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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Interest Groups: Silicon, Potatoes, and Ski Trips

Alex Byers and John F. Harris write at Politico:
Washington types often refer to “the Valley” or “the tech community” as though it were a group of people with a unified agenda.

It’s more complicated than that. That’s one reason that both parties have been striking rich veins of tech money, even though the most famous names in tech are more associated with Democrats.
Different audiences respond to a different message. CEOs and top-level execs tend to want to hear most about hard-core economic issues, corporate tax reform and specific items that will affect their bottom line. Rank-and-file tech workers, in contrast, tend to be socially liberal and are more open to an avowedly progressive message.
This trend is backed by data. Disclosure records show that technology industry money broadly tilted 60 percent to 40 percent to the Democrats in the 2012 election. Technology corporate political action committees, on the other hand, favored Republicans 55 percent to 45 percent, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
“PACs give on business issues of relevance to the company whose PAC it is, and individuals vote on personal issues that matter the most to them as an individual,” said Technology CEO Council Executive Director Bruce Mehlman.
Some issues, of course, have nearly universal support in the Valley. Both ends of the political spectrum believe immigration reform is an urgent priority — and the failure to advance it a glaring example of Washington dysfunction.
Potatoes have interests, too.  The Wall Street Journal reports:
Tucked into the 1,582-page 2014 spending bill passed by Congress this week are 85 words that aspire to end the government's decadelong war on the potato.
The language is aimed at reversing a ban on white-potato purchases by 8.7 million monthly participants in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Women, Infants and Children food program. "White potatoes," in this case, refers to all potatoes—except the sweet version—no matter their skin or flesh color.
To the nation's potato growers and processors, it is about much more. Years of low-carb, whole-grain, antioxidant trends have taken a toll on the humble white potato, whose very color has come to symbolize empty calories: Americans each put away more than 100 pounds of potatoes a year, but the tonnage has fallen steadily over the past decade. The bill language strikes a blow for reversing "general animosity" toward the spud, said John Keeling, chief executive of the National Potato Council, which leads the pro-tater charge in the capital.
The New York Times reports:
Congress, after a corruption scandal that involved golf trips to Scotland and other getaways paid for by lobbyists, passed legislation in 2007 prohibiting lobbyists from giving lawmakers gifts of just about any value. But as is the norm in Washington, the lawmakers and lobbyists have figured out a workaround: Political campaigns and so-called leadership PACs controlled by the lawmakers now pay the expenses for the catering and the lawmakers’ lodging at these events — so they are not gifts — with money collected from the corporate executives and lobbyists, who are still indirectly footing the bill.
Even if no explicit appeals for help are made, the opportunity to build a relationship with the lawmakers, staff members and family — far from the distractions of Washington — is worth the price of admission, the lobbyists said. The donors and lobbyists, 50 to 100 of whom typically attend the events, generally donate individually or through a corporate political action committee between $1,000 and $5,000 apiece, in addition to paying their own hotel bills and airfare. There is no public disclosure that specifically shows how much is raised at each event, and lawmakers are generally unwilling to say.
“An informal setting is an effective way to build a better relationship,” said a health care lobbyist who attended the fund-raising weekend in Vail this month. The event included five House Republicans, none of them from Colorado and two of whom serve on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the health care industry. “It’s a way to get some large chunks of a lawmaker’s time,” the lobbyist said.