Wandering Eye:

Republican 'Congress of Tomorrow' bars reporters, welcomes lobbyists, to Baltimore

Republican Congress members are quietly meeting in downtown Baltimore, in the Marriott Waterfront, taking advice and counsel from the likes of George Will (?!) with no reporters allowed. We know this because Politico mentioned it in passing, reporting that House Speaker Paul Ryan used the term "Proposition Party" to exhort his heretofore-ungovernable colleagues toward more solution-oriented behavior. The Sun did not mention the meeting, which is part of an annual series sponsored by the nonprofit Congressional Institute and called "Congress of Tomorrow."

The Congressional Institute is an interesting beast. Founded in 1987, it boasts annual revenue of a bit more than $2 million, according to its latest available tax returns, some $325,000 of which accrue to its executive director, Mark Strand. (Not to be confused with the late Poet Laureate for the Library of Congress.)

Strand is an old Congress hand, having served as an aide to Sen. Jim Talent (R-MO) and several others, interrupted by a stint in the lobbying world. He teaches new congressional staffers the ways of "Surviving Inside Congress," which, coincidentally, is the title of his book. He's affiliated also with the Heritage Foundation. He calls his blog The Sausage Factory. It concentrates on parliamentary procedure.

It does not concentrate on secret or illegal lobbying, because, why should it? No press, no problem.

While reporters aren't welcome at the "Congress of Tomorrow," lobbyists likely are. In 2010, the last time a "Congress of Tomorrow" met in Baltimore, ThinkProgress noticed Goldman Sachs lobbyists coming and going. Reporter Lee Fang asked then-House Speaker John Boehner about the propriety of having lobbyists there and/or sponsoring.

"Normally, such lobbyist-sponsored soirées would be illegal under House ethics rules," Fang wrote. "But by forming an ostensibly nonpartisan educational front called the Congressional Institute, lobbyists are able to skirt any such oversight. However, Boehner told ThinkProgress that he did not know if any lobbyists would be present at the retreat."

Of course, the Congressional Institute's board is made up of lobbyists, and many attended that last retreat. Fang saw other lobbyists as well, before the Institute told him to leave the hotel lobby or face arrest.

Mmmm, sausage!

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