K Street no longer the legendary hub of D.C. lobbying firms

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 20, 2010; A19

Several hundred demonstrators gathered for an "anti-K Street" protest Monday to "take on the corporate lobbyists who have a stranglehold on our democracy," even shutting down traffic at the intersection of 14th and K NW.

But the protesters might have been better off focusing on another street. Although "K Street" is virtually synonymous with the lobbying profession, most of Washington's major firms are not on K Street anymore.

As with London's newspaper-free Fleet Street, the K Street moniker lives on despite a steady exodus of major lobbying operations over the years. In fact, only one of Washington's top 20 lobbying firms -- K&L Gates -- has an official K Street address, according to the most recent round of disclosure records.

Granted, there are other major firms fronting on 19th Street, Connecticut Avenue and other streets considered part of the traditional K Street lobbying corridor. But many others, including the Podesta Group, Van Scoyoc Associates and Dutko Worldwide, are much farther east -- closer to the lawmakers who are the focus of most lobbyists' attention.

Washington's biggest lobbying firm, Patton Boggs, is at 2550 M St. NW, which is closer to Georgetown than it is to the K Street corridor. The second-ranking firm, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, is headquartered to the north just off Dupont Circle, while other heavy hitters are clustered around Penn Quarter or the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

"How many of the big banks are headquartered on Wall Street?" said lobbyist Tony Podesta, whose firm has never been on K Street. "These streets have a way of having political significance without having

real estate significance."

Dave Wenhold of Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies, president of the American League of Lobbyists, said the "K Street" phrase has persisted along with "Gucci Gulch" and other terms from the days when the profession first coalesced in Washington's main office area. But since then, Wenhold said, many firms in the expanding industry have chosen to locate closer to the action on Capitol Hill, particularly as revitalization projects have taken hold.

"Back in the day, that's where everybody wanted to be -- on

K Street," Wenhold said. "But these days a lot of people don't see the reason for it."

Wenhold's firm, by the way, is in Fairfax City.

Trademark 'key' in lawsuit

A young lobbyist hoping to attract smaller clients by offering low prices is under attack from a larger public affairs firm for alleged trademark infringement.

Keys to the Capitol, a start-up "McLobbying" company that charges as little as $995 a month for its services, is fighting allegations from the CapitalKeys LLC consulting firm over the new company's name, logo and Internet address.

After the May 1 publication of a Washington Post profile of Paul Kanitra, founder of Keys to the Capitol, CapitalKeys sent Kanitra a "cease-and-desist" letter on May 6 saying that similarities in the name are "likely to cause confusion" among consumers. The letter cited applications for trademarks on CapitalKeys' name and logo, which were filed the day before, according to records at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The CapitalKeys logo consists of the U.S. Capitol dome with two keys drawn below; the Keys to the Capitol logo includes the dome viewed through a keyhole.

Yuval H. Marcus, a White Plains, N.Y., lawyer representing CapitalKeys, said the similarities have already caused confusion among prospective clients. "It's a classic case of trademark infringement," he said. "It is to me an open-and-shut case. . . . They are causing harm to our business."

But Kanitra argues that the words and logo are dissimilar enough to avoid confusion and notes that CapitalKeys is not a registered lobbying firm. Ironically, Kanitra hired CapitalKeys last year to help with some public affairs work; the two sides disagree about whether Kanitra shared his plans at that time.

CapitalKeys, founded three years ago, bills itself as "a bipartisan global strategy and public affairs firm" with clients that include Fortune 500 companies, major trade groups and "affluent families and individuals." Keys to the Capitol targets a more modest clientele, offering a set menu of lobbying and public affairs services for $995 to $2,995 a month.

"We're here to stay no matter what happens and will fight this to the end," Kanitra said. "I have no intention whatsoever of backing down or giving in. They thought they could pick on the little guy and get away with it."

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