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Congress Is Back, And So Are Lobbyists

The revolution may have hit Congress on Wednesday, but lobbyists were still picking up the tab for the food and drinks.

A sumptuous spread covered tables in the House Ways and Means Committee’s ornate meeting room, put on to honor its new Republican chairman, Rep. Bill Archer of Texas. Lobbyists from Tenneco, Dow Chemical, Southwestern Bell and Exxon munched and chatted with committee members and aides.

“This is a networking opportunity, and an opportunity to show respect for what we think its a pretty good achievement” by Archer, said Anne Culver, vice president of the Greater Houston Partnership. That business development organization paid for the event along with some of its member corporations.

Similar events were occurring on virtually every floor of every House office building, most featuring sandwiches, hors d’oeuvres, pastries, beer, wine and sodas.

In contrast, organizers of the Republican takeover celebrations Tuesday night had made a point of not accepting contributions from political action committees or corporations, and of limiting other donations to $500. That did not carry over to Wednesday’s parties.

“What rules in this town is power and access to power,” said Alex Benes, managing director of the Center for Public Integrity, an ethics watchdog group. “Lobbyists will still go out and try to work the votes. If members reject the advances of lobbyists, that will be a real change. I ain’t holding my breath.”

At the same time, Democrats launched attacks on both sides of the Capitol on the issue of lobbyists’ gifts, saying Republicans already were abandoning the reform pledges they ran on last year.

House Minority Whip David Bonior, D-Mich., called a package of GOP reforms “paltry” and said the new House leaders had missed the message of the Nov. 8 elections when they denied him the chance to offer a flat ban on giftgiving by lobbyists.

Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., said they also planned to push an amendment banning lawmakers’ acceptance of gifts from lobbyists.

As the debate raged, Lockheed was throwing a buffet in the Rayburn House office building for Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, with two big-screen TVs tuned to the GOP’s takeover on the House floor.

In the Cannon Building, the

Arizona congressional delegation took over a committee room for a party paid for by companies like Allied Signal, Honeywell, Intel, McDonnell Douglas, ASARCO, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Hughes Aircraft, Motorola and US West.

One of the few committees paying for its own food was the House Agriculture Committee, where an aide said it was decided “it wouldn’t look good” to have special interests picking up the tab on the opening day of a new Congress.

But the room was crowded with lobbyists for milk producers, oilseed growers, grain farmers and cattlemen.

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