Where there's a pesky ethics rule, there's usually a way around it, and lobbyists have found a simple way to sidestep restrictions against throwing parties for lawmakers at the Republican and Democratic conventions, NBC finds. "Consulting firms" have been set up to throw parties for members of Congress, and the firms in turn sell sponsorships to lobbyists for up to $50,000. One such "pop-up" firm, GOP Convention Strategies, is throwing bashes this week for groups including Oklahoma lawmakers, the "western caucus," and members of the House and Senate transportation committees. A sister firm will be putting on parties for Democrats next week.
Reforms introduced after the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal in 2007 barred lawmakers from taking part in sponsored convention events honoring them, although the House has relaxed this to allow parties that honor groups of members. The "pop-up front companies" are undermining the ethics rules and allowing huge amounts of influence peddling to continue, says a lawyer for the Public Citizen watchdog group. "Their whole purpose is to sponsor parties at the conventions that otherwise might be in violation of congressional ethics restrictions," he says. "This is a brand new wrinkle. I’ve never seen this before."