STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Ninety-six freshmen in the House of Representatives will hear their first State of the Union address as representatives tonight, and many are getting familiar with another Washington ritual, as NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY: Alabama Republican Mo Brooks came off the House floor last week. He had just cast his vote to repeal the health care overhaul.
Representative MO BROOKS (Republican, Alabama): One of the most important things I have done in my life. It's awesome. It's inspirational. It's sobering.
OVERBY: Brooks is 56 years old. He's been a state lawmaker and a prosecutor. So he's used to the hassles of starting up a new office.
Rep. BROOKS: We're still working on getting our cell phones to work correctly, so that I can be notified promptly when my staff needs me to be someplace, or the speaker needs me to be someplace.
OVERBY: And at noon today, he'll be needed at lunch with four lobbyists who would be paying 500 to $2,000 each for the privilege. Mo Brooks isn't the only freshman doing this, not by a long shot. But he is the one who agreed to talk about it. He said he didn't know anything about his fundraising schedule. In fact, hadn't held a D.C. fundraiser since he was elected.
Rep. BROOKS: And if people have started scheduling fundraisers for me, I'm thankful. But I don't know when they are or where they are or the specifics of whoever's putting them together for me.
OVERBY: So here are some of the specifics: Brooks' lunch-mates will most likely be from defense and high-tech firms. Those are the ones with an interest in his new committee assignments on Armed Services and Science, Space and Technology. Brooks has eight fundraisers on his calendar between now and March 29th: breakfasts, lunches and a couple happy hours, all of them limited to four, five or six paying guests.
The schedule was put together by Michael Gula. He's one of the top fundraising consultants for GOP candidates, and he doesn't talk about his clients. But generally speaking, Gula says they've created a new atmosphere in the lobbying world.
Mr. MICHAEL GULA (Fundraising Consultant): Down on K Street now, people are really looking forward to building new relationships, meeting new people. People are really being aggressive in wanting to meet the new members.
OVERBY: And Nancy Bocskor, a veteran Republican fundraiser, says that leads to a natural conclusion.
Ms. NANCY BOCSKOR (Republican Fundraiser): Money's going to come to them whether they ask for it or not. So you're going to have some people that go: I never solicited their money. They chose to support me based on what I did.
Ms. ELLEN MILLER (Co-founder, Sunlight Foundation): The Washington-ization of the Washington outsiders.
OVERBY: That's what Ellen Miller calls it. She's a co-founder of the Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group that got a hold of Congressman Brooks' fundraising schedule and posted it on its Political Party Time website. Miller says the small, intimate events are important. Big fundraising can come later.
Ms. MILLER: But the people who were there early on will have the close relationship and be able to walk in and see the member or his staff whenever he or she wants.
OVERBY: And politics is all about networking. David Rehr is a business executive and former lobbyist. He says new lawmakers need to meet key people around town: lobbyists, advisers, moneymen...
Mr. DAVID REHR (Business Executive, Former Lobbyist): Because at some point, they'll help you either with your issues or getting reelected or being perceived as being more influential by other Washingtonians, so you can try to enact more change in the government.
OVERBY: So if the newcomers didn't swear off Washington money in the heat of an anti-Washington campaign, they'd be foolish to do it now. So says Washington.
Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
INSKEEP: You hear Peter's reporting on MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.
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