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D.C.’s Fundraiser-Restaurant Nexus

Take a Republican House candidate from Hawaii, unload a few tons of sand on the banks of the Potomac, fire up the grills and charge lobbyists $100 a head.

Add a rumor that the mustachioed, Ferrari-driving star of the monster television hit of the moment, “Magnum P.I.,” was a card-carrying Republican and willing to appear, and you had all the makings of a legendary fundraiser.

“I figure I’d have every female lobbyist in Washington, D.C., coming to see Tom Selleck,” said Dan Morgan, a GOP fundraiser who dreamed up the event for former Rep. Pat Saiki (R-Hawaii) while working at the National Republican Congressional Committee in the 1980s.

Although the show’s producers eventually pulled the plug, fearing that Democratic politicians back in the Aloha State would yank their permits, Morgan suggested that the almost-fundraiser was a marker of a bygone era.

“Back when you could charge $100 a pop, you could be a little more adventurous,” he said.

That may be a drag for the people who plan and attend political fundraisers. But it is very good news for certain Washington, D.C., restaurants and bars.

Nowadays, with billion-dollar election cycles and $1,000-a-plate dinners the norm, many Members of Congress and professional fundraisers appear less inclined to roll the dice on an experimental event that may cost plenty but bring in little. Preferring a play-it-safe approach, political committees ate and drank through millions of fundraising dollars during the previous election cycle at high-end eateries, taverns, coffee shops and liquor stores within a short dash of the Capitol.

Although private clubs operated by Democrats and Republicans are perennial favorite fundraising venues, the biggest outside beneficiary was Charlie Palmer Steak, the epicenter of the political schmooze circuit at 101 Constitution Ave. NW.

Campaigns and political action committees in 2005 and 2006 charged roughly $380,000 worth of oysters and fine cuts of beef and undoubtedly wandered deep into the restaurant’s advertised 10,000-bottle wine list. The Capital Grille and The Caucus Room also were favorites, collecting almost $480,000 combined in receipts from politicians and PACs.

La Colline, the Capitol Hill eatery that begot Johnny’s Half Shell toward the end of the previous election cycle, generated roughly $100,000 in business from House campaigns and PACs. Johnny’s Half Shell, which relocated from Dupont Circle last year, took in about $18,000 in business. The Oceanaire Seafood Room raked in about $118,000, and Bobby Van’s Steakhouse collected nearly $130,000.

Political committees spent just more than $210,000 at Tortilla Coast on the House side of Capitol Hill, while Senate-side fundraisers netted The Monocle roughly $165,000.

Between meals, House campaigns and political action committees nationwide purchased about $33,000 worth of scones and lattes at Starbucks. About 20 percent of those purchases were made at its 237 Pennsylvania Ave. SE location in the District. Also, campaigns and PACs spent $25,510 at Congressional Liquors on 404 First St. SE, while Schneider’s of Capitol HilI at 300 Massachusetts Ave. NE rang up about $17,500 in fundraising-related booze sales during the two-year period.

The numbers for Roll Call’s analysis were culled from 2005-06 election cycle disbursements and information available at CQ PoliticalMoneyLine. The data includes payments made by House campaign accounts and the PACs of lawmakers and outside groups, which file campaign finance reports electronically. By law, Senators manually file their primary campaign finance reports and were not included in the analysis.

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