Lawmaker Defends Ritzy Gala for GOP Freshmen

Incoming Republican lawmaker Jeff Denham said event is attempt at self-reliance.

Jan. 4, 2011 — -- The freshman GOP congressman behind Tuesday night's splashy fundraiser had no misgivings about throwing the event so soon after campaigning under the Tea Party banner to change Washington.

"We feel as a freshman class ... that we're going to need to be self reliant," California Rep. Jeff Denham said in a press conference held as guests began arriving at a posh downtown DC hotel Tuesday evening. "This is our first attempt to do that."

Denham is among a dozen freshmen, Republican lawmakers who were elected on a promise to bring a frugal, belt-tightening agenda to a Congress known for profligate spending. But as the new, Republican House majority got set to take command, his group headed to the luxurious W Hotel for a gala fundraiser that commanded $50,000 for VIP guests.

The event scheduled for tonight – which is closed to the press -- will be held at a hotel that describes its own accommodations as "over the top," and will include a private concert by country music star Leann Rimes. The invite, sent to lobbyists, wealthy donors and political action committees, comes from America's New Majority, a group of newly minted Republican congressmen that includes a half-dozen of the victorious Tea Party members.

Tickets are $2,500 per person, and a book of eight tickets and a VIP suite will set a donor back $50,000, according to the invite first obtained by The Sunlight Foundation's Party Time website.


A sure sign the event is cutting against the GOP message of austerity was the frosty response from incoming House Speaker John Boehner, who tops the list of "invited guests."

"The speaker designate is not planning to attend," Boehner Press Secretary Michael Steel told ABC News.

Denham, the man behind the leadership fundraising committee America's New Majority, disputed the notion that the glitzy event was a sharp departure from the Tea Party promise to bring austerity to the Capitol.

"We run in tough elections. We have to raise money for tough elections," a smiling Denham said.

While the fundraiser had all the markers of a typical DC fundraiser -- silver trays of passed food, a stocked bar, and top flight entertainment -- Denham's defense was uncharacteristic for such an event.

He did not reveal much. When asked who was attending, the congressman said the guests were "people from all around the nation." When asked how much would be raised, he said, "as much money as possible."

Members of the Tea Party who are joining congress face an unusual challenge -- juggling the anti-Washington message that helped bolster their movement, while trying to work effectively inside a Beltway where the blending of money, interest groups, and politicians is commonplace. Hammond and Associates, the Republican fundraising consultant that is putting on the event, makes that point clear on its web site, which states plainly: "Money is the life-blood of every political campaign."

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Democrats quickly seized on the contrast between the GOP campaign trail rhetoric and the gala event.

"It's business as usual in Washington," said Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Despite running an anti-Washington Tea Party campaign, freshman Republicans are embracing the corporate special interest agenda even before they are sworn in."

As he prepared to end the Q & A, Denham made a plug for what he said would be his first legislative priority: "to cut spending."

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