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Congressmen-elect Rivera and Southerland Living Large on the Dime of Special Interests and Lobbyists

For Immediate Release: January 4th, 2011
Congressmen-elect Rivera and Southerland Living Large on the Dime of Special Interests and Lobbyists While Florida Families Struggle
Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff today released the following statement concerning reports that Congressmen-elect David Rivera and Steve Southerland will be two of a dozen freshmen Republican lawmakers to benefit from a lavish fundraiser attended by lobbyists and special interests at an exclusive Washington hotel tonight.
“Congressmen-elect Rivera and Southerland did not even wait to be sworn in before showing Floridians that they have gone Washington.  While Florida families struggle to make ends meet, Rivera and Southerland will be living large on the dime of special interests and lobbyists at a lavish Washington fundraiser costing $50,000 to attend.  If there was ever any doubt before, it should be abundantly clear now that they will be working in Congress to defend the Washington special interests and lobbyists, not the people of the Sunshine State.”
Politico: House freshman throws party – and GOP cringes By: Kenneth P. Vogel and Marin Cogan January 4, 2011 04:28 AM EST
With Republican leaders anxious to set an austere tone for their ascendance into the House majority this week, the lavish fundraiser scheduled for Tuesday night at a trendy Washington hotel to benefit a dozen GOP freshmen is not exactly the populist image leaders are anxious to project. House Speaker-elect John Boehner, whose name was featured on the invitation, is nonetheless skipping the event at the W Hotel, where lobbyists, political action committee managers and others paying the $2,500 ticket price will be treated to a performance by country music star LeAnn Rimes (a $50,000 package includes a block of eight tickets and a “VIP suite” at the W). The office of incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor, another featured invitee, was noncommittal Monday night when asked whether he’d attend. “If incoming GOP freshmen were hoping to bring fiscal responsibility and ‘family values’ to Washington, they may have gotten off to an interesting start,” conservative blogger Matt Lewis noted, citing the event’s steep ticket prices, as well as Rimes’s confessed extramarital affair and her recent appearance in a “Sexy Santa” outfit at a gay men’s chorus Christmas performance. But the grumbling doesn’t seem to have dampened the enthusiasm of the man behind the event — incoming Rep. Jeff Denham of California — for becoming a rainmaker for the 87-member GOP freshman class. (See: Will GOP freshmen take the lead?)
“Helping the freshmen get reelected is a project that (Denham) is very interested in and, of course, his own reelection is part of that,” Dave Gilliard, a consultant for Denham, said last week. “It’s such a huge freshman class, and that first reelection is the time that you end up losing people, so he really wants to help keep the majority.” (See: GOP taps freshmen for prime spots) Denham, a two-term California state senator whose congressional campaign billed him as “one of the best fundraisers in the California Legislature,” could not be reached for comment. (See: Safe republicans work to get leg up) But even before he won a landslide victory in November to fill the safe Republican seat being vacated by retiring GOP Rep. George Radanovich, Denham had established a secondary fundraising vehicle known as a leadership political action committee (the only other incoming House freshman with a leadership PAC is California Democrat Karen Bass) and was being credited with raising and contributing a total of $100,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee. And Gilliard said Denham has been working closely with the NRCC to help raise cash for the GOP’s massive freshman class. According to Federal Election Commission filings and interviews with fundraisers, Denham in November formed a joint fundraising committee called America’s New Majority, which is sponsoring Tuesday’s party, and tried to recruit a large group of freshmen to join it. While at least 11 incoming Republican House members had signed up for the committee by Dec. 10, other freshmen were discouraged from joining, said a pair of GOP fundraising consultants. “We strongly recommended to our clients that they not take part in this,” said one consultant, who did not want to be identified discussing advice offered to members of Congress. “It’s causing a buzz because it’s in direct contradiction to the image that leadership is trying to portray as a conference that wants to get down to business,” said the consultant, comparing the Rimes fundraiser to one thrown by incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi when Democrats assumed the House majority in 2007. That fundraiser — organized by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and featuring $1,000 ticket prices and performances by Tony Bennett and the remnants of The Grateful Dead — got some bad press and also sparked ill will among some of the lobbyists and political action committee managers who typically make up the target demographic for high-dollar Washington fundraisers.
History, to some extent, seems to be repeating itself. The Rimes event “just doesn’t send a good message,” said the consultant. Since it “is the first introduction some of these (freshmen) are going to have to the PAC community, it’s probably not a great idea to go soliciting money to pay for a party when you could be staring down the barrel of a tough reelect” in 2012. Another fundraising consultant called the Rimes event “a nightmare” and said “with the high overhead associated with putting on the event and the amount of money it could raise, we just didn’t think it was worth it.” Gilliard said that when he talked to Denham about the event before Christmas, “he said everything looked great. It’s going to be a big event.” Denham, who lives in California’s agricultural Central Valley and owns an almond ranch and an agricultural packaging business, was able to land Rimes as a performer because of his ties to the country music industry, Gilliard said. He pointed to a May benefit featuring country star Phil Vassar that Denham, an Air Force veteran, helped organize for military families. Ethics watchdogs raised red flags over Denham’s donation of $175,000 from his state campaign account to a charity that promoted the event in ads featuring Denham, which the watchdogs said could benefit his congressional campaign. Tom Davis, a former Virginia congressman and NRCC chair, said the Rimes fundraiser “ought to be a winner” with PAC managers. Though he said “fundraising is never pretty when it’s presented to the public,” he added that Denham’s fundraising leadership “tells me this is a guy to watch. He saw his chances and he took it.” Denham’s aggressive fundraising is reminiscent of “the McCarthy model,” Davis said referring to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a Republican representing a California congressional district near Denham’s. During his first successful congressional campaign in 2006, McCarthy steered cash to nearly 20 candidates and donated $50,000 to the NRCC after winning his primary. When he took office, McCarthy landed a seat on the Republican Steering Committee, which is tasked with recommending party members to serve on committees, and he’s poised to become House Majority Whip in the 112th Congress. McCarthy’s office did not respond to a question about whether he’s planning to attend the Rimes fundraiser, but the NRCC confirmed that its chairman, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), intends to be there. Among the Republicans who are members of America’s New Majority and stand to benefit from the Rimes event are Scott Desjarlais of Tennessee, Steve Southerland of Florida and Renee Ellmers of North Carolina — all of whom had tea party support and signed the Contract From America — a set of tea party principles that pledges fealty to the Constitution and limited government. Ellmers blasted her Democratic opponent Rep. Bob Etheridge for accepting money from “Washington special interests and political action committees,” though FEC filings show she accepted $33,000 from PACs. Davis conceded the optics of fundraising on the eve of the start of the new Congress are tricky for House Republican leaders, who in a nod to the tea party activists who helped power many of their incoming freshmen to victory, will conduct a reading of the Constitution on Thursday. But tea party activists want more than that, said Andrew Ian Dodge, the Maine state coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, a national coalition of local groups. Activists will be watching how all members of Congress, not just the leadership, behave in Washington, including the way they raise money, Dodge said, calling the Rimes fundraiser a “tone-deaf” signal that some freshmen did not internalize the tea party’s message of changing the political culture in Washington. Dodge called the Rimes fundraiser “business as usual” and said rookie Republicans should “realize that tea party activists are looking for transparency, consistency and an appreciation for the suffering of normal Americans.” — Alex Isenstadt contributed to this report.

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