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Washington Wrap

Dotty Lynch, Douglas Kiker, Steve Chaggaris, Nicola Corless, Smita Kalokhe, and Joanna Schubert of The CBS News Political Unit have the latest from the nation's capital.

Take the Money And Run: President Bush heads to California on Friday to pick up $6 million for his re-election campaign, but he plans to duck the question of whether Democratic Gov. Gray Davis should be recalled, the LA Times reports. In fact, Bush plans to spend only nine hours in the state at fundraisers in LA and San Francisco and then heads off to his Crawford, Texas, ranch for the weekend.

There is division inside GOP ranks about the Davis recall. White House spokeswoman Ashley Snee gave what the Washington Post call the "party line," Snee said, "The White House is not involved in the effort. It is a matter for the people of California."

The prevailing view inside the Bush administration is that the recall will allow unhappy Californians to vent by ousting Davis rather than taking it out on Democrats in November 2004 and they'd rather have the Democratic nominee saddled with the unpopular governor.

The other view says that the recall campaign is putting together a formidable conservative coalition that will energize Republicans for the 2004 general election. Sal Russo, a consultant working for the recall, said a GOP governor would give Bush a better chance of carrying California next year "because a Republican governor conceivably would be able to define a majority coalition in California."

The LA Times reports that supporters of the recall believe that Gerald Parsky, the Bush/Rove "lieutenant" in the state, has hurt their fundraising by giving hints to donors that the recall effort is diverting funds from the Bush re-election campaign. And some Republicans feel a new Republican governor would be hurt by the same budget deficits that are undermining Davis.

"In 2004 I would have preferred (for us) to have run against a party whose governor was slashing a lot of popular programs and raising taxes and have that be the icon of the Democratic Party, " Rep. Mary Bono told the LA Times.

Strapped for Cash: After months of touting their "first-in-the-south" primary date, South Carolina Democrats are still wondering how they are going to pay for the costly Feb. 3 primary. With just seven months to go, some are doubting whether the state party will be able to raise the estimated $450,000 needed to hold the primary, but state party chairman Joe Erwin maintains that the Democrats are up for the challenge, according to the AP.

"I'm not a stupid optimist," Erwin said. "I'm scared enough to know we have to work our tails off."

In the most recent state filing on April 10, South Carolina Democrats reported a balance of $288.93, not including "soft money" that the party does not have to release. Last month, South Carolina Democrats were able to erase a $70,000 in debt and by raising over $200,000 by hosting the first Democratic presidential debate and their annual fund-raising dinner in early May.

A $1,000-a-plate fundraiser is scheduled for Aug. 4, but the party still faces the challenge without a financial director. To make matters worse, last week the Democratic National Committee rejected the party's request for a higher filing fee for presidential candidates in South Carolina.

The state asked the DNC to approve a $4,100 fee for each candidate to run in the primary, but the DNC settled on $2,500, saying it would be too expensive for the candidates.

South Carolina and Utah are the only two states not to receive state money to fund their primaries, leaving the financial burden on the state party. Erwin hopes to rely on volunteers and possibly paper ballots to keep the cost to $450,000. But, one of John Edwards' campaign officials told the AP that state Democrats have estimated the cost at closer to $1 million. Nonetheless, Erwin says he will not ask the DNC for help and the DNC says they won't give it to him.

No Democrats Need Apply: The Washington Post takes a close look at the growing GOP domination of Washington's lobbying community, nicknamed Gucci Gulch, where an ever-increasing stream of Republicans are taking over powerful jobs once held by Democrats.

The so-called K Street Project - an effort to blacklist Democratic lobbyists begun by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the 1990s and re-invigorated since President Bush took office by House Majority Whip Tom Delay - has, by all accounts, been highly successful in strong arming lobbying groups into hiring lobbyists friendly to GOP causes.

Another factor, the Post reports, is the Republican control of both houses of Congress as well as the White House.

Many of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington, like the Recording Industry of Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America, are slowly but surely pushing out their lobbyists with Democratic ties in favor of former Republican politicians and staffers. The names of former Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clark and Republican Rep. Mary Bono have surfaced as possible replacements for Democrats Hilary Rosen and Jack Valenti. In addition, the Post reports, several Fortune 500 companies - including GE, Comcast and Citigroup – have hired former Bush administration and GOP Hill aides for their top lobbying jobs. The Post reports that a "Republican National Committee official recently told a group of GOP lobbyists that 33 of 36 top-level Washington positions he is monitoring went to Republicans."

