GOP lawmakers follow the money — to California


U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., will be in L.A. starting Friday playing host at the luxury Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. (Stephen Lance Dennee/AP)

If you’re forced to spend a weekend hobnobbing with donors, do it up right. And don’t host the event in your district (where the local economy could surely use the boost). Go somewhere fabulous.

Hats off to Republican Reps. John Shimkus (Ill.) and Ed Whitfield (Ky.), who are beginning their five-week August vacation “district work period” panning for gold in sunny California for multi-day fundraising retreats, according to the Sunlight Foundation’s Party Time database.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Shimkus, who certainly knows how to party (last summer he had a fundraiser at the New Kids on the Block, Boys II Men and 98 Degrees concert in D.C.!), is at the Solage Calistoga resort in Napa Valley. The invitation, as obtained by Sunlight, boasts of five to six wine tours on a private bus over two days.

The Shimkus campaign suggests an individual donation of $1,500 to the JOHN S Fund or $3,000 from a PAC. Shimkus’s PAC has already spent $14,031 at the Solage, according to OpenSecrets. The congressman went out to Cali a little early, tweeting a picture from the Twitter headquarters (meta), which is in San Francisco, on Monday. But he has not forgotten the good people of Illinois’s 15th Congressional District — Shimkus returns home Saturday for Champaign County Farm Day.

Whitfield will be down in L.A. starting Friday playing host at the luxury Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard, where Hollywood starlets and celebrity icons — including Elizabeth Taylor and the Beatles — were once patrons.

The suggested contribution to the Thoroughbred PAC, Whitfield’s leadership committee, is also $1,500 a person and $3,000 from a PAC. This campaign cycle, the PAC has spent $35,000 at the Beverly Hills Hotel, according to OpenSecrets. There will be a welcome reception in the Polo Lounge (great dirty martinis), and the campaign has reserved a poolside cabana for Saturday.

Whitfield and his friends will probably have an easier time than usual getting a seat at the bar, as most of Hollywood is boycotting the hotel because it is part of a chain owned by the sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah , who has implemented harsh Islamic sharia law in his state, punishing such “crimes” as homosexuality and adultery.

Flacks for both lawmakers did not respond to our e-mails seeking comment. Neither faces a tough reelection race, but you still want to go where the money is.

Maloney’s panda diplomacy

While visiting China on a privately funded congressional delegation trip, a congresswoman from Manhattan has a specific personal mission: Get New York City its own pandas.

To kick off the August recess, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) is traveling with a handful of colleagues for 10 days to the Far East on a Mutual Education and Cultural Exchange Act (MECEA) trip, approved by the State Department, hosted by the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs and facilitated by the U.S.-Asia Institute, a nonprofit group that regularly organizes these goodwill visits. The institute did not return calls for comment, and Maloney’s office would not say, citing “security protocol,” who else was going on the trip — or if they, too, were panda-shopping.

The group is there primarily to discuss trade policy with the Chinese, but if you’ve traveled 14 hours across the globe, you might as well multitask.

And Maloney has her eye on the cuddly, bamboo-eating bears that make anyone in their presence spontaneously say, “Awww.”

The congresswoman plans to make a side visit (only a short 22-hour drive from Beijing) to Chengdu Research Base, which breeds giant pandas, to discuss options for bringing a pair to a New York City zoo. First lady Michelle Obama and her daughters also visited the panda enclosure on a visit to China in March.

“New York City’s economy is Congresswoman Maloney’s top priority. That’s why she is traveling to China to discuss trade policy and what can be done to increase our exports to the second-largest economy in the world,” her spokesman said in an e-mail. “She will also take a few hours to visit a panda research base to discuss the possibility of securing a panda for New York City, which would help boost tourism.”

This has apparently been on Maloney’s bucket list for years, and she told the New York Post in an interview that Chinese and New York officials are open to it. New York City last had giant pandas almost 30 years ago, when the Bronx Zoo housed two for six months on loan, according to a 1987 New York Times story.

Pandas are an attraction at only a few U.S. zoos, including the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, which projected huge boosts in tourism when Bao Bao the panda cub was born there last August (Hey, congresswoman, the zoo is planning a first-birthday bash for Bao Bao if you want to come.).

“Pandas are a symbol of good luck,” Maloney said in the New York Post interview. “New York needs some good luck and happiness. We’ve had 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, the housing crisis.”

President Richard Nixon was the first to bring pandas from China to the United States after receiving them as a gift from the Chinese government. The Nixons donated the bears to the National Zoo.

Hopefully the good panda karma would work out better for New York than it did for Nixon.

Headline of the week

This comes from The Washington Post’s new opinion blog, The Watch.

The headline: “Since marijuana legalization, highway fatalities in Colorado are at near-historic lows.”

Well, yeah, maybe that’s because they’re all driving 8 mph and eating chips? (Actually, it’s a serious analysis.)

— With Colby Itkowitz

Twitter: @KamenInTheLoop, @ColbyItkowitz

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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