Day In The Life: Lobbying At The GOP Convention

A day in the life of lobbying at the Republican National Convention: a party hosted by lobbyists, a congressman's dinner to "discuss business interests," and the reasons why all of this is legal — and creatively effective.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And again, that unemployment rate today officially is 6.1 percent - the highest in years. That news comes out at the end of the Republican Convention - in fact, the end of the convention season, if you want to call it that. And as the political parties pitched themselves to voters, these last two weeks, business lobbyists have also been at work at those same conventions. Here's how a group from the travel industry got things done. They threw a party, held it in an airport hanger, and invited members of Congress to come hear their message. NPR's Jim Wildman reports.

JIM WILDMAN: Here at the Carlson Hanger, just about a five minute drive south of St. Paul, I've been allowed to drive my rental car past the security line. But I've stopped here, next to a black SUV, and Roger Dow, president and CEO of the Travel Industry Association, explains why I'm not allowed to go in to Carlson Hanger.

Mr. ROGER DOW (President, Travel Industry Association): No, we don't bring the media in. it's only because if you end up with one of the congressmen or, you know, one of the senators, you know, sometimes there's a sensitivity. So just to be nice to them we didn't want to have that. Because it's a chance for them to just get together and talk to constituents and not worry about what they might have to say. And you know how that is these days.

WILDMAN: This kind of sensitivity is for good reason. Lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former politicians have been convicted for corrupt deals. But that doesn't mean the parties have stopped in either convention city. The travel industry held a similar event last week for Democrats in Denver. It's an effort to tout, in Roger Dow's words, the importance of travel and tourism. And it's working.

Take what happened last week when an air traffic control glitch caused major delays for air travelers.

Mr. DOW: Within an hour of that, both the Obama campaign and the McCain campaign issued statements saying travel and tourism's critical to our economy. And I would say had we not had these efforts going on, you wouldn't see a statement like that immediately when something like that happened. It would just be something that goes on as far as business if that had happened four years ago.

WILDMAN: One likely target in Congress for this message from the travel industry is the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee - they handle these kinds of issues. Republican Bill Shuster from Pennsylvania is on that committee, and he's here on the floor of the party's convention in Minnesota.

Representative BILL SHUSTER (Republican, Pennsylvania): I had dinner tonight with a friend of mine who's a representative from Tulsa, Oklahoma and some supporters of his from Oklahoma. And we talked about transportation issues from business people in Oklahoma. So, you know...

WILDMAN: That dinner conversation could ultimately play a roll in helping shape federal legislation, which means Congressman Shuster has ethical concerns on his mind.

Representative SCHUSTER: You know, everything we do we've got to make sure that we're paying for it the right way, not accepting things that may be - seem inappropriate or are inappropriate.

Ms. SHEILA KRUMHOLZ (Director, Center for Responsive Politics): Money will buy a lot.

WILDMAN: A lot of access to powerful politicians. Sheila Krumholz is director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a bipartisan group that tracks money in politics. After monitoring events over the last two weeks, she says lobbyists have gotten very creative with their events.

Ms. KRUMHOLZ: There was a financial services roundtable event sponsored in Denver to express concern about consumers not being prepared to weather this subprime mortgage collapse. I think that is just classic. You know, were lobbyists attending. There were members of Congress and perhaps their aides attending. There were no consumers attending. And I think that is kind of standard procedure both in Washington D.C. and at events such as the national conventions.

WILDMAN: Now that the conventions are over, the presidential campaigns head out for more months of combat and so do the campaigns of lobbyists, who head back to Washington where Congress is back in session next week.

Jim Wildman, NPR News, St. Paul.

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