Lobby Firms Rush to Hire More Democrats

Tuesday, 20 Jan 2009 01:42 PM

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WASHINGTON – Like many lobbying firms, BGR Group offered clients and friends a place to come in from the cold Tuesday and watch Barack Obama's inauguration — with a scented twist.

The invitation-only reception in the firm's new offices two blocks from Pennsylvania Avenue was among scores that lobbyists and corporations hosted to mark the start of a new political power in the capital. For those staging such events, the celebrations are a chance to rekindle old relationships, start new ones, flash influence and impress clients.

With the competition tight among party hosts to attract guests, BGR offered something that may have been unique — makeup touch-ups and makeovers, compliments of Guerlain, the French beauty company whose parent corporation is one of BGR's clients.

"It's a time here in Washington to celebrate between friends of the firm and clients coming to town," said Ed Rogers, one of the firm's partners. "It's once every four years. There's a big appetite for people to have a warm place" to watch the festivities.

The firm has long been known as oriented toward Republicans, but it has been hiring more Democrats to improve its stance in a capital now dominated by them.

"It's all about access, it's all about building goodwill and how to get your phone call returned later on down the line when you need something," said Nancy Watzman, who tracks political parties for the Sunlight Foundation, a research group that promotes transparency in government.

The most sought-after invitations included those from firms with offices or party locations lining Pennsylvania Avenue, the path of the inaugural parade from the Capitol to the White House. The National Association of Manufacturers was among dozens that invited guests to a parade-watch gathering in its offices above Washington's most famous street.

Those prestigious Pennsylvania Avenue addresses also proved to be a challenge on Tuesday. People arriving early for receptions in one building on the street were caught in a curb-to-curb, block-long mass of people waiting to clear a parade security checkpoint. The building's security officers eventually arranged a way for guests to skirt the security line.

One lobbying firm, Perennial Strategy Group, was providing brunch and a comfortable place to view the proceedings on flat-screen televisions in its Pennsylvania Avenue offices.

Although its windows do not face the parade route, the gathering made sense "just to let our clients and members (of Congress) know we certainly care about the new administration, to make friends in the new administration, that we're connected on both sides of the aisle," said Kimberly Hunter Turner, a principal of the firm.

Tuesday's social whirl capped a four-day weekend of partying. On Monday, NBC Universal and General Electric Co. hosted an event at the National Museum of Women in the Arts that had plenty of Democratic flavor.

"Obviously there's a new Congress, a new administration," said Richard Cotton, NBC's executive vice president and general counsel. "These are people we work with in many different capacities, day in and day out. This is an opportunity for people to get acquainted, at least on an informal basis."

Among the hundreds at the brunch reception were Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Carol Browner, picked to head Obama's White House energy and environment council; Dan Glickman, a former congressman and now chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America; and a platoon of NBC News personalities, including anchor Brian Williams and former anchor Tom Brokaw.

The GE-NBC Universal event was more lavish than many, thanks in part to its setting in the Great Hall of a former Masonic temple dominated by soaring ceilings and sweeping marble staircases. But its basic theme — influence and proximity to power — was a message lobbyists all around town were trying to transmit with gatherings of their own.

At the offices of another firm, Alston & Bird, the snack tray included sugar cookies shaped and colored like the White House with a red, white and blue donkey, the symbol of the now-ascendant Democratic Party.

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