POLITICS
11/16/2010 12:24 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

New Lawmakers Hit Fundraising Circuit 'Before They Even Find The Bathrooms'

WASHINGTON -- Well before they cast their first votes, attend their first committee hearings or settle into their new offices, the newly-elected members of Congress are doing what lawmakers have learned to do best: raising money.

This week alone, at least five members of the incoming congressional class are holding fundraising events in Washington D.C. to help retire their debts from the campaign. Another five current members are hosting fundraisers for similar purposes. These are just the ones whose invitations have been made public. It is regarded as common knowledge that many other lawmakers -- both new to D.C. and veterans of the nation's capital -- will be rubbing elbows with big-moneyed donors in the days and weeks ahead.

"This isn't atypical. We see this every time a new class comes in. but here they are, not even sworn in, and they are already dipping into the D.C. money pool," said Nancy Watzman, the director of the Sunlight Foundation's Party Time website, which reported the fundraising events. "What will be interesting is to see later where some of these folks, especially the outsiders, the Tea Party candidates, are getting these campaign contributions."

For now, the sources of the contributions aren't known. Members will eventually have to reveal donor names to the FEC. But the invitations they put out have studiously avoided listing the sponsors of the events, choosing instead to direct inquiries to party planning companies. That said, one can easily imagine the wining and dining that will take place.

  • Member-elect Pat Meehan (R-Penn), for instance, held a Monday Night Football Skybox event at the Eagles-Redskins game at FedEx field, with the cost of attendance being $2,000 per PAC and $1,000 per person;
  • Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga) is holding a debt retirement "Barnyard Luncheon" on Tuesday at Sonoma, a swanky wine bar on Capitol Hill;
  • Member-elects Robert Hurt (R-Va), Justin Amash (R-Mich) and Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) are both holding "debt retirement" receptions at the Capitol Hill Club with costs of $5,000 per host, $2,500 per supporter, $1,000 per PAC and $500 per individual;
  • Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) is hosting a debt retirement reception at a townhouse on Wednesday with proceeds going to what appears to be a new committee: "2010 General Election Debt;"
  • Congressman-Elect Michael Grimm is hosting a debt retirement reception on Monday at the Capitol Hill Club with the suggested contribution of $2,500 per host,1,000 per PAC;
  • Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and John Conyers (D-Mich.), meanwhile, held fundraisers on Monday evening at the Rupli Townhouse, the Capitol Hill setting owned by Tim Rupli, a registered lobbyist for several non-profit and for-profit corporations.

That newly elected and veteran lawmakers are both still raising funds doesn't come as a shock to the jaded activists in the world of campaign finance reform advocacy. Elections cost money. And while a portion of congressional candidates went into the red in order to win during the historically expensive 2010 cycle -- requiring that their coffers be replenished -- all of them are aware of the need to raise money in 2012.

What stands out about the donor quest is how quickly it started.

"It's before they even find the bathrooms or K Street," said David Donnelly, the national campaign director for the Public Campaign Action Fund. "It happens after every election. Individuals even before they become members of Congress, they are introduced to the way Washington really works... The practical reality is that they have to spend their time raising money rather than working on the things they want to fix."

"When I worked for a member in the '90s the complaint then was, you come to Congress and on the first day of work, in January, they sit you down and say 'Hey, this is how much money you have to raise this year.' That was the mode," Donnelly added. "You came in, you spent a few months getting your office running, you hired a few people and then in January they would come in and they'd say, 'Don't forget about fundraising you have to do it.' Now it is two months earlier and after a huge [amount] of fundraising that has already been done."