'The Other K Street'
Monday, May 7, 2007
Brad Woodhouse tapped the mute button on the gray speakerphone, scanned the faces of the half-dozen other people listening to the conference call and said with a sly grin, "Good spin."
The spiky-haired Woodhouse had just heard a fellow member of Change America Now, a Democratic-leaning coalition, argue that legislation pending in Congress to raise the nation's minimum wage represented a victory because it contained fewer corporate tax cuts than an earlier version.
Turning the sound back on, Woodhouse suggested "taking a victory lap," thanking Democratic lawmakers for their votes. But voices chimed in from around the table and by phone from across the country, hooting him down. So he demurred. "We ought to do what we do best," he said. "Retribution on people who voted against us."
"Collins and Snowe are two of our biggest targets," he added, referring respectively to Susan and Olympia, moderate Republican senators from Maine.
The rest of the 45-minute call covered details of rallies, editorial board meetings and telephone calls to constituents that the coalition was ginning up to support the Democratic agenda.
It was a classic Washington lobbying scene, bringing together advocates from all sorts of organizations. But it had a couple of unusual features. While the participants represented liberal, pro-labor causes, they were meeting in the heart of K Street, the boulevard normally associated with business lobbyists. And although they represented disparate groups, every person in the room that morning had offices in the same building.
The farthest anybody had to travel was down two flights of stairs from the fourth floor.
* * *
Welcome to 1825 K St. NW -- what inhabitants of the building call "the other K Street." The 13-story structure looks like any other boxy building along the congested avenue, and it has a wide range of tenants, including Associated Press Broadcast and the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation. But in the past year and a half, two of its floors have turned into a clubhouse and clearinghouse for liberal causes. Its most prominent tenants form an abbreviated who's who of well-funded allies of the Democratic Party.
The convergence began in January of last year when USAction, a grass-roots organization with eager activists in two dozen states, was hunting for additional space and leased more square footage than it needed on the second floor of 1825. It ended up subletting to Americans United for Change, its rapid-response confederate in the successful fight in 2005 to defeat President Bush's plan to add private accounts to Social Security. (Woodhouse is president of that group.)
Soon thereafter, Campaign for America's Future, which promotes liberal causes mostly on the economic and domestic fronts, was also seeking a new home and decided to alight on the fourth floor. It moved there in mid-February of this year and soon took on a tenant of its own -- Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, a coalition directed by Thomas Matzzie, who is also the Washington director of MoveOn.org Political Action.
Now every weekday is a rolling meeting with staffers from each of the organizations mixing with one another on such issues as lowering prescription drug prices and increasing funding for children's health programs.