Feb. 8, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Street Talk: Special Interests Descend on the Hill

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Betty Buck, of Buck Distributing Co. Inc., is one of the many lobbyists and citizens representing special interests who will spend this month meeting with Members of Congress.

Look who’s coming to the Hill: beer distributors, medical professionals in white coats, restaurant owners, music makers and court reporters.

This month’s recess marks a short respite right in the middle of Capitol Hill’s fly-in season, when just about everybody is a lobbyist. These citizen special interests, queuing up in long lines to get into Congressional office buildings, study printouts of Members’ facebooks and pose for pictures with the Capitol for a backdrop as they wait to get through security.

They also arrive, armed with the talking points of their lobbying associations, with serious policy messages for Members and Hill aides.

Fly-ins are a big chunk of K Street’s workload at this time of year. Just ask Dave Wenhold, president of Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies. He specializes in putting together legislative boot camps — grueling, multiday seminars — for clients such as the National Court Reporters Association.

Before Wenhold’s clients even get to Capitol Hill, he said they go through as many as 10 mock meetings where fake lawmakers, such as Sen. Wenhold, don’t always agree with their side.

“They have to come up with meeting with a pro Senator and con Senator or neutral Senator,” Wenhold said. “So they’re extraordinarily prepared for when they go to the Hill.”

When restaurateurs come to town after the April recess, they will serve up plenty of thanks to Members of Congress who supported their position in last year’s debit card swipe fee debate, said Scott DeFife, the top lobbyist for the National Restaurant Association. “The debit swipe fee reforms are working,” he said. “The reality does not match the fear from the small banks and credit unions.”

DeFife said he’s planning on about 500 association members coming to town. “We’ll help them, but largely they’re setting up their own meetings,” he said. “We provide an anchor program with speakers.”

That’s how most groups do fly-ins. The in-house association lobbyists and D.C.-based outside consultants help coordinate meetings and set up speakers for programs and dinners.

Most folks pay their own hotel and airfare (or bill it to their companies as a work expense).

Of course, not everyone in town for a fly-in has to actually fly here.

Betty Buck, who runs Buck Distributing Co. Inc. in Upper Marlboro, Md., spent the past week encamped in the Capitol Hill Hyatt after driving here for the National Beer Wholesaler Association’s annual legislative conference.

She and fellow beer distributor Laurie Watson of Austin, Texas, said they offered a woman’s perspective in the traditionally male-dominated beer business.

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