Why BlackBerry When You Can Take the Bus?

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lobbying has gotten fairly high-tech lately, with Web sites, e-mails and viral advertising campaigns.

But its simpler, terrestrial methods never disappear -- like bus tours.

Earlier this summer, the labor-funded Americans United for Change chose to beat up President Bush over several of his policies by launching the Bush Legacy Project bus tour. Its main weapon: a 28-ton, 45-foot "Bush Legacy Bus" that's making 150 stops coast-to-coast, often in the districts of lawmakers who have voted frequently with the president.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America also has a bus tour going. For more than three years, the drug lobby has promoted its program to provide drugs to people who cannot afford them -- the Partnership for Prescription Assistance -- by rolling buses, and an accompanying media blitz, into every congressional district.

The latest low-tech tour of this kind started yesterday in New York and is sponsored, ironically, by one of Washington's highest-tech lobbies, the Consumer Electronics Association. The association's 28-state bus tour, which will push for free trade, is scheduled to stop in Philadelphia and Baltimore before arriving on Capitol Hill for a rally next week. Both national presidential conventions late this summer will also get visits.

The gimmick is modeled in part after the most famous bus trip of all, Sen. John McCain's Straight Talk Express. It is also reminiscent of the triumphant New York-to-St. Louis bus tour of Bill Clinton and Al Gore after the Democratic convention in 1992.

Buses tend to suggest that their sponsors are close to the people -- a favorite pose in politics. Certainly, the Consumer Electronics Association could use a nudge in that direction. It's probably fair to say that not many of its 2,200 members -- including such giants are Microsoft, Google and Apple -- are normally linked to buses.

We'll see how much mileage the association gets out of this one.

Really Special Interests

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) won election to the House in 2006 by promising that he would not be bought off by all those nasty "special interests" in Washington.

On July 30, he plans to prove his purity by holding a fundraiser in the heart of the land of temptation -- at Charlie Palmer Steak at 101 Constitution Ave. NW, in the clear line of sight of the Capitol dome -- and refusing to take money from corporate political action committees.

"Corporate PAC contributions are not accepted," his e-mailed invitation reads proudly.

What the invitation does not say -- but what the Yarmuth campaign acknowledges -- is that donations from labor PACs are welcome, as is money from individuals, including corporate executives.

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