Rep. Hartzler to host $500-per-person event for defense executives on eve of defense markup

The timing may raise eyebrows in the lobbying community and among campaign finance overhaul supporters

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., left, and Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., leave the House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington on June 13, 2018. Hartzler has invited defense industry executives and other D.C. insiders to a luncheon fundraiser Tuesday, on the eve of the panel’s signature markup of the year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated June 10, 2019, 10 p.m. | Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a high-ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, has invited defense industry executives and other D.C. insiders to a luncheon fundraiser Tuesday, on the eve of the panel’s signature markup of the year.

House Armed Services has scheduled its marathon markup of the fiscal 2020 defense authorization bill, which sets the Defense Department’s annual policy and budget priorities, for Wednesday.

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Hartzler, who represents Missouri’s 4th congressional district, serves as the top Republican on the panel’s Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, which oversees such big procurement items as the Lockheed Martin F-35 and Boeing F-15EX fighter jets. The subcommittee authorizes $102 billion in defense programs.

Her fundraiser is scheduled for noon Tuesday at the Capitol Hill Amway townhouse on New Jersey Avenue SE, according to an invitation obtained by CQ Roll Call. The cost for individuals to attend is $500, while political action committees are expected to pony up $1,000. The price tag for PAC hosts is $2,500, and $1,000 for individual hosts.

Brandon Winfrey, an organizer of the event, said it had nothing to do with the defense authorization markup and was not specific to any industry, including defense. Instead, he said, it was a regular D.C. luncheon fundraiser; the congresswoman typically schedules two to three per month, he added.

Chris Connelly, Hartzler’s chief of staff, said in an email that the “attendees for this event are from the agriculture and telecom industries — not the defense industries.”

Defense industry sources received the invitation.

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Federal election laws do not prohibit fundraisers that take place near important congressional business. The Office of Congressional Ethics has probed the timing of fundraisers for both Democrats and Republicans in the past, but the House Ethics Committee has ruled in favor of the lawmakers who have collected checks even on the same day as a pivotal vote.

But sometimes the timing may raise eyebrows in the downtown lobbying community and among proponents of campaign finance overhaul.

“It’s unsurprising to see members of Congress using pending policy matters as a mechanism to remind donors what they can do for them,” said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs at the liberal group Public Citizen, which advocates for publicly financed campaigns.

While noting that the fundraiser is legal, Gilbert added that the timing seems “unsavory and raises real questions about the intersection between money that is raised and the policy choices by legislators.”

Hartzler, who is in her fifth term, raised more than $213,000 in the first quarter of this year toward her re-election effort, according to Federal Election Commission records. She reported contributions from the PACs of companies in the defense sector such as Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Co., Raytheon Co. and Honeywell International, during the first quarter. She also brought in contributions from the PACs of Hallmark Cards, whose corporate headquarters is in Missouri, as well as International Dairy Foods Association and the USA Rice Federation, those records show.

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“The optics of this event is what creates the public perception that Washington, D.C. is a swamp that needs draining,” said campaign finance and congressional ethics lawyer Brett Kappel.

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