Smorgasbord of Senators Hankering to Chat for Cash

After the highly publicized Keating Five scandal, surely nobody is trying to buy a U.S. senator. Still, it may be possible to rent one for an hour or two.

Consider a recent invitation extended by the Texas Roundtable, a political action committee formed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. On the cover is an imposing looking table with seats for six Senators.

The top of the invitation describes the event in lofty terms: "The Hon. Phil Gramm. Six Leading U.S. Senators. A Gathering of Minds. The Texas Roundtable."

Inside, the invitation gets to the point: Tickets for seats at the roundtable go for $3,000 a pop, $5,000 per couple.

Those with some spare cash and a hankering to talk politics are invited to choose from a list of six senators, all of whom are up for reelection next year.

"Please mark your top five senators in order of preference," the invitation asks. Those who attend will be given an opportunity to talk to the senators of their choice in a small gathering and to dine with the six that evening.

Sen. Gramm, a Texas Republican and a member of the Senate Banking Committee, is included because he chairs the Senatorial Committee. The six senators, who will split the proceeds of the affair include Alfonse M. D'Amato of New York, a Banking Committee member, and John McCain of Arizona, one of the Keating Five.

Question of Tone

The Texas Roundtable isn't so terribly different from a dozen other fund-raisers that go on throughout the year. The Democratic party's Majority Fund, which costs $20,000 to join, entitles members to similar events.

But in the wake of the Keating Five hearings, some financial industry lobbyists were surprised at the tone of the invitation, particularly since Sen. McCain was involved. "It's kind of like, you pay your $5,000 and then pick one senator from column A and one from column B," said one lobbyist who received it.

Not so, responds a GOP spokeswoman.

"I worked in the Senate, and every day people came to our office," said spokeswoman Wendy Burnley, a former aide to Sen. David Durenberger, R-Minn. "If they wanted to see the senator, they saw the senator."

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