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Washington restaurants brace for lobbying reforms

January 21, 2007

Washington restaurants brace for lobbying reforms

(Brig Cabe/Examiner)
Katie Wilmeth, The Examiner
Jan 22, 2007 3:00 AM 

WASHINGTON - With the Senate’s passage of sweeping lobbying reform legislation, many local restaurants that play host to lobbyists and members of Congress are bracing for a hit to their bottom line.

The reforms ban lawmakers from accepting gifts paid for by lobbyists, which would include restaurant meals. A number of restaurants in the District pull in a significant amount of their profits from those lobbyist meetings.

“We remain concerned because it may become reality that you cannot comfortably dine and break bread ... and discuss important issues with a member or a staff member of Congress,” said Lynne Breaux, president of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. “What better way to do that than over a meal? [Banning restaurant meals] is certainly not the solution to complex lobby reform.”

The association, along with the National Restaurant Association, sent letters to Congressional members prior to the vote protesting the ban, Breaux said.

“I think [the ban] will affect the high-end steakhouses and some of the high-end restaurants in town,” said Claude Andersen, corporate operations manager of Clyde’s Restaurant Group, which includes Old Ebbitt Grill and 1789. “Overall, I think anything you do in D.C. to limit business, it’s going to hurt me. ... I think it will hurt the whole restaurant community.”

Andersen said he is hopeful that despite the ban, lobbyists will still choose to dine at his restaurants with Congressional members and staff — even if they can’t pick up the entire check.

“In my opinion, [the ban] was a kneejerk reaction to what happened with Jack Abramoff, and I don’t think it’s the best solution,” said Paul Miller, past president of the American League of Lobbyists and owner of Miller-Wenhold Capitol Strategies.

However, some restaurateurs are hoping that Washington’s lobbyists will find a way around the ban.

“There are very resourceful people on the Hill and I don’t think it’s going to affect our business,” said Tommy Jacomo, owner of The Palm. “It’s our busiest January in years.”