Fe­in­stein fundrais­ing lunch too hard to swal­low

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY CHUCK NEUBAUER AND JERRY SEPER

Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, chair­man of the Se­nate Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, abruptly can­celed a cam­paign fundrais­ing lunch sched­uled for June 17 af­ter the Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ist help­ing to or­ga­nize the event sug­gested in an in­vi­ta­tion that the com­mit­tee’s work would be served as the “first course.”

Mrs. Fe­in­stein, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, on June 15 bowed to con­cerns that the fundrais­ing so­lic­i­ta­tion could be mis­in­ter­preted. The Se­nate panel she chairs has long prided it­self on stay­ing above the po­lit­i­cal fray be­cause of the sen­si­tive na­ture of its work.

“It was ob­vi­ous that this would be sub­ject to mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion by some, and it was can­celed to avoid any mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion,” said Gil Du­ran, a spokesman for the se­na­tor. “No con­tri­bu­tions were re­ceived, so there is noth­ing to re­turn.”

Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ist Heather Podesta men­tioned the in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee in an e-mail in­vi­ta­tion at­tached to a for­mal no­tice of the event, say­ing that the lunch at the up­scale Char­lie Palmer steak­house in Wash­ing­ton would be­gin at noon. In the email, she said donors who gave be­tween $1,000 and $2,500 could or­der up “the Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence for the first course.”

With a check “payable to Fe­in­stein for Se­nate,” the e-mail said other cour­ses in­clude “your choice of Ap­pro­pri­a­tions, Judi- ciary or Rules com­mit­tees,” other pan­els on which she serves. The in­vi­ta­tion also sug­gested that the re­cip­i­ents for­ward it to “oth­ers that might be in­ter­ested in at­tend­ing or con­tribut­ing.”

Mr. Du­ran said Mrs. Fe­in­stein had not seen the e-mail in­vi­ta­tion men­tion­ing the com­mit­tees un­til it was pub­lished in the Roll Call news­pa­per on June 15.

The now-can­celed fundraiser was sched­uled to take place de­spite Pres­i­dent Obama’s cam­paign prom­ise that the days of lob­by­ists set­ting the agenda in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal are over. He had called for a new “trans­parency in gov­ern­ment.”

Me­lanie Sloan, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the watch­dog group Cit­i­zens for Re­spon­si­bil­ity and Ethics in Wash­ing­ton (CREW), called the in­vi­ta­tion “au­da­cious, but le­gal.”

“By cor­re­lat­ing a fixed-price menu with Sen. Fe­in­stein’s com­mit­tee as­sign­ments, Podesta does what most of Wash­ing­ton as­sid­u­ously seeks to avoid — makes clear that mem­bers of Congress are for sale,” she said.

Ken Gross, a Wash­ing­ton lawyer who spe­cial­izes in cam­paign-fi­nance is­sues, said it is “pretty typ­i­cal” to list a se­na­tor’s com­mit­tee as­sign­ments on a fundrais­ing in­vi­ta­tion.

Mr. Gross is a for­mer head of the en­force­ment divi­sion in the gen­eral coun­sel’s of­fice at the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion (FEC).

Mrs. Podesta, who heads a Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ing firm known as Heather Podesta and Part­ners, did not re­spond to a mes­sage left June 15 with an as­sis­tant. The fundraiser ini­tially was an­nounced in an e-mail from Mrs. Podesta.

A for­mal in­vi­ta­tion was at­tached to the e-mail and in­cluded the name of her hus­band, Tony, also a Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ist. Paid for by the Fe­in­stein for Se­nate Com­mit­tee, the at­tached in­vi­ta­tion does not list any of the com­mit­tees but asked po­ten­tial con­trib­u­tors to “join” the se­na­tor for lunch.

Mrs. Podesta opened the of-

Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ist Heather Podesta men­tioned the Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee in an e-mail in­vi­ta­tion at­tached to a for­mal no­tice of the event, say­ing that the lunch at the up­scale Char­lie Palmer steak­house in Wash­ing­ton would be­gin at noon. In the e-mail, she said donors who gave be­tween $1,000 and $2,500 could or­der up “the Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence for the first course.”

fice in Jan­uary 2007 to pro­vide “strate­gic ad­vice to com­pa­nies, non­prof­its and in­di­vid­u­als on how to make Wash­ing­ton, D.C., work for them.” In the first quar­ter of this year, her firm has been paid $1.63 mil­lion in lob­by­ing in­come, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics. The firm re­ceived $4.75 mil­lion in fees last year, the cen­ter said.

In March, Mr. and Mrs. Podesta hosted a din­ner at their up­scale Wood­ley Park home in Wash­ing­ton to raise money for Democrats, in­clud­ing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Henry A. Wax­man, chair­man of the Com­mit­tee on Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form.

Mr. Podesta told The Wash­ing­ton Times at the time that the din­ner was an an­nual event held for the Demo­cratic Con­gres­sional Cam­paign Com­mit­tee (DCCC) — the fundrais­ing arm for House Democrats — and for a num­ber of mem­bers of Congress.

“We are filled,” he said dur­ing a friendly con­ver­sa­tion out­side his home, adding that he and his wife had erected a tent in the back of the house be­cause of the num­ber of peo­ple ex­pected to at­tend.

Mr. Podesta also said the politi­cians, lob­by­ists and donors were not talk­ing busi­ness but about the food, which in­cluded braised lamb, ice cream and home­made fudge for Mrs. Pelosi, an ac­knowl­edged choco­holic.

The in­vi­ta­tion promised a seated din­ner with a celebrity chef. Donors were ex­pected to give $5,000 as guests, $15,000 as PAC sup­port­ers and $30,400 — the fed­eral max­i­mum to a com­mit­tee — to be a host.

Mrs. Podesta is a well-known lob­by­ist in Wash­ing­ton, and her client list in­cludes pow­er­ful spe­cial in­ter­ests with big fi­nan­cial stakes on is­sues pend­ing in Congress. Mr. Podesta founded the Podesta Group, a lob­by­ing and pub­lic-af­fairs firm based in Wash­ing­ton, in 1988.

Fe­in­stein

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