The Hill, “K Street betting on Hillary,” August 20, 2015

By Megan R. Wilson

K Street is banking on Hillary Clinton, with more than twice as many Washington lobbyists donating to the former secretary of State’s presidential campaign than any other candidate.

While many lobbyists are holding their pocketbooks in the early stages of the 2016 election cycle, Clinton — the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination — received at least $625,703 from 316 registered lobbyists and corporate PACs during the first half of the year, according to disclosure forms.

“She’s going at it for the second time, and there is a list of people who are very committed to her from eight years ago,” said Al Mottur, senior Democratic lobbyist at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and longtime Clinton supporter. Mottur has not only given to the campaign, but is also bundling cash from other donors.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ranks as a distant second in the influence industry, collecting $444,500 from 140 lobbyists.

The more than $1 million shelled out to Clinton and Bush in the first half on 2015 represents the lion’s share of contributions from K Streeters to presidential campaigns, as lobbyists, at least for now, appear most comfortable giving to establishment candidates.

The donations are a shift from the last couple election cycles, especially on the Democratic side. President Obama made campaign promises in 2008 and 2012 not to take money from registered lobbyists — in addition to vowing to ban them from the administration — so the early donations signal that K Street hopes to be back in good graces when the next administration takes over the White House.

Altogether, more than 500 lobbyists and industry political action committees have given to at least one of 10 candidates, according to The Hill’s analysis of semiannual lobbyist disclosures.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) ranks third among the 2016 field, raking in $145,900 from 73 lobbyists since announcing his candidacy.

Others vying for the White House, however, have not yet connected with Washington advocates, it seems.

On the Democratic side, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley received $52,919 from K Street. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has eschewed the involvement of lobbyists and corporations in elections, only took $420.

In the Republican field, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has received $22,000 from 11 lobbyists and K Street-connected PACs, including to his leadership PAC, since he announced his bid in March. His Senate colleague, Rand Paul of Texas, took in $18,678.

Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.), who officially announced his intent to run for president on July 13, still received $26,350 from lobbyists in his federal fundraising vehicles and to super-PACs during the first half of 2015. Former HP top executive, Carly Fiornia, received a total of $1,200 from three lobbyists.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who only announced his run on June 30, received $20,600 from registered lobbyists last month.

“People are taking a longer time to choose their horses. I don’t view that as a negative strike against [Christie], I think that’s a function of where we are in the primary,” said David Tamasi, senior vice president at the firm Rasky Baerlein.

“His leadership skills, his ability to govern and his strength have all been attributes that would make him a great president, so it’s been a no-brainier for me,” he added.

The sheer number of candidates — 17 Republicans and five Democrats, so far — may give some donors pause about whom to support.

Many of the lobbyists that have given to either Clinton or Bush have longtime histories with the candidate or family.

Rick Valentine, a partner at K&L Gates who served on the presidential transition team for George W. Bush in 2000, says he got in touch with the Right to Rise super-PAC supporting Bush at the beginning of the year.

When Right to Rise had its first fundraising event in Washington in February at the predominantly GOP lobby firm BGR Group, Valentine said he received an invitation.

Though Bush did not officially announce his intent to run for president until June 15, many in the party expected him to eventually take the plunge. Several other lobbyists have told The Hill that the lead-up to the announcement included several fundraising calls to shore up support in Washington.

Valentine gave the super-PAC a $1,000 donation, and later contributed $2,700 to the former governor’s presidential campaign, the maximum amount an individual can give per cycle.

The bipartisan firm has given to both Democratic and Republican candidates, including a $2,700 contribution from former Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) to Clinton.

All told, funding from lobbyists and industry groups only represents a small amount of the overall sum raised by each candidate: Clinton’s campaign, for example, took in a total of $47.6 million from April through June. Bush’s coffers reached $11.4 million; Rubio raised about $8.9 million in that same period and Cruz took in $10 million.

Still, support from K Street can not only help boost a candidate, but also put lobbyists in good standing with the candidate in the event he or she takes the White House.

“Washington is very risk-averse, and Bush and Clinton seem like the smart play,” said one Republican donor. “But I personally believe both campaigns are too top-heavy to succeed. They don’t have enough energy to make it to the finish line, and they’re just holding their breath, hoping that when the race ends, they’ll be there.”

Other lobbyists have hedged their bets by supporting several candidates, sometimes at the request of clients, they told The Hill, asking for anonymity.

Makan Delrahim, a lobbyist at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck who spends most of his time at his home in Malibu, Calif., however, says he wants to support as many Republicans as he can. So far, he has given to Cruz, Rubio and Walker.

“I was intrigued by some of the candidates, and when they come to Los Angeles, I would go and hear them,” he told The Hill. He and Cruz have been friends for almost 20 years (“and I respect the heck out of him,” he says), so he gave $1,250 to his presidential run.

Rubio, he said, is “one of the most articulate Republicans there is.” He gave his campaign $2,600 and his joint fundraising committee — which supports Rubio’s Senate campaign and leadership PAC – another $1,000.

And after meeting Walker during a trip the governor made to California, he donated $2,700 to a federal PAC called Scott Walker, Inc. He also gave $5,000 to Our American Revival, a group that raised money for Walker while he mulled a bid for president.

Has he thought about donating to others?

“I’m not opposed one bit,” he said. “I’d like to see how it shakes out. As we have more debates, you get to see more about people’s messages… I’d like to support as many candidates as I think will win in a general election.”

“I’d be happy with any Republican president,” he added.

Although he only spends some of his time in Washington lobbying, he registers out of an abundance of caution. “My contribution isn’t for if I need anything,” he said.

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