Trains, not drains: New Jersey lob­by­ists set to swamp D.C.

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By Michael Catal­ini The Associated Press

TREN­TON >> As Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump vows to “drain the swamp” in Wash­ing­ton, a swarm of 1,000 lob­by­ists, busi­ness own­ers and politi­cians boarded a train from the swamps of New Jersey on Thurs­day for a day of lob­by­ing.

The state Cham­ber of Com­merce’s 80th an­nual trip — nick­named the “Walk to Wash­ing­ton” be­cause rail rid­ers gen­er­ally pace the train’s cor­ri­dors schmooz­ing and hand­ing out busi­ness cards — comes after a na­tional elec­tion that hinged in part on re­pu­di­at­ing in­sid­ers and es­tab­lish­ment pol­i­tics.

Trump, whose job ap­proval rat­ing is in neg­a­tive ter­ri­tory, rose to vic­tory in part on a prom­ise to “drain the swamp.” In his ear­li­est days in the White House, he signed an or­der aimed at re­strict­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials from lob­by­ing.

“There’s no pop­ulist mes­sage on the train. It’s net­work­ing on steroids,” said Dale Flo­rio, a Tren­ton lob­by­ist and a long­time Repub­li­can who backed Trump.

But Trump didn’t win New Jersey where vot­ers are set to pick Repub­li­can Gov. Chris Christie’s suc­ces­sor in Novem­ber. The two-term gov­er­nor is term lim­ited, and the event has a grav­i­ta­tional pull for many of the state’s big­gest busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal play­ers.

De­spite the lack of pop­ulist ap­peal, the event is a high­light of the year for many New Jersey of­fi­cials.

“If I were a can­di­date for gov­er­nor and a con­sul­tant ad­vised me not to at­tend, I’d fire them,” Flo­rio said.

Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date Jim John­son, a for­mer Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial, is spurn­ing that ad­vice. He said he’s not at­tend­ing and that the trip doesn’t ben­e­fit the public.

“The Walk is an­other op­por­tu­nity for lob­by­ists to rub el­bows and curry fa­vor with elected of­fi­cials,” John­son said.

Michael Egen­ton, the cham­ber’s top lob­by­ist, doesn’t buy the swamp com­par­isons. He says net­work­ing is the path­way to re­la­tion­ships and new, bet­ter poli­cies.

“I think the way I look at it: there al­ways have to be safe­guards to make sure you’re not giv­ing spe­cial priv­i­leges (to busi­ness in­ter­est) but at the same time hav­ing that re­la­tion­ship is how things get done,” Egen­ton said.

Egen­ton said most of the gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­dates, in­clud­ing Democrats Ray Les­niak and Phil Mur­phy are sched­uled to be on the train. Repub­li­can Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno also is run­ning, but is not at­tend­ing be­cause she will be serv­ing as act­ing gov­er­nor with Christie out of the state at the event.

Christie is set to de­liver the key­note ad­dress to the gath­er­ing. Demo­cratic Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Me­nen­dez, along with Repub­li­can U.S. Rep. Chris Smith also are set to ad­dress din­ner at­ten­dees.

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