TPM – Bennie Thompson staffer paid by lobbyists to do fundraisers for Bennie Thompson

A party planning side business run by three current and former congressional staffers raked in over $20,000 last year from lobbyists holding events to honor Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) — whose own communications director is co-founder of the firm.

The apparent arrangement between Thompson and the business, Chic Productions, at once allows private interests to get closer to the congressman’s office and gives the staffers a way to dip a straw into the river of outside money flowing through Capitol Hill.

Chic Productions offers “high style events with simple elegance” and advertises its previous work executing “congressional events and fundraising parties.” One of Chic’s principals was quoted in 2007 saying congressional events make up roughly 90 percent of the firm’s business.

The three women who run Chic are: Dena Graziano, Thompson’s communications director since 2006; Michone Johnson, chief counsel for the House Judiciary Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee; and Michelle Persaud, formerly of the House Judiciary Committee, now corporate counsel at T-Mobile.

Graziano’s bio on Chic’s Web site says she has “straddled the fine line between politics and entertainment as an event and communications strategist to some of the nation’s most well known personalities.” Johnson’s boasts that, “As a lawyer, Michone has honed her planning skills by executing everything from intense negotiations and member briefings to happy hours birthday parties, and staff retirement parties.”

A Chic floral display with the congressional seal at ’07 Thompson eventThe extent of the business Chic has done for Thompson remains unclear because lobbyist disclosure statements that reveal the arrangement have only recently been required, and comprehensive data is available only for 2008. But besides the lobbyist receptions, Chic has put on at least six other Thompson-linked events.

Justin Elliott