‘Lobbyist Nirvana:’ Inaugural Festivities — Despite Obama’s Ban

Photograph by Damon Winter/The New York Times via Redux

President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama had their first dance at an appearance at the Neighborhood Ball, the first of many of the evening, at the Convention Center in Washington on Jan 20, 2009.

President Barack Obama’s decision to reject contributions to his inaugural committee from registered lobbyists isn’t keep them away from the hoopla surrounding the start of his second term.

Lobbyists are helping to fund the state societies’ inaugural bashes and inviting clients and public officials to get out of the cold and watch the swearing-in ceremony and parade from their offices.

“This is just a wonderful, easy way to endear themselves to those who have authority over their business,” says Craig Holman of Public Citizen, a Washington-based advocacy group that supports stronger campaign finance laws. “These events will be staffed full of members of Congress, political officials and those who are in the Obama administration. This is a like a lobbyist nirvana.”

MCapitol Management, paid $2.4 million to lobby the federal government during the first nine months of 2012, and Barnes and Thornburg, which paid $2.1 million, are among the sponsors of the Illinois State Society’s black-tie inaugural gala on Jan. 19.

Crowell & Moring is inviting clients to its Pennsylvania Avenue offices to watch the parade passing by its office windows. The firm was paid $1.6 million from January to September by Bank of America Corp., Novartis AG and other clients.

Holland & Knight LLP, located at the end of the route, is offering hot drinks and snacks. The firm was paid $13.4 million to lobby during the first nine months of 2012 by such companies as Dow Chemical and Raytheon Co., according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group that tracks lobbying. Holland & Knight represents several municipalities, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors is holding its annual conference in Washington this week.

Holland & Knight also is a sponsor of the inaugural luncheon and fashion show, put on every four years by the state society of California, home state of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. Two other lobbying firms, Cassidy and Associates, which paid $11.5 million in 2012, and Elmendorf Ryan LLC,, which paid $6.3 million, are helping to sponsor the Nevada State Society. The society, which represents the home state of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is hosting a cocktail reception Friday.

The lobbyists’ activities come at a time when the Obama administration’s hostility has abated, says Rich Gold, head of the public policy and regulation practice group at Holland & Knight. He says the administration is more concerned about issues such as gun control, immigration overhaul, improving the economy and reducing the budget deficit.

“It’s not high on the list to vilify lobbyists,” Gold says. “The White House is focusing like a laser beam on those things that matter.”

MCapitol’s president, Gary LaPaille, a former state lawmaker and state Democratic chairman, says the Illinois society dinner is a chance to schmooze with old friends and make sure they know he’s in business.

“It polls out well to be anti-lobbyist but we still are the only legal entity that can talk to a member of Congress and we are legally doing that in accordance with all laws and rules and procedures,” LaPaille says. “Until somebody puts a bill in to prohibit lobbyists, we’re there.”

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