From Football Suites to Bourbon Tastings, Washington Fundraisers Flourish as Elections Near

PHOTo At the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008, lobbyists spent millions of dollars on gourmet food, top-shelf liquor and private lavish parties for Democratic elected officials.
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With election season well underway and the Senate wrapping up nearly a week after the House adjourned, members of congress are getting down to the important business of throwing fundraisers.

From country club soirees to a cigar night and bourbon tasting, their primary goal now is to get donor dollars in their campaign accounts.

And just who's giving money to the candidates? The identity of the donors is getting careful scrutiny, especially for those giving to members who have built platforms denouncing Washington's insider culture.

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"These aren't just voters interested in supporting their chosen candidate, these are donors who have other reasons behind their support," said Nancy Watzman, who runs the "Party Time" project through the government watchdog Sunlight Foundation group that tracks political fundraisers.

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"Party Time" has collected invitations for 470 congressional fundraisers since Sept. 1, with 36 scheduled this week alone. They include a happy hour with laser shooting at the National Rifle Association for candidate Trey Gowdy, cigar night and bourbon tasting at the home of Rep. Ken Clavert (R-CA), a family fishing trip at Cheeca Lodge and Spa for Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), and a football suite to watch a Redskins-Packers game for Rep. John Conyers (D-MI).

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Watzman said that while it's not unusual to see a burst of fundraising in the weeks before an election, voters need to pay attention to the donors. They can be a barometer that will provide clues to the lawmaker's alliances and future priorities.

With a change in power very possible with the impending midterm elections Nov. 2, donations by some industries, including health professionals, insurance, pharmaceutical and health products, and commercial bank sectors, show that while money given in 2008 was split mostly evenly between the parties or even favored the Democrats, much is now headed back to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CPR).

This may be explained by "donors checking which way the political winds are blowing, basing their donation strategy on polling that favors the GOP to take back the house and possibly even the Senate," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of CPR.

Krumholz also said these industries have "historically and, arguably, ideologically allied with the Republicans, so many consider the 180 in favor of the GOP to be a "homecoming" of sorts."

Campaign Spending on Advertising

But that certainly doesn't mean all the healthcare industry fundraisers are for Republicans. The Sunlight Foundation found that two lobbyists for US Oncology, a company that services oncologists and distributes oral chemotherapy drugs, will host at least eight fundraisers for lawmakers who could decide the fate of two bills the company is pursuing. Seven of the eight lawmakers being feted are Democrats. To attend one of the events celebrating the congressmen, the lobbyists are collecting donations between $1000 and $5000.

"They're clearly targeting members of committees who have control of the legislation they want passed," Watzman said.

The legislation would require private insurers to include oral chemotherapy drugs in coverage and would increase Medicare payments for certain drugs.

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