Not far to travel for a fundraiser


As the view from the restaurant’s terrace indicates, fundraising favorite Charlie Palmer Steak isn’t far from the Capitol. (Jay Premack/For The Washington Post)
Al Kamen
Columnist September 16, 2013

Members of Congress will typically bend over backward to feed the never-satisfied maw of their campaign war chests. They’ll shake sweaty hands, pose for awkward pictures and make countless pleading calls. But what they won’t do, apparently, is travel more than three blocks.

According to a new analysis by the Sunlight Foundation of five years of fundraising data, about three-quarters of fundraisers happen within a checkbook’s throw (make that three blocks) of the Capitol. To be fair, Washington weather is often brutal, with its crushing humidity half the year, slushy rain in the winter, etc. So we can hardly blame our well-coiffed and loafer-shod lawmakers for not wanting to pound the pavement too often.

Strap on those pedometers, people, because we’re talking a five-minute stroll: Proving the adage that the three most important things in real estate are location, location and location, the top venues for fundraisers, according to the Sunlight report, include close-to-the-Dome restaurants Johnny’s Half Shell, Charlie Palmer Steak and Bistro Bis.

Far and away the most often-used joint, though, is the Capitol Hill Club, which essentially functions as the GOP’s clubhouse. It hosted a whopping 1,966 fundraisers of the nearly 14,000 that the foundation catalogued.

We should also note that of the top fundraising sites, the most bipartisan is Charlie Palmer Steak, which hosts a near-even split of Republican and Democratic events. Juicy rib-eyes, it seems, are one thing both parties can agree on.

And perhaps Republicans don’t prefer French food: The tony Bistro Bis attracts mostly Dems, with 71 percent of its fundraisers for Democrats and only 21 percent for Republicans.

The next generation

We’ve been hearing a lot about that “Star Trek”-esque command center run by Gen. Keith Alexander, now director of the National Security Agency, when he was leading the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command.

But while the spy chief seemed to enjoy a Captain Kirk-worthy facility at Fort Belvoir, Va., which was reportedly the creation of a Hollywood set designer, it turns out that the command center was already in place when he took the job. It was built, sources tell our colleague Ellen Nakashima, in 1998. Alexander took over the post in 2001.

Not to say that he didn’t revel in the futuristic command center’s bells and whistles, which include doors that make a distinctive “whoosh”-ing sound. But it seems he didn’t, as some reports have suggested, personally “model” his working space after the digs of Spock and company.

Joel Harding, a retired Army officer very familiar with the room, described the space in a 2010 interview with The Post thusly: It had eight wide screens, a graphics processor designed in consultation with Disney and a stainless-steel captain’s chair. “It was always called the Captain Kirk chair,” he said. “The whole thing was ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Star Trek’ to the max.”

But Alexander was the senior intelligence officer at the U.S. Central Command at the time. “He had nothing to do with creating the center,” said Harding, who was an information operations officer on the Joint Staff and worked with the center, which at the time was called the Land Information Warfare Activity.

Still, the nifty workspace seemed to make an impression on the members of Congress and other important visitors who dropped by to check it out.

“Everybody wanted to sit in the chair at least once to pretend he was Jean-Luc Picard,” a retired officer in charge of VIP visits told Foreign Policy.

Dueling rulings?

The House Ethics Committee is extending its look at a $25,000 trip to Taiwan that Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) and his wife took in 2011, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.

Roskam insists he did nothing wrong. He submitted forms to the House saying that the Chinese Culture University in Taiwan sponsored the trip. And, as required, he got prior approval from the ethics panel to go.

He submitted a disclosure to the House about the schedule on his first-class trip, the Tribune said, which showed two days of meetings with government officials and four days of sightseeing. The couple visited with their daughter, who happened to be an English teacher in Taiwan at the time. Roskam also spoke at a Taiwan-U.S.-Japan conference.

The Office of Congressional Ethics reviewed the matter and said in a 135-page report that there was “substantial reason to believe” the government of Taiwan paid for the trip, the Tribune reported, which would be “an impermissible gift, in violation of federal law and House rules.” The OCE board voted 6 to 0 in May that Roskam “knew, or should have known, that the Taiwanese government,” not the university, “was organizing and conducting his trip to Taiwan.”

Foreign governments can’t pay for trips unless they are authorized as a cultural exchange — but in that case, no travel money can go to spouses or other family members, the Tribune reported, citing the OCE report. After Roskam’s wife said she wanted to go, the university then sponsored the trip.

A Roskam spokeswoman said Monday, “We weren’t trying to hide anything,” including the involvement of Taiwan’s de facto embassy here.

“There is no information in the OCE report that the House Ethics Committee didn’t know in advance of the trip,” she said.

Well, that could make things awkward. Stay tuned.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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