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K Street courting liberals (just in case)

Scott Tong Oct 17, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: If there are any voters out there still sitting on the fence, they’ve got just three weeks left to make up their minds. Election Day’s exactly 21 days from today. The political winds seem to be blowing in a, shall we say, “lefterly” direction. Voters know it, some politicians know it, and in Washington, the lobbying industry definitely knows it. Marketplace’s Scott Tong reports on how all the firms down on K Street are getting ready for the day Democrats may return to relevance.

SCOTT TONG: You might think Patricia Griffin leads a lonely existence. She works at an all-Democrat lobbying shop.

Last two months, though, Republican firms have been calling her, saying maybe we could team up on the access business if the Dems take the House. Griffin calls it “courting,” in a junior-high sorta way.

PATRICIA GRIFFIN: All of a sudden you have the cool house and you have the cool car. And it’s more than the note-writing phase I would say. I don’t know that people are actually asking us out yet, I think they’re creating ways to show that they’re interested. Let’s say they’re sending flowers.

The point is, Griffin will be in demand should something seismic occur on [November] 7th. And her fees would reflect that.

GRIFFIN: We have to think about: Has our access changed in value? It only makes sense to think that we would be able to compete, you know. The tide changes and people need you, and if you have access, it costs more.

Anecdotally, a few lobby firms and trade groups have either hired Democrats, or put out feelers. Lobbyist headhunter Ivan Adler thinks it’s all preliminary, but folks will be ready to hire in a hurry.

IVAN ADLER: If businesses want to be able to talk to the Democratic House they’re going to have to be able to find people who have access and can do that.

Some corporate lobbyists are now trying to gain that access. Aaron Houston lobbies for legalizing marijuana and hits a lot of Democratic fundraisers. He says a lot of $3,000 suits are starting to show up.

AARON HOUSTON: For events held for Democrats, you are starting to see defense contractors, you are starting to see big business. People who are probably looking at the field and hedging their bets a little bit.

Houston says lobbyists don’t just write individual checks. They steer contributions from all their clients, too.

HOUSTON: Lobbyists are the lynchpin for funneling money, the keyhole through which representatives need to go to get money from different supporters.

On the whole, corporate America still gives way more to Republicans. But Houston thinks Democrats are starting to gain. A key recipient is Nancy Pelosi. She’d become Speaker if the House majority turns from red to blue.

KEN KIES: The business community really kinda goes with where the wind is blowing.

That’s Ken Kies, a Republican tax lobbyist.

KIES: Prior to the 1994 election the business community would go to the Republicans and say, “Look, we really love you but we have to give money to Democrats to get access.” Ninety-four election came along, change of control, the money poured into Republicans. By the time you get to ’96, the business community had really evened its bets because it was concerned control was going to flip back.

If the business lobby is a chameleon, Democratic Congressman Jim Moran doesn’t care. So long as the cash comes in.

JIM MORAN: Money’s green, whether it comes from a Democratic or a Republican hand. It’s transparent, it’s cynical, it’s expedient, but the reality is, that’s what politics is all about.

Whatever change Election Day may bring, recruiter Ivan Adler says it’ll be good for lobbyists. Every industry and interest will have to adjust to the new climate, and they’ll need access.

In Washington, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.

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