By Thomas B. Edsall and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 8, 2006
Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who was elected House majority leader last week, is renting his Capitol Hill apartment from a veteran lobbyist whose clients have direct stakes in legislation Boehner has co-written and that he has overseen as chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee.
The relationship between Boehner, John D. Milne and Milne's wife, Debra R. Anderson, underscores how intertwined senior lawmakers have become with the lobbyists paid to influence legislation. Boehner's primary residence is in West Chester, Ohio, but for $1,600 a month, he rents a two-bedroom basement apartment near the House office buildings on Capitol Hill owned by Milne, Boehner spokesman Don Seymour said yesterday. Boehner's monthly rent appears to be similar to other rentals of two-bedroom English basement apartments close to the House side of the Capitol in Southeast, based on a review of apartment listings.
Milne's clients -- including restaurant chains and health insurance companies -- hired him to lobby on issues at the heart of Boehner's work, including minimum-wage increases, small-business tax breaks and tax-free savings accounts to help cover insurance costs, congressional lobbying records show.
In the weeks preceding last week's GOP leadership elections, Boehner acknowledged his close ties to the lobbying community, but he assured Republican lawmakers that all of his relationships were ethical and he campaigned on a platform of change and reform. Seymour reiterated that message last night.
"John Milne does not lobby John Boehner on any issue and has not lobbied him on any issue during the time period in which John has been renting the property," he said.
Seymour added that he does not know if other members of Milne's mCapitol Management firm have lobbied Boehner. "We really have no idea on this one," he said. "We'd have to know who else works for those firms, which we don't offhand. It's possible the answer is yes, but we don't know."
House members may not accept anything from lobbyists worth more than $50. If Boehner is paying market-rate rent, it would appear he is not violating that rule.
Boehner's work closely coincides with the interests of Milne. In 2002, the House approved the Economic Security and Worker Assistance Act, a tax measure originally drafted by Boehner, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Tex.) and Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.) as the Back to Work Act. The measure eventually was signed into law.
Lobbying disclosure forms indicate that one of Milne's clients, Fortis Health Plans, hired him to lobby the Economic Security and Worker Assistance Act.
Another client, the Buca di Beppo chain of Italian restaurants, hired Milne to push the Small Business Tax Fairness Act, which would allow restaurants to deduct the cost of investments at a faster pace. The measure was introduced by Rep. Kay Granger (R-Tex.) in 2003, with Boehner as one of 15 co-sponsors. Many of its provisions have since become law.
Fortis, now called Assurant Health, also asked Milne to push Health Savings Accounts, the tax-free savings accounts established by Congress to help with health care costs not covered by high-deductible plans. Boehner is a proponent of such accounts, which President Bush is targeting for a major expansion.
Buca di Beppo and another restaurant chain, Parasole Restaurant Holdings Inc., also hired Milne to lobby on the minimum wage and tax credits for tips, issues directly under the Education and the Workforce Committee's purview.
The restaurant industry has long fought minimum-wage increases, seeking instead to augment restaurant wages with tips that become more valuable if they can avoid taxation. Despite numerous attempts by Democrats and some pro-labor Republicans, the minimum wage has not been raised since 1997, when it was lifted from $4.75 to $5.15. Since then, inflation has eroded its value to near-record lows.
That such companies would hire Milne is no mystery. His firm overtly promotes its connections to influential lawmakers.
"At mCapitol Management, we specialize in leveraging relationships on our clients' behalf. Our bipartisan team's unique resources allow our clients unparalleled access at the international, federal, state and local level," the firm's Web site boasts.
Milne could not be reached by phone or e-mail. His wife, Anderson, who is on the advisory board of mCapitol, said she and her husband have been friends with Boehner and his wife for years. After buying the house in 2004, she said, she mentioned at a social gathering that they had a place to rent, and Boehner said he was interested.
Anderson described Boehner as an "excellent tenant" who pays his rent on time.
Seymour said Boehner originally met Anderson in the early 1990s, when she worked in the administration of President George H.W. Bush.