Many of the incoming members of the House of Representatives are quietly connecting with lobbyists and political action committees to finance their re-election campaigns. One critic calls it the "Washington-ization of the Washington outsider."
The State of the Union speech is just one of the Washington rituals that are new to the 96 freshmen in the House of Representatives. Eighty-seven of those newcomers are Republicans, elected to shake up Washington. But in another ritual of this city, many of them are quietly connecting with lobbyists and political action committees to finance their re-election campaigns.
Alabama Republican Mo Brooks came off the House floor last week after casting his vote to repeal the health care overhaul.
"One of the most important things I have done in my life," he said. "It's awesome, it's inspirational, it's sobering."
At noon Tuesday, Brooks, 56, a former state lawmaker and prosecutor, is lunching with four lobbyists who pay $500 to $2,000 each for the privilege.
Brooks isn't the only freshman doing this — not by a long shot. But he is the one who agreed to talk about it. He said he didn't know anything about his fundraising schedule. In fact, he hadn't held a fundraiser in Washington since he was elected.
"If people have started scheduling fundraisers for me, I'm thankful," he said. "But I don't know where they are, or when they are, or the specifics of whoever's putting them together for me."
Here are some of the specifics: Brooks' lunch mates will most likely be from defense and high-tech firms. Those are the ones with an interest in his new committee assignments on Armed Services and Science, Space and Technology.
He has eight fundraisers on his calendar between now and March 29: breakfasts, lunches and a couple of happy hours, all of them limited to four, five or six paying guests.
The schedule was put together by Michael Gula, one of the top fundraising consultants for GOP candidates. Gula doesn't talk about his clients, but generally speaking, he said, they have created a new atmosphere in the lobbying world.
"Down on K Street now, people are really looking forward to building new relationships, meeting new people," he said. "People are really being aggressive in wanting to meet the new members."
Nancy Bocksor, a veteran Republican fundraiser, said that leads to a natural conclusion.
"Money's going to come to them whether they ask for it or not," she said. "So you're going to have some people that go, 'I never solicited their money. They chose to support me based on what I did.' "
Ellen Miller, co-founder of the Sunlight Foundation, calls it the "Washington-ization of the Washington outsider."
Miller's watchdog group got a hold of Brooks' fundraising schedule and posted it on its Political Party Time website. Miller says the small, intimate events are important. Big fundraising can come later.
"But the people who were there early on will have the close relationship, and will be able to walk in and see the member or his staff whenever he or she wants," she said.
Politics is all about networking.
David Rehr, a business executive and former lobbyist, says new lawmakers need to meet key people around town: lobbyists, advisers and moneymen.
"At some point, they'll help you either with your issues, or getting re-elected, or being perceived as being more influential by other Washingtonians, so you can try to enact more change in the government," he said.
So if the newcomers didn't swear off Washington money in the heat of an anti-Washington campaign, they'd be foolish to do it now. So says Washington. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.