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Join Rand Paul in the smoke-filled room

(William DeShazer/The Commercial Appeal via AP)

Are two Washington lobbyists trying to bring back the smoke-filled room?

There was a time when political power brokers met in secret and made important decisions through the haze of cigar smoke. As the story goes, the original smoke-filled room was in Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel in 1920, when a group of U.S. senators met to ensure the 1920 Republican presidential candidate would be Warren G. Harding. “Ever since, ‘smoke-filled room’ has meant a place, behind the scenes, where cigar-smoking party bosses intrigue to choose candidates,” says the Encyclopedia of Chicago.

The notion of the smoke-filled room doesn’t exist in quite the same way any more. Maybe it’s because people don’t smoke as much as they used to (unless you’re John Boehner), or because the modern-day version is a corner Mexican restaurant with bright-colored walls and saccharine margaritas.

But Matt Keelen and Marcel Dubois, two registered lobbyists and GOP candidate donors, are hosting a fundraiser next week on Capitol Hill. The hook? Spend 90 minutes puffing cigars with all, but declared 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

The cost is standard for these types of events — $250 for an individual and $1,000 for a political action committee. If you want to be listed as a host, it’s $500 per person or $2,000 for a PAC.

We don’t know anything about Paul’s own cigar-smoking habits, though you might remember he raised some eyebrows back in 2012 when he said that because of the Civil Rights Act, he couldn’t have “a cigar bar anymore,” trying to make the point that the law was more about controlling property than race relations. But we digress.

In recent years, with gridlock paralyzing progress (more on that here), there’s been some nostalgia for the days when politicians would hammer out negotiations in a dimly lit back room, sipping bourbon and smoking a cigar. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said in August 2013, “We elected these people, let them go back into a room like they always did.”

It’s true things did seem to get done that way. But if you’re wistful for the days of clandestine deals, Paul, who speaks often about the need for more transparency in Congress, is not the likely candidate to bring back the smoke-filled room – for anything but raising a few bucks.

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.



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