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Bush won't be only honoree

/ Source: The Associated Press

President Bush won’t be the only bigwig feted in Washington.

Lawmakers and other federal officials are being honored with all kinds of luncheons, receptions and parade-watching parties during inauguration week — often at the expense of businesses they regulate.

The myriad of celebrations planned around Bush’s swearing in Thursday is an opportunity to do the same for the other Washington powerbrokers while working to ensure prized access throughout the legislative year. The calendar is already quite crowded with events.

Amid the portraits of U.S. presidents at the Corcoran Gallery of Art on Wednesday, high-tech company SAP will honor Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., at an invitation-only event.

Mimosas and brunch
Aerospace contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. has ordered up “Magnolias and Mimosas: A Mississippi Brunch,” on Thursday in the Russell Senate Office building for Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee on aviation.

The companies of Motorola, Exelon, Caterpillar and Monsanto as well as the Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal law and lobbying firm are sponsoring an Illinois-themed, black-tie ball. The honorary chairmen are House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

“Come enjoy heartland hospitality as the Grand Hyatt Washington magically transforms into the cities, towns, riverfronts and historic places of Illinois — The Magnificent Mile, State Street, the Mississippi Riverboat Lounge, Route 66, the Whistle Stop Diner and the State Fair,” reads the invitation.

Not to be outdone, United Parcel Service plans a party at a Washington restaurant in Hastert’s honor on Tuesday.

“It’s a major lobbyists’ feeding ground,” said Larry Noble, head of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog group.

Wooing lawmakers
In scale, the series of parties are similar to those held during the Republican and Democratic conventions last summer. Inaugural and convention events honoring members of Congress are among the last remaining ways for corporations to use their money to support lawmakers.

A 2002 law banned members of Congress and their parties from accepting corporate money for election activities.

In November, Republicans strengthened their majority in the House and Senate. All GOP senators will be feted at a Washington steakhouse on the day of the inauguration. Picking up the check are General Electric, Home Depot, SAP America, the PhRMA pharmaceutical lobby and Altria Group, parent of the Philip Morris tobacco company.

Offering more than a meal are Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods, the ALLTEL telecommunications company and Stephens Inc. financial services company, which will hold a reception Tuesday for members of Congress, staff and others at a steakhouse and a Thursday reception along the parade route.

These are the first inauguration events for Wal-Mart, which opened a Washington lobbying office about five years ago, said Erik Winborn, a lobbyist and vice president for national government relations for the retail giant.

“Since now our office is a little bit larger, we have a much stronger presence in Washington, we felt it was important to invite our friends to a reception,” Winborn said.

Time Warner is holding an exclusive buffet reception Thursday for Bush administration officials, diplomats and others at the National Gallery of Art’s West Wing, where guests will be able to munch among the masterpieces.

Time Warner is among several corporations and trade associations that gave $100,000 or more to help finance official inaugural week festivities.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Continental Group lobbying firm plan a “black tie and shoes” party for administration officials and others to coincide with Bush’s “Black Tie and Boots” Texas ball Wednesday.

A 'wise' business strategy
Riggs Bank, which made headlines last year when it was fined $25 million for failing to report suspicious transactions in accounts controlled by Saudi diplomats and government officials of Equatorial Guinea, is capitalizing on its location across from the White House to throw an inaugural parade party.

“It really isn’t as much about tradition as it is a wise thing to do from a business standpoint, which is to focus on client retention and business development,” said spokesman Mark Hendrix, who declined to say whether lawmakers and federal officials were invited.

The Patton Boggs law and lobbying firm is inviting White House and other federal officials, lawmakers and clients to a post-inaugural cocktail party at its offices Jan. 21. The invitation notes that Patton Boggs attorneys represented the Bush campaign and GOP House and Senate fund-raising committees, among other Republicans, in the 2004 elections.