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Out of the Comfort Zone

Lobbyists Hit the Campaign Trail to Protect Their Livelihoods

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 30, 2004; Page E01

MILWAUKEE -- Robert D. Wood is the definition of a fat cat lobbyist. He's president of Washington's most prominent Republican lobbying firm, Barbour, Griffith & Rogers LLC, and gives money to Republican causes. His job usually requires him to venture no farther than a few miles from downtown D.C.

But for the final two weeks of the 2004 campaign, he's moved from his four-bedroom home in Alexandria into the tiny spare bedroom of a friend's bungalow here to do whatever it takes to reelect President Bush.


"I'm a utility player," said Robert D. Wood, president of Republican lobbying firm Barbour, Griffith & Rogers LLC. (Darren Hauck For The Washington Post)


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Charles H. Dolan Jr. is also a creature of Washington. A former executive director of the Democratic Governors' Association, he is a senior vice president of Ketchum, a public relations firm that regularly plays major roles in lobbying campaigns. But since Oct. 1, Dolan has lived in Milwaukee as well, plotting strategy and doing all manner of menial tasks on behalf of Sen. John F. Kerry's bid for the White House.

Wood and Dolan are among many denizens of K Street who have decamped to the campaign trail to protect their professional interests. Lobbyists and other people who make their livings by trying to influence politicians famously donate money and throw lavish dinners to get their way in Washington. But in the crucial weeks before Election Day, they deploy another method, too: personal labor. And in some ways, it's the most meaningful form of persuasion.

"Politicians understand that human-to-human contact is the most effective type of campaigning, and they always appreciate the effort," said Vic Fazio, a former Democratic congressman from California who is now a lobbyist for Clark & Weinstock. As a result, he said, "You'll find an awful lot of well-known people sleeping on couches in battleground states and in places where there are close Senate races." Fazio is spending this year's home stretch in South Dakota helping the embattled Senate minority leader, Thomas A. Daschle.

Pulling up stakes and working on the hustings "is part of the bag of tactics and techniques of lobbying," said James A. Thurber, a political scientist at American University. "The central norm of lobbying is reciprocity -- I'll help you if you help me. If you do direct lobbying without getting involved personally, you're not going to be successful."

As a result, virtually every significant lobbying shop in the capital can boast that at least some of its employees have taken a leave and are assisting in key contests. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP reports that 23 of its partners and associates are working for candidates around the country -- 10 for Republicans and 13 for Democrats. "It's all voluntary, and we encourage it," said Joel Jankowsky, the head of Akin Gump's lobbying practice.

Plenty of Patton Boggs LLP's lawyer-lobbyists are also volunteering. Evan L. Morris is aiding Kerry in New Mexico, and Alexander Annett is working for Bush in Nevada. Such activities are considered so important that senior Patton Boggs partners met early in the presidential race to make sure that they had colleagues with each of the major candidates.

Wood's firm has all but emptied out during these final days. He said that half of the 12 lobbyists at Barbour, Griffith & Rogers are working for Bush in battleground states: two in West Virginia, two in Wisconsin, and one each in Florida and Nevada. Even the firm's clerks have gotten into the act; all three are in Pennsylvania for Bush.

The work isn't glamorous. Even veteran lobbyists routinely spend their days knocking on voters' doors, pounding in yard signs and dropping off campaign literature. At night they telephone other voters and urge them to go to the polls. "For 20 hours a day," a weary looking Wood said, "I'm sitting on a folding chair in a cubicle and working elbow-to-elbow with a lot of committed volunteers." That cubicle is lightless and barely four feet wide, a far cry from his spacious D.C. office, which has a view of the White House South Lawn.

Wood, 37, starts his day at 7:30 a.m. at Bush state headquarters -- a box-strewn basement suite in a suburban office building -- and doesn't leave until midnight, subsisting, he said, on "pizza and Diet Coke." He ordered extra phone lines, fixed fluorescent light fixtures and rented a tent for the kickoff event of a bus tour that will feature his former boss Tommy G. Thompson, a former Wisconsin governor and the current U.S. secretary of health and human services. He also helped design the ward-by-ward targeting system that will guide the campaign's tactics on Election Day. "I'm a utility player," Wood said. "The mission is to elect George W. Bush, and that stops and starts with sweat and tears in this campaign."

In downtown Milwaukee, Dolan, 54, shares a spartan office with another communications staffer and works at a table better suited to a soup kitchen than a presidential race. For most of his 13-hour days, he tries to set medium-term strategy but also pitches in wherever he's needed. He's helped camera crews find the best shot during a Kerry speech and used a mini-broom to sweep leaves from a stairway that North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, the vice presidential candidate, was about to use during a separate event. He's also had to fight off the nagging cold that's been passed around the Democrats' bustling office.

But still he considers himself fortunate to have another chance to help a Democrat run for President. "I don't know how much longer they're going to ask me to do this," he said. "But this one is big and important." Dolan's steady hand is appreciated by his younger colleagues. "He also has the enthusiasm of someone who's never worked in a campaign before," said an admiring Justin Hamilton, the Democrats' press secretary here.

Republicans have made such pro bono politicking easy. Through the "Special Teams" program, Senate Republicans have dispatched about 700 lobbyists and Capitol Hill staffers to Alaska, Oklahoma, Washington state, South Carolina, South Dakota and Louisiana, some with a stipend for transportation and lodging.

Democratic lobbyists are just as dedicated and are flocking to the same places, especially South Dakota, where Daschle is running neck-and-neck with former Republican U.S. Rep. John Thune. In addition to Fazio, independent lobbyist Frederick H. Graefe and Julie Domenick, who directs the D.C. office of Loeffler Jonas & Tuggey LLP, have flown to Sioux Falls. So has the youngest of Graefe's four daughters, who is now on Daschle's campaign staff.

The labor is so intense and all-consuming that the lobbyists-turned-campaign-aides sometimes need a break. Steve Ricchetti, a former deputy chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and now a lobbyist in his own firm, has been helping to lead the Kerry campaign in his native Ohio for six weeks. But he's done so only four or five days each week before taking a breather back home in Washington. "You have to be able to tuck in the kids at night, too," he said.

In the final days of this election campaign, however, not many lobbyists will take time to rest -- for their own sake as well as their party's. "If our team loses," said Ed Rogers, chairman of Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, "it's bad for business."


© 2004 The Washington Post Company