Washington Parties, K Street Pays

Chris Frates
January 22, 2013

Inauguration Day in Washington is really just one big prom, college graduation, and New Year’s Eve all rolled into one. The balls, galas, receptions, and cocktail parties go on before, during, and after the president’s swearing-in. And as anyone who’s ever picked up the tab knows, an open bar ain’t cheap.

In Washington, it’s often big business, and the public-affairs and lobbying firms that represent them, paying the bill.

For instance, on Monday night, Ford is hosting a black-tie gala at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. The elite affair is officially part of the auto company’s yearlong celebration of the 150th anniversary of company founder Henry Ford’s birth.

But unofficially, the massive event will throw open the doors to one of America’s most iconic museums as 800 lawmakers, Hill staffers, lobbyists, administration officials, and media types schmooze over drinks and a risotto bar.

Sponsorships for some of the big parties can cost corporations as much as $250,000, but the number is often much lower. One of hottest tickets of the weekend was the Green Inaugural Ball featuring will.i.am, and the National Wildlife Federation shelled out $60,000 to be the event’s top sponsor. Wal-Mart, Honda, LG, and Bosch all chipped in $10,000 to get their brands next to representatives, senators, and administration officials, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

On Sunday night, AKPD Message and Media, the firm founded by President Obama’s political brain David Axelrod, took over a hip saloon in Northwest Washington as hundreds of Democratic operatives, reporters, and hangers-on were greeted with a glass of champagne as they walked through the door to chat with Washington players such as Joe Lockhart, a former spokesman for President Clinton and former Facebooker.

But not every event is a free ride down Brown Liquor Boulevard. Sometimes, it’s just offering friends of the firm a place to warm up after a long day outside.

Lobbying big boy K&L Gates is hosting a reception for clients, staffers, reporters, and other friendly faces. The firm’s digs, just two blocks off the parade route and three blocks from the White House, give guests a place to warm up, grab a nosh, and watch the action.

"Inauguration Day is an electrifying event for Washington," said former Republican Rep. Jim Walsh, who is now with K&L Gates. "We try to tap into that electricity with a reception at our office for clients, friends of the firm and on the Hill. Our event … gives folks a chance to network, take a break from the cold, and celebrate democracy in action."

Lobbying firm SNR Denton held a client reception Sunday night and is hosting a watch party at the Newseum on Monday.

But being a K Streeter isn’t just all drinks and parties. OK, there’s a lot of drinking and partying.

But there’s also a lot of hand-holding as clients look to their Washington lobbyists as a concierge service for tickets to the inauguration and hottest events.

“The biggest ask that clients have had this year are for good, seated tickets for the swearing in for any C-level executives that are in town,” said Peck Madigan Jones’s John Michael Gonzalez. “Thankfully, we were able to take care of all requests, which were much less than four years ago.”