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Lobbyists Swap Campaign Cash For ‘Exclusive, Personal’ Briefings

June 2, 1993 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ In a recent letter to Washington lobbyists, Rep. Bill Archer offered a series of ″exclusive and personal″ issue briefings.

″Membership is strictly limited in order to maintain an exclusive and personal atmosphere at the meetings,″ said the Texas lawmaker, who is the Republican Party’s top gun on tax and trade issues.

Price of admission: a $5,000 contribution to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Putting the arm on lobbyists for such perfectly legal contributions by pressuring them to buy tickets to fund-raising dinners is an old custom.

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Lately, though, politicians of both parties are finding briefings from policy-makers on hot issues a better fund-raising method than the traditional cocktails-and-dinner approach.

″The people we’re bringing in could care less about going to a dinner or lunch, or going into the White House to have their picture taken,″ said Terry McAuliffe, a lobbyist who chairs the Democratic Party’s Business Leadership Forum, a club that costs members $15,000 a year.

In his letter, Republican Archer enticed lobbyists with the prospect of access to inside information before it hits the news media or even the lobbyists’ rumor mill.

″As a member of Congress, I know how important it is to have up-to-date information on issues,″ Archer wrote. ″As a Washington insider, you are in the same position. Without information on new legislation, it is impossible for you to do your job.″

What follows is an invitation to join the $5,000-a-year House Council, a circle of about 100 lobbyists who meet every four to six weeks over breakfast to receive private issue briefings.

″It appeals more to the people who do business on Capitol Hill,″ said Dan Leonard, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The appeals from both parties are proving effective.

″The lobbyists feel like it’s a shakedown,″ said David King, a political scientist at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. ″If they don’t cooperate, they believe party leaders will recognize that, and it will hurt their access down the road.″

And there’s also the chance to gain an early line on what’s going on inside the government, and - perhaps more important - a chance to make arguments on behalf of interest-group clients.

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″Lobbyists depend on two things: access and information,″ King said. ″These meetings allow them to do both things. In almost all cases, more information is better.″

The flaw in the system, King said, is that not everyone can participate.

″I think it’d be a terrific idea if they had these regular meetings and no money was required to show up,″ he said. ″The problem is, groups and individuals who don’t have the money have a hard time getting access. ... They are left out, so their voices are not heard. And that builds a bias into the policy.″

The Democratic National Committee hosts lobbyists for breakfast briefings each Wednesday in a downtown law firm. The lobbyists sell tickets to a major fund-raiser, the President’s Dinner, at $1,500 apiece, and hear from top aides to Clinton Cabinet members.

Recent appearances have been made by Matt Gorman, Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen’s director of business liaison; Tom Nides, top aide to Special Trade Representative Mickey Kantor; and White House aide Amy Zisook.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Business Forum, chaired by Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., charges members $1,000 a year in personal money, $2,000 in political action committee funds or $4,000 in ″soft″ or indirect money. For that, the 150 members attend a series of luncheon briefings that provide ″numerous opportunities to meet and exchange ideas with members of Congress on a variety of topics,″ according to a flier.

Meanwhile, despite its $15,000 price tag, the Democratic National Committee’s Business Leadership Forum has doubled its membership to 225 since the party captured the White House. McAuliffe said business lobbyists who once shunned the Democratic Party are now eager to attend its issue briefings and retreats on issues ranging from trade to health care.

″Does it help having the White House?″ he says. ″No question about it.″