Inauguration a chance for lobbyists to strut stuff


POSTED: Tuesday, January 13, 2009

WASHINGTON » Mere hours before Barack Obama is sworn in as president with a pledge to end the grip of special interests on government, a group of lobbyists will be feting Rep. John Conyers, a powerful Democratic committee chairman, at a $1,000-a-head reception.

Lobbyists at the influential firm Greenberg Traurig are only a few of the scores of D.C. insiders who are using the inauguration as a golden chance to schmooze with their clients and government contacts and to dispense political campaign cash to influential players - even as the president-elect has pledged to limit their influence.

The Conyers reception, to be held at Greenberg Traurig's downtown office the afternoon before Inauguration Day, is a chance for the firm's top people to highlight for clients their relationship with an early supporter of the new president. The Michigan Democrat, whose political action committee will pocket proceeds from the event, also happens to be the head of the Judiciary Committee - with sway over immigration and intellectual property issues, among others.

It is just one of the ways that lobbyists are using the days around next Tuesday's swearing-in to spend time with clients, lawmakers, congressional aides, incoming administration officials and others.

One spreadsheet compiled by a Democratic consultant lists more than 100 balls, receptions and fundraisers - and that excludes most of the corporate events being staged. The list ranges from the Presidential Inaugural Committee's 10 official balls to gatherings whose sponsors include the Hawaii State Society, the Democratic Governors Association and the Hip-Hop Caucus.

The activity underscores that despite Obama's pledge to restrain the influence of lobbyists - including barring their contributions to pay for official inaugural events - they are still using the occasion to conduct business.

Many lobbyists consider it especially important to work hard when a new administration takes over. Lobbyist Patrick Murphy likens the impact of a new president to the complexity of a Rubik's Cube because long-valued contacts take jobs in a new administration, causing a ripple effect of turnover on Capitol Hill and in lobbying and law firms and trade associations in town.

“;It's a very important time to see everyone and be seen and find out where everyone's going next,”; said Murphy, a senior vice president with mCapitol Management.

Compounding that is the huge turnover in Congress from November's elections, with more than 60 new House and Senate members. That has made it especially important for lobbyists to attend receptions to meet new lawmakers and aides.

For the official inaugural balls held hours after the noontime swearing-in, Obama has forbidden contributions from lobbyists, corporations, unions and political action committees, entities established to make campaign contributions. But unofficial soirees with an Obama draw - such as a ball Monday night put on by his home-state Illinois State Society and one Tuesday thrown by his native Hawaii State Society - are attracting attention from lobbyists and corporate backers.

Sponsors for the Illinois ball include Exelon, the energy company, and electronics firm Motorola. The Hawaii event's sponsors include Lockheed Martin Corp., a defense contractor. Perennial Strategy Group, a Washington-based lobbying firm, is among the sponsors of both balls.

“;It's a place where anybody can talk to anybody,”; Micah Mossman, chairman of the Hawaii state ball, said of his event. “;A lobbyist might find that an appealing opportunity.”;