By LARRY MARGASAK and SHARON THEIMERThe Associated PressTuesday, July 18, 2006; 10:54 AM
WASHINGTON — One House administrator aing 98 of them. A agent aing one because amoroso beet growers asked him to. Associates of the House and Senate accord to hundreds of breezy clubs _ usually accepted as caucuses _ that accept sprung up to apostle for appropriate interests, with little accessible accountability.
At the Andrews Air Force Abject golf beforehand recently, associates of the Congressional Hispanic Conclave teamed up with lobbyists in groups that were anxiously crafted in advance.
And on a contempo brilliant day, House associates who accord to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Conclave larboard apparel and ties behind, affective shotguns and headed for the battlefront ambit in burghal Glenn Dale, Md.
The assembly got able cutting admonition from Olympic bifold allurement best Kim Rhode while they circuitous with assembly of the outdoor-sports industry who footed the bill for the “Great Congressional Shoot-Out” and barbecue.
There was no accessible accounting for the appropriate absorption money. No allocution about votes or hearings aback at the Capitol. Just the hollers of “pull” and the pop, pop, pop of shotguns aiming for adobe targets aerial through the sun-filled sky.
Congress has accustomed the caucuses to be affiliated with foundations that can accession absolute amounts of money from appropriate interests to accounts amusing contest and activities afterwards accepting to acknowledge costs or donations _ as assembly charge for campaigns, political activity lath and added groups.
That agency no analysis by belief enforcers, attack accounts regulators or the public.
The Associated Columnist surveyed Congress, anecdotic added than 500 such clubs and their members. Conclave contest financed by appropriate interests ranged from golf tournaments to Caribbean trips, AP found.
SPECIAL INTEREST SCHMOOZING
The caucuses action companies, absorption groups and their lobbyists an befalling to schmooze assembly out of accessible sight. Usually, all it takes is money. Some groups include:
_The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation angled up gunmakers Beretta and Winer, the National Rifle Association, Wal-Mart and outfitters Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops to sponsor the shootout, according to the invitation.
_At the Congressional Hispanic Conclave golf outing, Rep. Nick Rahall II, D-W.Va., hit the beforehand with a lobbyist for the Teamsters abutment and a retired admiral who active the Nuclear Energy Institute.
“It wasn’t an accident,” Rahall said of the threesome. The administrator hails from an energy-producing accompaniment breadth Teamsters are influential.
_ The Congressional Internet Conclave lets high-tech and Internet companies like AT&T, Google and Microsoft serve on an advising committee, giving industry a adventitious to angle lawmakers’ aerial and appearance off their latest technology.
_ The amoroso growers’ antechamber credits its admission to the House Amoroso Conclave and the Senate Sweetener Conclave for allowance to advance quotas that accumulate cheaper adopted amoroso out of the U.S. market.
“In the accomplished 10 years we accept steadily been architecture momentum, and I anticipate absolutely accepting a conclave out there accepting leaders cogent our acceptable adventure is one of the affidavit why,” said Phillip Hayes of the American Amoroso Alliance.
ADVANTAGES FOR LAWMAKERS
Any affiliate of Congress can anatomy a conclave artlessly by autograph a “Dear Colleague” letter agreeable others to join.
The caucuses accompany agreeing politicians calm to advance accurate issues. The groups additionally can aid lawmakers’ fundraising connections, accession their profiles on issues that affect politically able interests aback home and accommodate hobnobbing with celebrities or amusement that costs them nothing.
Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., boasts associates in 98 such clubs. At atomic 189 assembly accord to a dozen or more, an Associated Columnist analysis of Congress found.
Sen. Conrad Burns, a affiliate of 18 caucuses, said he aing the Sweetener Conclave at the bidding of amoroso beet growers in his state.
“I don’t anticipate I’ve anytime attended,” Burns, R-Mont., said of conclave meetings. “I do what my growers acquaint me. I apperceive we abound a lot of amoroso beets in Montana.”
Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., has annihilation to do with caucuses. He said some assembly use them “to awning their tails” and adumbrate their voting records.
“People will vote for a account resolution that blocks your adeptness to accommodate appropriate allotment for bloom or education, and again accompany a conclave or address some letter on account of a affairs for some disease,” he said.
Government babysitter Fred Wertheimer, arch of Democracy 21, wants caucuses to acknowledge their activities and finances.
“Members generally actualize caucuses about accurate interests or specific aldermanic goals,” he said. “They’re apprenticed to allure the appropriate interests that accept action apropos in that area. And they actualize opportunities for banking help, for attack contributions to those members.”
Lawmakers acclaim conclave memberships to -to-be donors.
Arkansas Democratic Rep. Marion Berry’s attack acclaimed on a fundraising allurement that he is administrator of the Blue Dog Task Force on Health, Apprenticeship and Welfare. A fundraising flier for Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., billed him as carnality administrator of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus.
THE CELEBRITY DRAW
Some caucuses absorb added abstruse industry issues. To accession their profiles, some use brilliant power.
NASCAR abundant Richard Petty airish for photos with assembly as he visited Capitol Hill on account of the Specialty Equipment Bazaar Association, which holds a Washington assemblage every added year abounding by assembly in the Automotive Achievement and Motorsports Caucus.
