President's Dinner? Bring the Lettuce.

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 11, 2007

Get ready, Goodrich. Brace yourself, Bristol-Myers Squibb. If you haven't received the call already, a Republican member of the House of Representatives is probably about to try to shake you down for big money.

It's springtime in Washington and lawmakers from both parties are once again hounding the political action committees of major corporations for huge donations. On the GOP side, this is done through the sale of tickets to the President's Dinner on June 13, an event so large that it has to be held in the Washington Convention Center.

House Republicans are taking nothing for granted. Their leaders last month sent out a 28-page instruction kit laying out exactly what rank-and-file members have to do to reach the dinner's multimillion-dollar goal. The kit includes a list of more than 225 companies, trade associations and lobbying firms that are proven benefactors of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the House GOP's campaign organization.

The document even tells lawmakers how they should phrase their telephone calls. A page with "suggested talking points for House Members" includes this: "Following a disappointing loss of our majorities in the House and Senate, we need to restore the faith of the American voters in us. We heard their message this past November that we need to re-commit our priorities for lower taxes, securing our boarders [sic], supporting our troops and fiscal responsibility."

Then it recommends the lawmakers add: "The odds are against Republicans as we take up the fight to strengthen and rebuild our majority" -- something Republicans do not generally admit publicly.

Then again, the document was not meant for publication. Dated April 10, it led off with a memorandum from Reps. Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Joe Wilson (S.C.), co-chairmen of the President's Dinner. "The opposition will be fully funded," the opening page says, "so we must set our fundraising sights high in order to be competitive."

Setting the sights high means a lot more pressure -- and in politics, a call from a sitting lawmaker is about as much pressure as can be exerted.

"When a member of Congress calls, particularly a senior member of Congress, we give that great weight," said Jeffrey H. Smith, head of lobbying at the law firm Arnold & Porter. "I don't think it's heavy-handed. It's the nature of politics these days." He added, "My impression is that many members are not a good deal more comfortable with it that we are."

Others are not so sympathetic. "Some people do find it very heavy-handed," said a lobbyist for a major local company who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of angering members of Congress. "It's certainly a lighter touch to hear from a staffer."

Mary Trupo of the National Association of Realtors echoed many others who were asked about the fundraising appeal when she said: "We are regularly solicited; it is part of doing business in Washington." The Realtors will be attending the dinner.

Microsoft already has tickets to the dinner thanks to an earlier contribution to the Republican Party and was not contacted to purchase more -- this time. "Microsoft has a long history of contributing to political parties and simply sees these contributions as a way to support our nation's political process," spokeswoman Ginny Terzano said.

Lawmakers are invited to use lists of prospects compiled by the NRCC and to make their calls from NRCC headquarters on Capitol Hill. Solicitations can also be made by e-mail and fax, the document states. Tickets cost $2,500 each; a table is $25,000.

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