There was an interesting story about Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.) this week that, as with many stories that don’t involve the intrigue of Russian interference in national elections, flew somewhat under the radar. Hunter, it seems, had reported spending $140,000 at bars and liquor stores over the course of nearly a decade — an average of $40 a day.
“Between May 2014 and June 2017,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, “Hunter’s campaign spent $7,968 over 66 visits to Bullfeathers, a restaurant with a long beer list.”
Most people would read this story and wonder, Wow, is that sort of spending normal for a campaign? I read it and wondered, Wow, is Bullfeathers the most popular place on the Hill, or what?
For those unfamiliar, there’s an area just southeast of the Capitol, about a block or two from House office buildings, that has a number of small and medium-size restaurants. Most line Pennsylvania Avenue SE, but there are a couple, like Bullfeathers and the famous Tortilla Coast — where House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) famously once worked as a waiter — on First Street SE.
The area looks like this. (The Library of Congress is across the street from the Capitol.) There are a few Mexican joints, a number of more upscale restaurants, some chains and a few bars. It’s a mix.
Happily, determining the most politically popular venue of this group is fairly simple, thanks to filings with the Federal Election Commission.
So we learn that, between the beginning of 2015 and now, the most popular of these restaurants in terms of money spent was Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar on Pennsylvania Avenue. Political committees — meaning campaign committees, party committees and political action committees — spent more than $600,000 there over that period. It’s a popular location for fundraising events.
Bullfeathers came in fifth. Stanton & Greene, a restaurant-bar, came in second, with committees spending $413,000 in total. We the Pizza, Capitol Hill’s go-to for late-night pizza runs, earned nearly $200,000. Tune Inn, stalwart Hill dive bar (or is it?) made a surprisingly poor showing.
But amount spent isn’t the same as popularity. In terms of visits to each restaurant (that is, the number of times each place appeared in campaign filings), Bullfeathers comes out on top.
Do a bit of math and you figure that people spent a lot less money per visit at Bullfeathers than at other places. Especially Stanton & Greene, which was among the places where the most was spent but had relatively few visits.
Sure enough, Stanton & Greene had the highest per-visit cost — $1,387 on average. The average at Bullfeathers was only $170. (The lowest average was the Subway next to Bullfeathers: $28 for each of the 64 recorded visits.)
But we took this analysis a step further. Political committees are generally (but not always) identified with political parties. Meaning that we can figure out which restaurants were the most popular with each party.
The places with the smallest differential between spending by the parties are, Burrito Brothers (a 0.2 percentage-point difference between parties), Young Chow (4.2 percentage points) and Sweetgreen (4.5).
Tortilla Coast and Bullfeathers are much more popular with Republicans than Democrats, you’ll notice. Those familiar with the area will know why: The building across the street to the north is the Republican National Committee.
So while the most popular places for Republicans to spend money were Sonoma and Stanton, Tortilla Coast and Bullfeathers made a decent showing.
For Democrats, the leaders were Sonoma, Stanton and We the Pizza.
The place where Democrats outspent Republicans by the most was Firehook Bakery, with Democratic groups spending about $11,000 more than Republicans over the three-year period. Republicans outspent Democrats the most at Sonoma, outspending them at the restaurant by $155,000.
Firehook was also the place that the Democrats went to more frequently, relative to the Republicans, than anywhere else. Their most popular stop, though, was We the Pizza (311 visits), followed by Sonoma (290).
The Republicans? The most popular destination was Bullfeathers (885 visits). That was followed by Tortilla Coast (710) and We the Pizza (595).
In total, Democratic campaigns and committees spent about $500,000 on Capitol Hill from 2015 to 2018. Republicans spent more than twice as much.
In light of that, then, Hunter’s frequent trips to Bullfeathers seem relatively modest.