Lobbyists Make Themselves at Home on the Hill

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, July 24, 2007

What do you get for the lobbyist who has everything?

A townhouse on Capitol Hill, of course.

Nothing satisfies as many needs: quick access to lawmakers' offices, a nearby rest stop for constituents brought in to lobby for the day, inexpensive sleeping quarters for clients and, most of all, a place to hold fundraising events, which have become nightly occurrences.

From a place on the Hill, a lobbyist can easily shower a lawmaker with thousands of dollars in campaign cash, and the lawmaker would not have to miss a single vote. That's the main reason Capitol Hill way stations and offices have multiplied in recent years.

It's that mantra of real estate: location, location, location. Good- government types may not like it, but that's the way it is.

"There's been a proliferation of these townhouses," said lobbyist John Winburn, who co-owns one. "And they're principally used for fundraising."

In the past few years alone, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest business lobby, and Fluor Corp. have opened offices on what amounts to Congress's extended campus. Lots of others have been there for years and more would love to follow their lead.

But finding real estate is not easy. Neighbors are not enthralled with the trend and several of the lobbyists' buildings must house full-time residents to meet zoning standards.

Most groups have had to settle for locations a few blocks farther out or, by all appearances, just off the Hill in downtown D.C. Office buildings within sight of the Capitol, such as 101 Constitution Ave. NW and 400 North Capitol St. NW, are filled with as many lobby shops as they can hold. The National Association of Realtors built a glass tower in that vicinity not long ago.

But the choicest spots are right there in the Capitol Hill neighborhood -- and an odd assortment of organizations occupies them. On the Senate side, there's the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association. On the House side, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association has space above some shops on Pennsylvania Avenue SE.

Both FedEx and UPS have townhouses, which are, appropriately, on opposite sides of the Capitol. The Associated General Contractors of America is among a large cluster of lobbyists near the House office buildings, a mere "nine iron to the Cannon Building," says Stephen E. Sandherr, the group's chief executive.

Patton Boggs and Williams & Jensen, both long-established lobbying firms, have had outposts on the Hill for years. The National Association of Wheat Growers has been near the Senate for about 30 years. The American Trucking Association was also a pioneer there and is expanding. Like most of the others, it routinely provides rooms for fundraisers put on by other groups, as well as holding its own events.

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