Congressional leaders take it to the court

Posted 9:04 p.m. Sept. 21

by Carolyn Polinsky

U-WIRE (WASHINGTON)–Members of Congress battled pressure from special-interest groups and won 57-40 this week, at the 4th annual Hoops for Hope Basketball Game.

“Paying off refs and hoping they’ll get special treatment” was the tactic lawmakers used against lobbyists to win the charity event benefiting needy children, joked congressional aide Dan Skopec.

The game, which was held at The George Washington University Smith Center in Washington, D.C., raised about $40,000 for two organizations: Horton’s Kids and Hill House. The two groups support reading, mentoring and after-school programs for area children.

“Washington is where we work and we wanted to give back,” said Jim Albertine, President of the American League of Lobbyists (ALL), the group that sponsored the event. Lobbyists representing a variety of interests ranging from textiles to the airline industry played against a group of mostly republican House members.

“Republicans are terrible at public policy but they’re great jump shoots,” said Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA), who called himself the “token Democrat” of the congressional team. “They’ve got some athletes.”
“We’ve never played this bad. Everything went wrong,” said Paul Miller, second vice-president of the ALL.

The congressional team was ahead 21-6 after the first quarter, although lobbyists came back for a score of 24-21 by halftime. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) played so aggressively that he was actually knocked to the ground at one point in the game.

Rep. Jack Quinn (R-NY) and Miller came up with the idea of a charity basketball game four years ago at a party, noting that tennis, baseball and golf were all successfully played for charity. The first game was organized in six weeks and $10,000 was raised.

Although the event was supposed to start at 7:00, the congressional members didn’t arrive until 8:00 and lobbyists used that time for extra practice.

“I think that’s their game plan,” said scorekeeper and volunteer Kristine Gager, a public relations executive. “Stay on the Hill as long as possible and wait until lobbyists get tired out.”

Sean O’Neill, a lobbyist for the International Association of Firefighters said of Quinn, “I want to see him go down. He’s my former boss.”

However, Skopec, a subcommittee staff director, said, “We think Quinn may be paying O’Neill to throw the game so the Members can win.”

During the second half of the game though, Quinn scored two foul shots and by the end of the third quarter, the score was 40-28 in favor of the congressional team.

“The members were on fire,” Inslee said.

Lobbyists said they played competitively to win and participants on both teams were visibly tired and out of breath by the end of the game. Some typical sports rules were relaxed for the game, as five players were rotated at a time and fouls went undisputed.

When one fan called out an ignored violation, announcer Major Garrett of Fox News replied “They all travel out there young man, they all travel.”

At half time, Reps. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) and Kenny Hulshof (R-MO) and lobbyists Al Jackson, Jim Martin, John Buscher and Paul Miller were inducted into the Hoops for Hope Hall of Fame.

A silent auction took place throughout the game, in which thirty-five items were up for bid. The prizes included round trip tickets from airlines, hotel and restaurant gift certificates, autographed sports paraphernalia and political books.

The money will be used to take children involved with the charity organizations to the Rayburn House Office Building to an after-school program where they are tutored by congressional staff members.

“Lobbyists and corporate sponsors have done an amazing amount of good for children who really need it,” said Karin Walser, founder of Horton’s Kids.

Horton’s Kids was started thirteen and a half years ago when Walser, a former campaign staffer met homeless children who were spending their time pumping gas for extra money. She began visiting and planning events for them and now the group has 175 regular attendees from ages 3-25.

“It’s all for a good cause,” said Skopec of the event.

During the game, Jackson was a stand-out despite his side’s loss and
Inslee said he’d remember him for stripping the ball.

“Rep. Ose is a feisty player who doesn’t let his lack of height diminish his skills,” Skopec said of his boss.

In the four years that the event has taken place, almost $100,000 has been raised for charity. The lobbyists have won only once though, at last year’s game.

Albertine said he gives “a lot of credit to Members for their willingness to come down and support the program.”

“It’s good to get to play with guys across the aisle,” said Inslee. “Pass the ball and play defense, that’ll get you through life.”

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