No Tea Party: Glitzy GOP Fundraiser Kicks Off New Congress

Washington – An incoming California Republican congressman made a fundraising splash even before his Wednesday swearing-in, though his glitzy event wasn’t to everyone’s taste.

For $2,500 a ticket, lobbyists and others with money to politically invest partied Tuesday night with Rep.-elect Jeff Denham, other House Republicans and country singer LeAnn Rimes. The money raised will help re-elect GOP incumbents and candidates.

“This is to help our freshman class,” Denham said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. “It’s to bring us together, and it’s also to raise the money to make sure we can campaign well in 2012.”

A dozen other incoming GOP freshmen, including Reps. David Rivera and Steve Southerland of Florida and Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, joined in sponsoring the event.

But others are more skeptical, including, reportedly, some Republicans.

“This is business as usual on Capitol Hill, even though many of these Republicans were elected on a platform of not doing business as usual,” Craig Holman, legislative representative of political watchdog Public Citizen, said Tuesday. “They’re already having huge fundraising events, and they haven’t even become lawmakers yet.”

Politico, which reported the fundraiser Tuesday, quoted several GOP fundraisers as saying the event sent the wrong signal at a time that Republican leaders were striking a lower-key image. Though the incoming House speaker, John Boehner, was identified as an “invited guest” on the invitation, he wasn’t expected to appear.

The ensuing kerfuffle drew half a dozen camera crews and a number of reporters to the swank W Hotel Tuesday night. Denham took the very unusual step of holding a pre-fundraising news conference, immediately before start of the reception.

“We feel as a freshman class that we’re going to be self-reliant, and we’re going to have the money we need to run our races,” Denham said, adding that, “We’re conservatives, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun.”

Inside the hotel, early arrivers appeared to be having fun, as waiters circulated with trays of white wine. Outside the hotel, the contributors had to run a little gantlet of camera crews.

Denham said he was able to hire Rimes, a 28-year old Grammy winner whose family and personal dramas have generated much tabloid fodder, through what he termed his “connections” in Tennessee.

The fundraising event, held several blocks from the White House, was a project of a fundraising entity called America’s New Majority. Denham said he conceived of America’s New Majority last year and rallied the dozen other incoming House freshmen to join him.

As a “joint fundraising” committee, the organization can collect funds on behalf of individual members. The lawmakers, in turn, can use the money for their own campaigns, or they can distribute it among their colleagues.

Denham won election in November to represent the 19th Congressional District in California’s San Joaquin Valley.