Rep. Susan A. Davis (D-San Diego) has featured omelets made to order for campaign donors, doing some of the cooking herself. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) has hosted comedy nights, joining the comedians with his own stand-up.
"Usually the comedians are funnier," said a spokesman.
Rep. Michael M. Honda (D-San Jose) held the karaoke fundraisers — and joined in the singing — while Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Corona) was responsible for the $500-a-person fundraiser at a food truck serving lobster.
Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-Norwalk) features Mexican food at her fundraisers, cooked according to her recipes with ingredients she brings to Washington from California.
"It's called the best breakfast in town simply because nobody else makes what I make," she said. "And we use pinto beans, not black beans."
One of Napolitano's fellow Democrats, Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Santa Ana, said one of her most popular fundraisers featured her cat, Gretzky, which was known for its appearances on her holiday greeting cards.
"When Gretzky was alive, we had the Come Take Your Photo with Gretzky fundraiser," Sanchez said. "We charged $1,000 for a photo with the famous Gretzky. We raised like $70,000."
A lot of Congress members use these events not just to raise money for themselves but to help their parties battle for control of the House or Senate and to position themselves for chairmanships or other leadership positions. Individuals can contribute as much as $2,600 per federal election to a candidate; political action committees can contribute up to $5,000.
"Skyrocketing campaign costs and relatively low contribution limits compel candidates and elected officials to hold more and more fundraisers, and with the proliferation of outside political groups like super PACs, there is even more competition for donors' attention," said Brendan J. Doherty, a political scientist at the U.S. Naval Academy who has written about campaign fundraising.
Good-government groups worry about the access to lawmakers that special interests enjoy from weekend fundraisers.
"We definitely have concerns about weekend, far-flung, resort-type fundraisers because they create a level of access and intimacy with an elected official that you don't find on the rubber chicken dinner circuit," said Common Cause's Mary Boyle.
But Graham, who has held weekend golf getaways at a posh South Carolina resort, disputed the notion that the events provide any special benefits.
"I'm pretty accessible," he said. "It's not that I'm that hard to talk to."
Some lobbyists, meanwhile, couldn't care less whether they go to a chicken dinner or an alligator hunt.
As veteran lobbyist Dan Haley put it, "Once you've done it once or twice, it gets old."