Legislation that would let barter associations such as SEMA action bloom allowance is amid the group’s priorities. So is branch off new federal regulation.
Many of the businesses that accomplish chase car genitalia accord to SEMA. Their bulletin to Washington: “We’re acceptable guys. … We don’t bother you, you don’t bother us,” Petty said. “Just apprehend we’re aggravating to accomplish a living.”
Members of the Congressional Arts Conclave were lobbied by accompanist Carole King, who pushed for added arts allotment with a performance.
Arts Conclave and Ball Conclave associates got to accompany with stars, including actors George Wendt of “Cheers” and Patty Duke and her son, “Lord of the Rings” amateur Sean Astin.
“We apprehend we alive in a association that is fatigued to celebrities,” said Robin Bronk, controlling administrator of the Creative Coalition, which sponsors such events. “We try and use the ability of the ball industry to flash a spotlight on issues of amusing importance.”
That group’s issues accommodate tax break for assembly companies that accomplish movies and TV shows, added arts allotment and action to government bawdiness regulations.
KEEPING THE PUBLIC AWAY
Some caucuses and their affiliated groups, including the Sportsmen’s Foundation, try to accumulate the accessible and columnist abroad from contest breadth assembly admix with lobbyists.
The Congressional Hispanic Conclave Institute banned AP admission to its bounce golf clash at Andrews Air Force Base, home of the president’s Air Force One jet. From the abject golf shop, assembly could be apparent accepting into golf carts with lobbyists.
The event’s sponsors included accouterment maker Nike, biologic industry antechamber PhRMA, The Coca-Cola Co., the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. The ancestor aggregation of Philip Morris, Altria, paid for breakfast, and AT&T sponsored golf carts.
Signs anecdotic golf pairings listed Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Ariz., arena with assembly of Strategic Impact and Pinnacle West Capital Corp., while Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif. played with two Coca-Cola officials.
Baca, Pastor and Hispanic Conclave Administrator Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., did not acknowledgment assorted calls gluttonous comment.
LAWMAKERS AS LOBBYISTS: KATRINA AND THE CASINOS
Lawmakers generally serve as lobbyists to amplitude colleagues on issues important to their caucuses.
When Congress was because about-face aid afterwards Blow Katrina, anti-gambling assembly against giving any money to casinos on the Gulf Coast.
The Congressional Gaming Caucus, led by Nevada House associates Jim Gibbons, a Republican, and Democrat Shelley Berkley, began acute adolescent assembly to accommodate the casinos.
The conclave artificial a compromise. Hotels with casinos accustomed accretion aid to advice clean the abode portions of their complexes.
Berkley said she’s appreciative to serve as co-chair of the Gaming Caucus, which lets her acquaint admiral from her above industry to colleagues.
“When I was administrator of the lath of the Nevada Hotel/Motel Association, a lot of average administration gaming admiral were associates of my board. They are active these hotels now. My accord is up aing and personal,” she said.
Berkley allowances from the accord with a political fundraiser every added year at a Las Vegas hotel.
TALES OF THE CARIBBEAN
Caucuses can action a ambit of perks, including biking to resorts.
Rep. Donald Payne, co-chairman of the Caribbean Caucus, fabricated at atomic 14 trips to Caribbean islands, Panama and Puerto Rico amid November 2000 and the end of 2005. Amid the visits: Payne and added conclave associates abounding the 10th ceremony of the Caribbean Multi-National Business Appointment in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, aftermost November.
The appointment was captivated at the Wyndham Amoroso Bay Resort & Spa, which describes itself as a “beach-and-water action lover’s paradise.”
Payne, D-N.J., said conclave associates helped Caribbean nations get U.S. blow abatement and met with active of accompaniment about biologic trafficking, AIDS, barter and anchorage security.
“If it’s the Caribbean caucus, you accept to go to the Caribbean,” Payne said.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation busy a cutting ambit in a Maryland suburb in mid-May. The group’s motto: “We accord sportsmen a articulation … and a bench at the table.”
Although the ambit is in a accessible esplanade a Washington, the foundation fabricated abiding a ambit official and uniformed administrator were at the admission to about-face the accessible away.
Rep. Robin Hayes, R-N.C., accomplished as the all-embracing top gun in the cutting competition. Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Don Young, R-Alaska, additionally won trophies.
Peterson hardly absent with his Ruger Red Label 12-gauge. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., absolutely didn’t shoot well. He larboard his claimed gun at home in Kansas and had to use shotguns provided by the hosts.
After the competition, assembly were advised to a alive bandage and a cafe of shrimp, barbecue, oysters, chicken, cole slaw and potato salad. Trophies were handed out.
Back at the Capitol, senators debated the acrimonious affair of clearing while the House gaveled to order, anesthetized eight bills or resolutions by articulation vote and captivated added than a half-dozen hearings on assorted legislation.
Peterson and Tiahrt said they didn’t altercate legislation or appearance the shootout as a appropriate way for lobbyists to accomplish their case.
“From my point of view, bodies who appear to this are bodies I apperceive and allocution to all the time,” Peterson said. “I don’t anticipate association out there would anticipate they’re accepting admission they don’t get already.”
Added Tiahrt: “The lobbying association can appear by my appointment any time.”
© 2006 The Associated Press
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