In the Loop: McConnell and Christie have dueling fundraisers

If Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wondered why there were empty seats at a Philadelphia fundraiser held in his honor last week, he needed only to venture downstairs.

At the members-only Union League, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) was hosting the Senate minority leader, who normally might be a pretty big draw for deep-pocketed Pennsylvania Republican donors.

Unless the guest at a competing fundraiser one floor below is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.), who is considered likely to win reelection, brought in the powerhouse governor, who, despite recent traffic-related events, remains beloved by Philadelphia area Republicans.

So the choice of whether to hear McConnell discuss the “nuclear option” on filibusters or see Christie in all his bombastic glory was little contest. The attendance at Christie’s event, we hear, was noticeably greater.

“If you get a celebrity, you’re going to take him regardless of whether it takes away from somebody else,” a Republican source told the Loop.

But at least one person was eager to see McConnell. We’re told Christie went up to greet him but just missed him.

McConnell may want to consider calling in Christie for a fundraising boost. Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D), who is running for McConnell’s seat, outraised the senator in the first quarter of 2014, the second time she’s done so in the election cycle.

Same chest, different war

Legal representation doesn’t come cheap. But unlike us regular folk, members of Congress who find themselves needing it can dip into their campaign funds to pay the bills.

The Loop wrote about this last week when digging into the debts of former congressman Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.). Now another example shows up in the first-quarter Federal Election Commission filing from the campaign account of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.).

McMorris Rodgers, the fourth-ranking Republican in the House, was accused of misusing taxpayer money for campaign-related expenses. The Office of Congressional Ethics detailed the allegations in a report, but the House Ethics Committee has not yet pressed forward with an investigation.

According to her FEC report, McMorris Rodgers paid $42,325 in legal fees over the first three months of this year to the D.C.-based firm McGuireWoods.

The House ethics manual says this is all on the up and up. Members of Congress can use campaign funds to defend legal actions that arise from the job because “the protection of a Member’s presumption of innocence” is a “valid political purpose.”

So the only cost to the member of Congress, it would seem, is a few more hours spent on the fundraising circuit.

Nobody’s taking a bow

A budding classical musician canceled his audition Monday for a chance to perform with the Winnipeg Symphony.

It wasn’t worth the risk that his $10,000 instrument would be confiscated by the U.S. government.

Taddes Korris, a 25-year-old Canadian master’s student at the Manhattan School of Music, owns a 1940s-era bow for his string bass with — what he assumes to be — an ivory tip. And the off chance that border agents would take his instrument was too big a scare for Korris.

At issue is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service crackdown on the import and export of ivory products made from elephant tusks as part of the Obama administration’s larger effort to stop wildlife trafficking. Exceptions are made for antique items, as Korris’s bow would seem to be, and there is an opportunity to acquire a musical instrument passport or traveling exhibition certificate if it can be proven that the ivory was legally acquired prior to 1976.

In all likelihood Korris’s bow would meet the exception criteria, but legitimizing the ivory is very difficult, he told the Loop on Tuesday.

“The ivory could have been replaced — experts could give their advice whether it is indeed original or not, but these things can be disputed,” he said. “The problem with this whole situation is there isn’t enough information. They didn’t give any specification of what information is sufficient.”

Other musicians are also worried. Country star Vince Gill has said he’s concerned about traveling with his antique guitars and mandolins, according to an NPR story about the ban. Korris stressed that he is not opposed to conservation efforts but said he simply wants the Obama administration to reconsider the impact the ban has on musicians.

Craig Hoover, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s head of wildlife trade and conservation, told the Loop that the issue is one of lack of communication and awareness between the music industry and the regulatory agencies. Apparently under a 40-year-old international treaty, musicians have always required a permit to cross borders with instruments crafted from protected species parts. But the Obama administration’s recent attention to the trade of ivory has made musicians more aware of the rules, he said.

“Essentially it’s because unfortunately the music industry world and the regulatory agencies have been missing each other for some time,” Hoover said. But if a musician goes through the permitting process, the requirements are not that difficult to meet for noncommercial items, he said.

But even if the rules have been on the books for some time,they weren’t strongly enforced, Korris said. And now that it’s come to a head, the process of determining whether his bow does have ivory, and then to request a permit, is a costly and laborious process.

Hoover said Korris probably made the right call in skipping the audition, because he didn’t have the necessary government exception. His bow could have become contraband, which would have been a little like taking the steering wheel out of a driver’s race car.

— With Colby Itkowitz

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter:@InTheLoopWP.

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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