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Amid new power elite, lobbyists work the crowd

At star-studded parties across the capital, lobbyists are busy working the crowds. As the nation ushers in a new president, they are rebuilding their networks of influence in the halls of power.
Image: interior of the Newseum
Among the crowds celebrating the inauguration of a new American president, lobbyists are busy rebuilding their networds. Pictured here is the crowd at the Huffington Post Pre-Inaugural Ball at the Newseum in Washington on Monday.Mitch Dumke / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

The sushi was plentiful, the jazz ensemble loud and the guest list included just what the party-givers wanted: members of Congress, incoming Obama administration officials and celebrities.

The invitation-only reception at the National Museum of Women in the Arts was among scores that lobbyists and corporations are hosting around the capital to mark Barack Obama's presidential inauguration on Tuesday. For those staging such events, the celebrations are a chance to rekindle old relationships, start new ones, flash influence and impress clients.

"Obviously there's a new Congress, a new administration," said Richard Cotton, executive vice president and general counsel of NBC Universal. The company hosted Monday's event at the museum with majority owner General Electric Co. "These are people we work with in many different capacities, day in and day out. This is an opportunity for people to get acquainted, at least on an informal basis," Cotton said.

Among the hundreds at Monday's brunch reception were Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Carol Browner, picked to head Obama's White House energy and environment council; Dan Glickman, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America; and a platoon of NBC News personalities, including anchor Brian Williams and former anchor Tom Brokaw.

The GE-NBC Universal event was more lavish than many, thanks in part to its setting in the Great Hall of a former Masonic temple dominated by soaring ceilings and sweeping marble staircases. But its basic theme — influence and proximity to power — was a message lobbyists all around town were trying to transmit with gatherings of their own.

The most sought-after invitations included those from firms with offices or party locations lining Pennsylvania Avenue, the path of the inaugural parade from the Capitol to the White House. The National Association of Manufacturers was among dozens that invited guests to a parade-watch gathering in its offices above Washington's most famous street.

Those prestigious Pennsylvania Avenue addresses also proved to be a challenge on Tuesday. People arriving early for receptions in one building on the street were caught in a curb-to-curb, block-long mass of people waiting to clear a parade security checkpoint. The building's security officers eventually arranged a way for guests to skirt the security line.

Others without Pennsylvania Avenue addresses, such as the lobbying firm BGR Group, were inviting members of Congress and celebrities.

"It's all about access, it's all about building goodwill and how to get your phone call returned later on down the line when you need something," said Nancy Watzman, who tracks political parties for the Sunlight Foundation, a research group that promotes transparency in government.

One lobbying firm, Perennial Strategy Group, was providing brunch and a warm place to view the proceedings on flat-screen televisions in its Pennsylvania Avenue offices. Although its windows do not face the parade route, the gathering made sense "Just to let our clients and members (of Congress) know we certainly care about the new administration, to make friends in the new administration, that we're connected on both sides of the aisle," said Kimberly Hunter Turner, a principal of the firm.