Political Party Time

As immigration debate heats up, so do the parties

With the debate over comprehensive immigration reform well underway, naturally the time has come for lobbyists to barge in and take it over! Party Time has noticed a recent surge in fundraisers for some lawmakers holding influence over the immigration issue — including events at top private sector players — and PT knows throwing a party can be one of the best ways to access legislators and promote a particular point of view. So far, PT counts more than 50 such funders scheduled for 2013! While many of the soirees here could merely be run-of-the-mill campaign events, there is a possibility that they provide an opportunity for special interests to curry favor with Congress — and offer their two cents about how they'd like immigration reform to happen.

Several tech companies are lobbying on immigration, hoping to loosen restrictions on obtaining visas for science and skilled workers. Microsoft is at the top of list, posting 33 lobbying reports involving immigration in 2012. Microsoft's D.C. policy center is also the site of two fundraisers this year — one a $2,500 breakfast for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the other a $5,000 dinner for Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. The fact that Microsoft hosted events for these two may not be a coincidence: Cruz sits on the Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee, and Collins is seen as a crucial centrist swing vote in affecting how immigration reform plays out. Other tech lobbying groups that have hosted a fundraiser include Google, which is throwing a $2,000 March Madness Reception for Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Oracle, which hosts a $2,000 lunch on May 9 for Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.

The hospitality industry is heavily involved in immigration reform as well. Marriott International is a major employer of immigrants, so it's no surprise to see that as the company's top lobbying issue. Marriott's political action committee has hosted two fundraisers for Collins: One is the aforementioned dinner at Microsoft's D.C. office, while the other is a $5,000 Kick-Off Reception that includes Republican higher ups like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Ky., and Sen. John Cornyn, Texas, who also happens to be his party's top-ranking member on the and immigration subcommittee.

Also co-hosting Collins' kick off is the American Hospital Association, another immigration heavy hitter. The healthcare industry hopes to loosen restrictions on medically skilled immigrants, as it employs many as nurses and physicians. More medical groups are also organizing events for Sen. Orrin Hatch, including a $5,000 breakfast thanks to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists and another $5,000 breakfast thanks to the Advanced Medical Technology Association and others. Oh, and Hatch conveniently sits on the immigration subcommittee as well.

Leading the charge in legislating reform is the Senate's "Gang of Eight," a bipartisan group that is privately crafting a sweeping bill. Republicans in the gang have been partying it up, like newly-elected Jeff Flake, Ariz., who's got at least five events this year. Flake, who also serves on the subcommittee for immigration, even had three funders in two days from March 12 to 13.

Another conservative on the gang is Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is emerging as his party's spokesman on immigration. The son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio has had at least two fundraisers this year, including a weekend at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Fla. where prices rise to $10,000. One Republican who's balancing reform and re-election is Lindsey Graham, S.C., who has three parties lined up in 2013 so far. Graham, who is also on the Judiciary Committee, has a campaign kickoff event at the NRSC costing a max of $10,000. The lone Republican without a PT event is Flake's fellow Arizonan John McCain. He's not up for reelection until 2016.

Of the four Democrats, only Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who serves on the Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee, has a fundraiser posted in the PT database. His sole party is a March 15 breakfast co-benefitting himself and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md. The other three — Sens. Robert Menendez, N.J., Chuck Schumer, N.Y., and Michael Bennet, Colo. — have been M.I.A. in PT.

Congressional members of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees will also play a significant role in determining how immigration reform plays out, and several members have thrown multiple fundraisers where lobbyists could grab some face time. Ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has held three events this year and has another planned for late March, though none have hosts listed. In addition to the two medical industry-sponsored breakfasts mentioned before, Hatch has six others in 2013 so far, all hosted by a lobbyist or PAC.

PT has asked this question before but it bears repeating: What's Hatch, who just ended a successful reelection campaign with no debts and who will be 84 when he next has to face the voters, going to do with all the campaign cash he's amassing?

But we digress: Cornyn, the top Republican on immigration, is up for reelection next year. He has six parties of his own this year, including a $5,000 March 14 breakfast located at Pfizer's D.C. offices and hosted by Pfizer and Lilly, a pharmaceutical company that lobbied on immigration last year. Other Republicans on the Judiciary Committee collecting cash this year include Texas Sen Ted Cruz (3 events), Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (1 event), and Utah Sen. Mike Lee (1 event).

Though conservatives have been partying hard, only one Democrat on the committee has a fundraiser in PT for 2013, Sen. Amy Klobuchar. The Minnesotan will be the beneficiary of a $5,000 reception on March 21 in D.C. Klobuchar is a member of the subcommittee on immigration.

On the House side, there isn't much fundraising appearing in the PT calendar on either side. Reps. Mark Amodei (1 event), R-Nev., and Joe Garcia (2 events), D-Fla., are the only members sitting on the subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security to have PT events in 2013. Ranking member of the Judiciary Committee Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., had a Super Bowl party with prices up to $10,000, while fellow Democrats Jerrold Nadler, N.Y., and Ted Deutch, Fla., each had one event in 2013 so far. Aside from these PT has no funders on record for the rest of the committee, including Chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) will be a major player in passing immigration legislation, and certain members have been busy partying. The CHC's own political action committee, BOLD PAC, is holding a Spring Kick Off Reception at the offices of Comcast, a lobbying titan that nevertheless hasn't touched immigration policy. The highest ranking member of the CHC to throw a party in 2013 is 2nd vice chair Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, who benefitted from a $5,000 evening reception at the 21st Century Group townhouse on Jan. 15. Rep. Xavier Beccera, D-Calif., is another CHC player with significant clout, and he's holding a March 15 breakfast that's running guests up to $5,000. CHC members Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., Albio Sires, D-N.J., and Nydia Velasquez, D-N.Y., are all in the PT database benefitting from one party each, with no hosts listed.

Some instances may not seem like much, but all of these fundraisers provide an opportunity for immigration lobbyists to schmooze with lawmakers, especially events that are explicitly hosted by special interests. Let's just hope that members of Congress are smart enough to make up their own minds.

(Photo credit: U.S. Border Patrol via Wikimedia Commons)