By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 29, 2010; A15
Has Washington fallen out of love with the game of golf?
Last year, for example, Congress forbade golf courses from tapping into federal stimulus money, going so far as to lump the game in with casinos and (gasp!) massage parlors as businesses unworthy of assistance. The sport has also found itself at the center of some of Washington's tawdrier influence scandals in recent years, including those Jack Abramoff junkets to Scotland. Plus, there's that whole Tiger Woods thing.
What the sport needed, industry leaders decided, was a new Washington lobbying campaign. So the PGA and three other golfing associations have joined with country clubs and equipment companies to launch "We Are Golf," a group aimed at spreading the message that "golf is more than just a game."
Represented by the Podesta Group lobbying powerhouse, We Are Golf kicked off its formation Wednesday with a whirlwind visit to Capitol Hill. PGA chief Joe Steranka and other industry leaders met with several dozen members of Congress, including such avowed golfing proponents as Reps. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Greg Walden (R-Ohio).
Unlike, say, badminton, golf does not seem as if it should have an image problem in Washington. Numerous lawmakers, including House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), are avid practitioners, and the game remains at the center of congressional fundraising culture. Even President Obama -- known more for his basketball habit as a senator -- has become a regular fixture on the links since entering the White House.
But industry leaders say Congress too often treats the sport as a marginal luxury item rather than a major engine of economic growth, and wrongly tags the mostly middle-class sport as a pastime of the idle rich. Golf courses are also regular targets of environmentalists, the industry says.
The business has not had a major lobbying presence in Washington in recent years. The PGA reported no lobbying at all in 2009, although the PGA Tour -- representing the profitable professional golfing events -- spent about $400,000. The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America spent $60,000, and the World Golf Foundation spent nothing in 2009, according to disclosure reports.
With a fancy Web site and a $15,000-a-month lobbying budget, the coalition says it hopes to bring the game up to par with other businesses in the realm of Washington politics, although it is still working on its agenda. Citing industry studies, We Are Golf says the game is a $76 billion industry that directly or indirectly supports 2 million jobs.
"This is the first time our industry has come together like this," Steranka said in an interview after his Capitol Hill meetings. "We're not looking for an unfair advantage; our message is that we want to put golf on a level playing field with other small businesses, because that's what we are."Campaign funds revisited
Thursday is the big day for campaign-finance junkies, as Democrats plan to unveil proposals pushing back on the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) have scheduled news conferences to release nearly identical attempts to limit the impact of the decision, which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money for or against political candidates. Van Hollen will be joined by Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), the crusade's only Republican so far.