msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 1/7/2004 1:16:43 PM ET 2004-01-07T18:16:43

Western business executives will get to wine, dine and golf with members of Congress and top Bush administration environmental officials at Arizona gatherings this week that start with a fund-raiser for the lawmakers.

Companies whose employees or political action committees donate $3,000 can send two people to the “Mulligans & Margaritas” fund-raiser Wednesday for the Western GOP Majority Committee, with $1,000 charged for each additional company representative who attends.

Donors can schmooze members of Congress at a golf tournament at the Arizona Biltmore Golf Course in Phoenix and a private dinner at a local restaurant. Their contributions will be divided among 20 Republican congressional candidates from Western states.

The fund-raiser was organized by Jim Sims, executive director of the Western Business Roundtable. It is the first event listed on the agenda of this week’s “Roundtable Summit of the West,” a conference sponsored by the Colorado-based organization and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at the Arizona Biltmore Resort.

Chance to 'strategize'
The conference registration form offers participants the chance to “strategize in a casual setting with members of Congress, White House officials, federal agency leaders, Western governors, CEOs, senior business executives and policy-makers from across the West.”

The goal is to make sure the West’s interests are factored in when Washington writes energy and environmental policies, Sims said.

“We prefer to think we are the nation’s energy breadbasket, and we are,” Sims said.

Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles, a former energy industry lobbyist, was to give the keynote address at a Thursday luncheon after sessions on the Clean Air Act and federal energy policy.

The prospectus for one conference promised participants could help write a “Top Ten ‘To Do’ List for the Congress.” They also can get training on dealing with the media and attend two more golf tournaments before the event ends Saturday.

In addition to Griles, speakers include Jeff Holmstead, the Environmental Protection Agency’s assistant administrator in charge of air quality and the administration’s point man on changes to the Clean Air Act; and Republican lawmakers including New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Montana Gov. Judy Martz.

Also scheduled to attend are several House members whose campaigns are taking part in the Western GOP Majority Committee.

They include Utah Reps. Chris Cannon and Rob Bishop; New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce; Arizona Reps. John Shadegg, J.D. Hayworth, Rick Renzi and Jim Kolbe; Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg; Wyoming Rep. Barbara Cubin; California Rep. Darrell Issa; Colorado Reps. Joel Hefley and Tom Tancredo; Nebraska Rep. Lee Terry; Idaho Rep. Butch Otter; and Nevada Rep. Jon Porter.

Organizer rejects criticism
Activists criticized the events. "This junket is set up for industry to have its way with Congress and to exclude the public from having a say in whether America's natural treasures are protected or destroyed," Peter Altman, director of the Campaign to Protect America's Lands, said in a statement.

Added Friends of the Earth staffer Kristen Sykes: "The prominence of Deputy Secretary Griles in this blatant 'cash-and-carry' political setting shows that both he and the Bush Administration are not serious about addressing his grave ethical lapses when it comes to inappropriate dealings with industry."

But Sims said the fund-raiser was not a part of the conference and was not sponsored by the Western Business Roundtable or the U.S. Chamber.

“There is no connection between the two events, other than the fact that it is convenient for me to hold a fund-raising event for members of Congress I support who will be in Phoenix this week,” Sims said.

Sims said he set up the Western GOP Majority Committee to hold the fund-raiser and may use it to raise money for others in the future. He expected Wednesday’s event to raise less than $100,000. The committee was paying for room and board for members of Congress.

Conference participants were covering their own airfare, Sims said. The Western Business Roundtable is nonpartisan and has held similar conferences in past years featuring federal officials, including members of the Clinton administration, Sims said.

Background on the Western Business Roundtable is online at www.westernroundtable.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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