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Since he left Congress so recently and joined a lobbying firm, Jim Matheson is not allowed to talk shop with his former colleagues. But that doesn't mean he can't raise money for their campaigns.
He is hosting a fundraiser on behalf of his political guru, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., in Park City, tied to the Sundance Film Festival.
"Even though I was leaving office, I kind of said to myself, 'Boy it would be nice to keep this event going, maybe I can host it for someone else,' " said Matheson, whose term ended in early January. "And, of course, Steny was such an obvious pick because I think he's such an important member of Congress and someone I want to help."
The lobbyists and big donors willing to fork over $5,000 apiece will gather Jan. 30 for a reception among the old mining relics and stage coaches of the Park City Museum, before being let loose to see films or hit the ski slopes. They'll reconvene for dinner at the Riverhorse restaurant the next night, where the Utah red trout goes for $34 per plate.
Matheson, a Democrat, has held similar gatherings for years to support his re-election bids. He decided not to seek an eighth House term in 2014 and left office when new Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, was sworn in. He recently took a job as a consultant with Squire Patton Boggs. Former House members have a one-year cooling-off period before they can directly lobby, but that restriction doesn't stop them from hosting fundraisers as long as they don't discuss legislation or the needs of a client.
Matheson's ties to Hoyer stretch back as far as his congressional ambitions.
The son of the late Gov. Scott Matheson, he first considered a run in 1998. At the time, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, a leader in the Utah Education Association, was already campaigning for the Democratic nomination in Utah's 2nd Congressional District. Hoyer, then the Democrats' chief candidate recruiter, called Matheson unexpectedly and asked to meet at the Salt Lake City International Airport, during a layover.
"He just said: 'Listen, sometimes the best decision is when you don't run,' " Matheson recalled in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune in 2012. Matheson agreed to step aside. Eskelsen Garcia won the nomination but lost to Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah.
Just months later, Matheson reached out to Hoyer.
"I called him in February '99 and said, 'I'm in and you are backing me,' " Matheson recalls. "He said, 'You got it.' "
When Matheson faced a challenge from within the Democratic Party in 2010, Hoyer made an appearance at the Utah Democratic Convention on his behalf.
"He's everything to me. He's my mentor," Matheson said. "He is a remarkable individual, and he's a true statesman. And it has been a great relationship for me."
Hoyer praised Matheson as an effective member of Congress. "I'm proud to call him my friend," Hoyer said, "and I look forward to maintaining a strong relationship in the years ahead."
Matheson has been a strong fundraiser during his congressional career. He left Congress with $475,000 in a campaign account and $68,500 in his SkiPAC.
A Park City fundraiser is far from unique, according to invitations collected by the Sunlight Foundation. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, holds an annual fly-fishing retreat there in August and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has a ski day in January. The Republican Governors Association gathered at the St. Regis Hotel last March. And even Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., regularly organizes a skiing fundraiser there.