The money is so alluring – the top lobbyists at the top firms make in excess of $500,000 annually – that many GOP lawmakers have reportedly considered leaving their posts to become lobbyists, including Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., who's reportedly on the shortlist to run the Cellular, Telecommunications & Internet Association for at least $750,000 a year.

Some of the more brazen Republican tactics, include a move last year by Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, to have the Invest Company Institute, a mutual fund lobbying group, remove its top lobbyist, a Democrat. In exchange, Oxley's staff suggested to ICI leaders that a House Financial Services Committee probe into the mutual fund industry might be eased.

The Post also says that the K Street Project organizers were warned by the Senate Ethics Committee that their plan to track the political affiliation and contributions of lobbyists would violate Senate rules if access were denied to Democrats. Still, the Post says, the threat alone was enough to scare most lobbying groups into cowing to the GOP.

"I am hearing of a lot of pressure, and it's not subtle," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

But, the Post reports that most of the GOP maneuvering takes place in far more backroom ways. The Post says Sen. Rick Santorum, GOP Conference Chairman, and other GOP leaders monitor openings on K Street. Santorum and the others then meet with lobbyists to discuss the job, how much it pays and then "suggest" Republican candidates. These candidates – some of whom are administration or Hill lawmakers who've been urged to quit their public-sector jobs – are vetted by Nels Olsen of the headhunting firm Korn/Ferry International. Then, GOP lawmakers and other government officials push the candidate until he or she is hired. The RNC takes this seriously enough to assign a staffer to keep a running tab of the openings and which are filled by GOP-friendly types, the Post reports.

As one GOP lobbyist, Dan Mattoon, tells the Post: "There is a recognition that Republicans are in a position to continue to control both houses of Congress for the next 10 years, and the K Street community should be reflective" of the party with power.

Playing Hooky: While all the buzz in the Senate is about the Medicare bill that's been on the floor the past couple of weeks, the four Senate Democrats running for president have been absent for the most part. One even missed a vote on an amendment that he himself proposed, reports CQToday.

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., introduced an amendment regarding the so-called "coverage gap" in the Medicare bill but wasn't around when it came up for a vote.

The amendment, which was voted down on Wednesday, was called up without warning, according to his office. He tried to get back to DC from Fort Myers, Fla., when he heard the vote would be happening but could not get back in time, his spokesman Paul Anderson told CQ.

As for the others, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., has missed every vote regarding Medicare over the last two weeks while Sens. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and John Edwards, D-N.C., have also missed several votes as well. "This has caused me to be a much greater fan of cloning," Edwards spokesman Mike Briggs said. "But we aren't there yet."

Edwards was present, however, for the vote on his amendment yesterday that would have required drug companies to be more forthcoming about their prescription drug products in their advertisements. The amendment was voted down. Kerry and Lieberman have amendments that have yet to be voted on.

There's some rumor that the Senate may vote on final passage as early as tonight, which will pose a problem for three of the candidates. Tonight, Lieberman, Kerry and Graham are scheduled to be in Los Angeles, participating in a forum sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters.

Bob Stevenson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said Senators have known for months about when the Medicare bill would be on the floor and the candidates should have scheduled their events accordingly.

The candidates' offices say they're trying to figure out a way to do both. If the vote on final passage does come up tonight they might "pair" their vote with someone in order to be on the record.

If the vote comes up Friday morning, at least Lieberman will be prepared. He's scheduled to take part in a presidential forum sponsored by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, which is taking place in Phoenix. Lieberman's office has announced, however, that he will participate via satellite from Washington, D.C., "due to expected Senate votes."

Quote of the Day: "How nice it is to have all of my opponents together in the same room. So I can issue . . . a blanket apology." – Gaffe-prone Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean at last night's DNC fundraiser, attended by seven of the nine Democratic wannabes. [The Wrap wonders if John Kerry and Joe Lieberman will feel slighted by the comment since they weren't at the funder.] (Washington Post)

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