5 lobbyists assume key posts at parties' national conventions

As vice chairman of the host committee for the Democratic convention in Denver, Steve Farber is one of the key fundraisers for the $40.6 million in private money needed to stage the event — a goal he says he expects to reach this week.

At the Republican convention in St. Paul, Anthony Foti is director of external affairs, handling relations with businesses, interest groups and politicians at every level of government.

Both also work for lucrative lobbying firms in Washington. Farber is a founder of the No. 15 firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, while Foti is a lobbyist for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which was the second-highest grossing firm last year, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain have both criticized lobbyists' influence in Washington and adopted policies that limit the roles of lobbyists within their presidential campaigns. Still, five lobbyists — three Republicans and two Democrats — are in key positions helping to organize and raise money for the political parties' conventions this year.

'Not very transparent'

Unlike their campaigns, the candidates don't have complete control over the party conventions, whose committees and staff were largely in place before the party primaries were decided. Farber, for example, has been a member of the host committee for more than two years, host committee spokesman Chris Lopez said in an e-mail.

Lobbyists have been involved in such behind-the-scenes convention work for many years to help build and cement connections with politicians, says James Thurber, a political scientist at American University who teaches classes on lobbying.

"Does that matter? Yes, because it influences decision-making in Washington, and it's not very transparent to the American public generally," Thurber says.

Farber and other lobbyists who are at work on the conventions don't see it that way.

"I can't imagine anyone gaining influence through working on a political convention," says Blake Hall, general counsel for the committee organizing the Republican convention, which is Sept. 1-4. Hall is an Idaho lawyer who is registered in Washington to lobby for one client, a contractor cleaning up toxic and radioactive waste at the Energy Department's Idaho National Laboratory.

Farber, a Denver lawyer, says he hasn't met anyone through his convention work whom he would contact as a lobbyist.

"There has been no overlap for me whatsoever between my work for the host committee and my lobbying work," Farber says. He added that he let his lobbying registration lapse last month because he did very little lobbying.

Brownstein Hyatt also is taking a prominent role at the Democratic convention, which begins Aug. 25 at the Pepsi Center and ends Aug. 28 at Invesco Field at Mile High. Farber's firm is one of the convention's sponsors, as are eight of its lobbying clients, including Comcast, which pledged $5 million.

Farber says his firm also is hosting a convention-eve party and receptions on each day of the convention with guests including New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a former Democratic presidential hopeful. The pre-convention event is at the Denver Art Museum, another one of the firm's lobbying clients.

'It doesn't hurt'

"Does it not help the firm? It doesn't hurt the firm," Farber said of the pre-convention party. "Are we doing it for that purpose? No."

Foti is on leave from his lobbying job, where his recent clients have included AT&T, American Electric Power and the Nasdaq stock exchange. Republican convention spokeswoman Joanna Burgos said Foti was not available for an interview.

Besides Farber, Foti and Hall, lobbyists involved in the political conventions include:

• Mike Dino, the CEO of the Democratic convention host committee, who manages the committee's fundraising and contracting for the convention. Dino works in the Denver office of Patton Boggs, the top-grossing Washington lobbying firm in 2007. Dino's Washington lobbying clients this year include the Colorado cities of Fort Collins and Arvada and the Denver Regional Transportation District. Lopez responded to requests for comment from Dino with an e-mailed statement. "Our local host committee members and objectives are solely focused on our local responsibility and not the business of Washington," the statement said.

• Bob Kjellander, vice chairman of the Republican convention's organizing committee. Kjellander is a lobbyist in the Illinois capitol of Springfield whose Washington clients last year included PartyGaming PLC, a Gibraltar-based operator of gambling websites. Congress in 2006 passed a law banning U.S. credit card companies from making payments to such gambling sites. Kjellander did not return messages seeking comment.

The Price of Power is an ongoing series tracking the role of money and business interests in the political process.