SEMINOLE — The Congressional District 13 special election is all about Pinellas, but the race’s Republican and Democrat contenders will go outside the district’s borders tonight to seek contributions from deep-pocketed donors.
Republican David Jolly is headed to Tallahassee, where Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and other top-tier Florida Republicans will ask donors to pour money into Jolly’s campaign. Democrat Alex Sink, meanwhile, will be in Washington, D.C., for a fundraiser featuring prominent Democrats such as New York Rep. Steve Israel, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the second most powerful Democrat in Congress, as well as members of Florida’s congressional delegation.
Although one might expect their guest lists to be starkly different, they’ll have one common element: lobbyists who contribute heavily to political campaigns and organize many fundraisers.
“I would be amazed if we don’t see them,” said Darryl Paulson, a University of South Florida political science professor emeritus.
Paulson is writing an op-ed defending the much- stigmatized practice.
“A look at the funds received by both Jolly and Sink would find much of the money can be traced directly to lobbyists,” he said.
Talk of lobbyists has dominated the discussion heading up to the March 11 election, given that one candidate, Jolly, is one. Jolly has defended his work advocating to lawmakers on behalf of clients who range from offshore drilling supporters to Mark Lumsford, whose daughter Jessica was killed by a sex offender. Democrats have accused him of being beholden to special interests.
Jolly tried to turn the table on Sink at Monday night’s debate, accusing her of bad-mouthing lobbyists while accepting campaign donations from them. It was a moment Republicans seized upon.
“Whether it’s her hypocrisy over taking thousands from Washington lobbyists or the fact that she wants to give Obama and (House Minority Leader Nancy) Pelosi a blank check — Alex Sink can’t be trusted to protect Pinellas in Congress,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Katie Prill wrote Tuesday morning.
Campaign records suggest several groups that could be considered lobbying organizations have contributed, including a transportation labor union’s political action committee, a Regions Bank PAC and even a couple of registered D.C.-based lobbyists.
“It’s hard not to accept money from lobbyists,” said Viveca Novak, editorial and communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics. “Lobbyists are among the most engaged in the political process because they have the most at stake.”
Still, getting a lobbyist’s donation is a different from being one, some say.
“It’s an interesting defense for a lobbyist to try to claim, ‘You’re as dirty as I am because you’re raising money from lobbyists,’ ” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist with Public Citizen, a D.C. nonprofit. “The candidate herself is not a lobbyist even though (lobbyists are) contributing.”
Sink didn’t get to defend herself Monday, but did so Tuesday.
“Washington lobbyist David Jolly is a hired gun who has spent his career in D.C. putting special interests over Pinellas families — taking special interest cash and then lobbying for extreme groups that supported privatizing Social Security and expanding offshore drilling,” Sink campaign spokeswoman Ashley Walker said in a statement.
Novak said since lobbyists are among the most entrenched in Washington, it’s tough for most politicians to speak negatively about them, unless they can differentiate among the different types of lobbyists and lobbying groups that are out there.
“It is hard to attack somebody for being in a profession that includes people you’re taking money from,” she said. “If she can draw a line somewhere, then I suppose that’s one thing.”