Lobster with Kerry: $25,000. Golf with Chambliss: $15,000. Access to Congress: Priceless.

By Brian Ross And Avni Patel

Oct 18, 2006 12:06pm

For $25,000, lobbyists and big contributors could have a lobster dinner with Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) or any of the other 16 Democratic senators who spent a weekend this summer in Nantucket at a special retreat. For $15,000, Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) and nine other Republican Senators offered the same kind of crowd golf, skeet shooting and lavish dinners at the five-star Greenbrier resort in White Sulfur Springs, W.Va. Despite calls for reform in the wake of the scandal surrounding corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff,   the cozy relationship continues between members of Congress and lobbyists for big corporations and special interests. THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS Video Caught on Tape: $15,000 GOP Round of Golf With Lobbyists Video Caught on Tape: Senate Democrats Wine and Dine Lobbyists and Big Donors Click Here for More of the Brian Ross Page "They talked the talk, but they didn’t walk the walk," says Gerry Hebert of the Campaign Legal Center, a lobbying and ethics watchdog group. At the Democratic retreat last July, Senators Kerry and Carl Levin of Michigan worked the lobbyist crowd at the outdoor lobster dinner.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York could be seen in deep conversation with a top K-Street lobbyist.

Behind closed doors on Saturday afternoon, lobbyists were allowed one-on-one time with senators concerning issues of their choice. Forty registered lobbyists were on the guest list for the Democrats’ retreat, representing interests in real estate, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, cable TV, Indian gaming and labor unions, among other things. The following weekend, the Republicans kicked off their retreat by lining up corporate private jets to fly in senators and lobbyists from around the country. A Union Pacific plane left Dulles Airport with Senators Trent Lott of Mississippi and Richard Shelby of Alabama on board with their guests, according to Republican Party documents. FedEx supplied another plane at Dulles Airport for Senators Kit Bond of Missouri and Elizabeth Dole, while Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and several more lobbyists flew in on a UST jet from Pennsylvania, the documents show. Tennis courts, tee times and private briefings by the senators were all included in the $15,000 price tag for this and another gathering. Lobbyists could choose who they wanted to play with: Senators Chambliss, Bond and Richard Burr of North Carolina spent Saturday afternoon on the golf course, while Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Mike Crapo of Idaho led a group skeet shooting. At the end of the day, senators themselves presented prizes for the winners. Some lobbyists say they have a hard time saying no when the Republicans hit them up. "I wouldn’t put all the blame on the shoulders of the lobbyists," Hebert said.  "Members on the Hill have a responsibility not to make it seem as if their public offices are for sale to the highest bidder."  House and Senate candidates have again raised more than $1 billion dollars in contributions this campaign cycle.  More than half of the money raised by House incumbents typically comes from lobbyists and their political action committees, according to the Campaign Finance Institute. 

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