Members of Congress have taken advantage of the arrival of the Washington Nationals by charging lobbyists and other contributors as much as $1,250 to attend baseball games with them at RFK Stadium, extending a long-standing practice in which politicians have used Redskins, Wizards and Capitals games as fundraising venues.
As pressure on members of the House and Senate to raise money has intensified, an industry has developed of companies competing to find new ways to attract donors. Sporting events have become prime draws.
"I call myself the king of it," said fundraising consultant Rob Jennings, who orchestrated a number of events for House and Senate Republicans during the Nationals' first season.
Democratic lawmakers also regularly use sports events as sites for political fundraising.
RFK does not have corporate boxes, so Jennings, president of American Events Consulting Inc., bought blocks of 15 to 20 terrace-level tickets and provided catered food so guests could eat and socialize while they watched the game.
The ideal approach, Jennings said, is to pick games featuring a team from the lawmaker's home state.
On April 19, for example, lobbyists and friends of Rep. David Joseph Weldon (R-Fla.) went to a game against the Florida Marlins. A ticket to the game cost a political action committee, or PAC, $1,000, and an individual $750, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee Web site. Rep. Melissa Hart (R-Pa.) charged a little more -- $1,250 for a PAC, $1,000 for an individual -- when the Pittsburgh Pirates took on the Nationals on June 29.
While Jennings was pleased with the opportunities offered by the Nationals, Mike Gula, vice president of Keelen Communications, was less enthusiastic.
Gula said the major attraction of a fundraiser at a game is the opportunity for lobbyists to spend three hours with a member of Congress, and to do that effectively requires holding the event in a suite or skybox. If the congressman is in the middle of a row of seats, as is the case at Nationals games, then only those sitting next to him can talk to him, Gula said.
Until the Nationals build a new stadium with corporate boxes, Gula said, he prefers to hold fundraisers in the suites and boxes at Redskins games at FedEx Field or Wizards and Capitals games at MCI Center.
Lobbyists "much prefer fun events where they can bring their families, too," Gula said. "It's a great opportunity to get to know the member on a different level, and [for the member] to get to know the lobbyists on a different level."
Gula has arranged for Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) to rent News Corp.'s skybox at FedEx Field for the Redskins-Eagles game on Nov. 6, according to the GOP congressional committee Web site. People who want to go with the congressmen would pay a "suggested contribution" of $2,000 a head.
Lawmakers hold fundraisers at sports events elsewhere as well.
Those willing to pay $5,000 each can go on Nov. 3 to the "2nd Annual Congressman Joe Barton Florida Flats Fishing Tournament benefiting the Texas Freedom Fund with special guest Chairman Joe Barton" at the Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada, Fla. Barton (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is a big draw in the lobbying community.
Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) is offering, for $2,500 each, a chance to go on a "European-driven" pheasant hunt on Friday at the Flint Oak Hunting Resort in Kansas.
There are some lobbyists who are not into sports. Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) is offering dinner and a Broadway show, "Monty Python's Spamalot," for $1,500 a person or $2,500 a couple.
For the same price, a lobbyist can join Reps. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.) and Dennis Rehberg (R-Mont.) on Nov. 3 for a concert featuring Aerosmith and Lenny Kravitz at MCI Center.
Jennings said that rock bands that date from the 1960s and '70s, such as Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones, can be real draws for fundraisers because "they appeal to older lobbyist types."