— House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), in an interview on “Fox & Friends,” May 4
When GOP pollster Frank Luntz in mid-March assembled a group of Trump voters to find out why they were hesitant to take a coronavirus vaccine, he invited several Republican politicians to join him in the discussion. One was McCarthy — at the time also Luntz’s guest in Luntz’s 7,000-square-foot penthouse apartment in the Clara Barton building in Penn Quarter.
McCarthy appears in one of the small Zoom boxes of about 20 participants, while Luntz sits in front of a huge spiral staircase. In an interview in January, with the same backdrop, Luntz said that was his home: “I live about seven long blocks away from the Capitol.”
Luntz did not mention during the Zoom call that McCarthy was in a separate room in the same apartment, according to an audio version of the session that is longer than the 30-minute “highlights video” released by the de Beaumont Foundation, which sponsored the discussion. A few minutes after McCarthy’s box disappears from the screen, a man wearing the same clothing as McCarthy can be seen bounding down the spiral staircase behind Luntz.
Neither Luntz nor a McCarthy spokesman responded to a request to confirm that the man was McCarthy.
During the focus group, Luntz referred to McCarthy as “Kevin” before correcting himself to call him “majority leader” — and then correcting himself again to say “Republican leader.”
The exchange illustrated how the two men mix friendship and business. The Fact Checker previously reported that Federal Election Commission filings show that the leadership PAC controlled by McCarthy — Majority Committee PAC, or McPAC — paid one of Luntz’s companies, FIL, nearly $40,000 in late 2020, just before McCarthy began renting what he described as a “room” in the recently renovated apartment for $1,500 a month.
In April, Luntz said to former House speaker Newt Gingrich and members of Gingrich’s Inner Circle club that he was working with McCarthy to develop a plan of action much like Gingrich’s 1994 “Contract with America,” a campaign document that promised votes on a list of bills if the Republicans took control of the House.
“My mission with Kevin McCarthy is to have him be that specific, is to have him have the courage of his convictions knowing that the things that the Republicans support for the most part have the support of more than the things that the Democrats support,” Luntz said. “And if he has the courage of his convictions and he has an entire conference working and being honest and candid with the American people that’s how you get elected in this cynical dark environment.”
That same month, Luntz headlined a session at the House Republicans’ retreat in Orlando, schooling members about “messaging guidance on hot topics.”
Luntz had been a vocal critic of former president Donald Trump, which appears to have reduced his federal campaign work. His only other significant client after Trump was elected was Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2018 reelection campaign. Although a longtime GOP pollster, Luntz until recently appeared to take pains to diminish the Republican connection.
In a Los Angeles Times opinion article that appeared in September, Luntz had described himself as “not working for any presidential candidate or political party in the 2020 election.” After the Fact Checker reported on Luntz’s work for McCarthy’s PAC, the newspaper added corrections to the article and four Luntz “focus groups” it had live-streamed.
“It is most unfortunate that Luntz failed to disclose his ties to McCarthy’s PAC, and his ethical lapse will certainly factor into our thinking should he ever wish to be an opinion contributor again,” editorial page editor Sewell Chan wrote to staffers, according to the Daily Beast.
In an opinion article on the vaccine focus group for The Washington Post published in March, however, Luntz’s bio said he is “a Republican pollster.” In the op-ed, Luntz described McCarthy as one of the “politicians who focused their messages on the virus rather than the politics.” That could be open to dispute, as McCarthy’s comments were more political than the other politicians who spoke to the focus group. He praised Trump’s handling of the crisis and asserted that pharmaceutical companies waited until after Trump lost the election to announce that the vaccines were more than 90 percent effective.
That prompted one vaccine skeptic in the focus group to remark: “He mentioned the vaccine, them announcing the vaccine five days after the election. It was political stunts like that that leave doubt in our minds.”
In August and September of 2018, Luntz had purchased four adjoining penthouse units in the Clara Barton building for a total of almost $4.3 million. Combined, the units totaled 6,960 square feet and had 12 bedrooms, 12 full bathrooms and four half-baths. Luntz began merging the units in November 2019, and the renovation received a final building inspection on Oct. 20.
An unnamed McCarthy spokesman told the Daily Wire: “McCarthy rented a room of approximately 400 square feet, and under House Ethics guidelines, calculated the fair market amount at $1,500/month by comparing what other members of Congress were also paying to live in the building and additional comparables for the space in the building and neighborhood.”
Zillow currently lists studios and one-bedroom units in the Clara Barton building as between $1,750 and $2,400 a month. The bylaws of the building specifically prohibit condo owners from renting anything less than the entire space, and there’s a six-month minimum rental term. So the cost of renting Luntz’s entire space would be significantly higher. The homeownership association fees alone on the units are $4,976 per month, according to Redfin.com.
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