from the White House was an example of how across the city, lobbyists are reaching out to get acquainted with new lawmakers, many of whom railed in their campaigns against the stranglehold of special interests.
Law firm partner Emanuel Rouvelas acknowledged that lobbyists rank low in the public eye these days. But the newcomers ″tend to understand we are not corrupt black-bag folks, not back slappers or door openers. In effect, our job is to frame the issues and advocate the issues in the best way we can,″ he said.
A fairly common way to meet new lawmakers is over drinks and hors d’oeuvres at a reception to retire campaign debts. ″There are fund-raising, debt- retirement opportunities galore,″ said one lobbyist who asked not to be quoted by name. ″All of them come in with debts,″ and remember those who help them, he said.
″He is a very impressive guy,″ lobbyist Tim Peckinpaugh said of Nethercutt. ″He is the kind of guy who is going to do well in this town.″
Peckinpaugh, who arranged the session - a get-acquainted meeting, no fund raising involved - is one of several lobbyists at the firm with GOP credentials. He emphasized that most of the interests represented at the session are natural constituents of Nethercutt, with important operations in his district or in the Northwest. Among them, for example, was Carl Schwensen, chief lobbyist for the National Association of Wheat Growers, a major commodity in Nethercutt’s eastern Washington district.
Preston Gates has planned nine such get-togethers - mostly for new lawmakers from Washington and Oregon, where its client base is concentrated. The list includes computer software giant Microsoft and a host of maritime, timber, mining and transportation interests.
″We are involved in a fairly substantial effort to get to know and work with the incoming members-elect,″ Peckinpaugh said. ″This gives the members an immediate sense of who they will be dealing with here in town, in terms of the key interest groups.″
In addition to hearing the new lawmakers’ views and priorities, it gives lobbyists - most of whom have worked on Capitol Hill - a chance to offer practical advice to the newcomers, he said.
″We think since we’ve been around a while and have seen it from the inside, we can offer some special insider tidbits on how you organize the office to fit your particular district, where to put district offices back home, that kind of thing,″ Peckinpaugh said.
″The best way lobbyist types get to know new members is through old members,″ said John Rafaelli, a partner in a major law and lobbying firm. ″They introduce them to you, and you get to be buddies.″
For corporate lobbyists such as Raymond Garcia, who represents defense and aerospace giant Rockwell International, the first step is to call on newly elected lawmakers whose districts include a Rockwell plant.
″Most companies are going to be planning these contacts, to just make people in Congress aware of their interests,″ Garcia said. ″Most new members will be very interested in knowing who are the economic entities in their districts. They want to know as much as they can.″
And it’s terribly important, he added, to get to know those freshmen going on the committees that have power over each lobbyist’s industry.
Lobbyist John Gordley, who represents soybean, sunflower and canola interests, is focused on next year’s rewrite of the farm bill. If a new member from an agricultural state needs help getting on the Agriculture Committee, Gordley is well-positioned: He used to work for new Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, and is well acquainted with incoming House Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
The new lawmakers ″like to have people come and meet them,″ said Gordley. ″It’s not like it’s hard to get in.″