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Why Lobbyists Dodge Calls From Congressmen

"You spend most of your time dodging calls." - Jimmy Williams, former lobbyist
Courtesy of Jimmy Williams
"You spend most of your time dodging calls." - Jimmy Williams, former lobbyist

This story is part of our series on money in politics.

We imagine the lobbyist stalking the halls of Congress trying to use cash to influence important people. But it doesn't always work that way. Often, the Congressman is stalking the lobbyist, asking for money.

Lawmakers of both parties need to raise millions of dollars per election cycle. So lobbyists get calls from lawmakers and their staffs all the time, inviting them to fundraisers, according to Jimmy Williams, a former lobbyist for the real estate industry.

"A lot of them would call and say 'Hey ... can you host an event for me?'" Williams says. "You spend most of your time dodging phone calls."

But when a Congressman calls and you need his vote, you agree to host a fundraiser. That means finding other people to come and give money.

"So I call up my buddies down on K Street," Williams says. "I'm gonna do this event for this guy, and he sits on the House Financial Services committee. You guys have any money for this person?"

With a lot of these events, there's space on the invitation to put your credit card number. Some lobbyists send their donation in ahead of time. Others bring the money to the event.

"We have a policy that all checks have to be hand delivered," says Scott Talbott, a lobbyist for the financial services industry. "So we have to go up and eyeball the candidate... Wouldn't you remember if someone handed you a check rather than sent it in the mail?"

Tomorrow on Morning Edition: What those checks are buying.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.
Alex Blumberg is a contributing editor for NPR's Planet Money. He is also a producer for the public radio program This American Life, and an adjunct professor of journalism at Columbia University. He has done radio documentaries on the U.S. Navy, people who do impersonations of their mothers and teenage Steve Forbes supporters. He won first place at the 2002 Third Coast International Audio Festival for his story "Yes, There is a Baby." His story on clinical medical ethicists won the 1999 Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI) award for best radio documentary.