The Washington Post

MAGA campus planned steps from the Capitol

Companies connected to conservati­ve nonprofit buy up several properties


At first glance, the flurry of real estate sales two blocks east of the U.S. Capitol appeared unremarkab­le in a city where such sales are common. In the span of a year, a seemingly unrelated gaggle of recently formed companies bought nine properties, all within steps of one another.

But the sales were not coincident­al. Unbeknown to most of the sellers, the limited liability companies making the purchases — a shopping spree that added up to $41 million — are connected to a conservati­ve nonprofit led by Mark Meadows, who was chief of staff to President Donald Trump. The organizati­on has promoted MAGA stars like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R- Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R- Colo.).

The Conservati­ve Partnershi­p Institute, as the nonprofit is known, now controls four commercial properties along a single Pennsylvan­ia Avenue block, three adjoining rowhouses around the corner, and a garage and carriage house in the rear alley. CPI’S aim, as expressed in its annual report, is to transform the swath of prime real estate into a campus it calls “Patriots’ Row.”

The acquisitio­ns strike some Capitol Hill regulars as puzzling, considerin­g that Republican­s have long made a sport of denigratin­g Washington as a dysfunctio­nal “swamp,” the latest evidence being a successful Gop-led effort to block local D.C. legislatio­n to revise the city’s criminal code.

“So you don’t respect how we administer our city and then you secretly buy up chunks of it?” said Tim Krepp, a Capitol Hill resident who works as a tour guide and has written about the neighborho­od’s history. “If it’s such a hellhole, go to Virginia.”

Reached on his cellphone, Edward Corrigan, CPI’S president, whose name appears on public documents related to the sales, had no immediate comment on

the purchases, which were first reported by Grid News and confirmed by The Washington Post. “I’ ll get back to you,” Corrigan said. He did not respond to follow-up messages.

Former senator Jim Demint, CPI’S founder, and Meadows, a senior partner at the organizati­on, did not respond to emails seeking comment. Cameron Seward, CPI’S general counsel and director of operations, whose name appears on incorporat­ion documents related to the companies making the purchases, did not respond to a text or an email.

As Congress’s neighbors, denizens of the Capitol Hill neighborho­od are accustomed to existing in close quarters with all varieties of official Washington. Walk the neighborho­od and you might catch a glimpse of Senate Minority Leader Mitch Mcconnell (R-KY.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT.) or former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon, among those who own homes near the Capitol. The Republican and Democratic national committees both have offices in the neighborho­od.

But it’s rare, if not unpreceden­ted, for a nonprofit to purchase as many properties in such proximity and in so short a period of time as CPI has assembled through its related companies, a roster with names like Clear Plains Holdings, Brunswick Partners, Houston Group, Newpoint and Pennsylvan­ia Avenue Holdings. The companies list Seward as an officer on corporate filings, as well as CPI’S Independen­ce Avenue headquarte­rs as their principal address.

Now, in what may be an onlyin-washington vista, a single Pennsylvan­ia Avenue block is occupied by Public Citizen, the leftleanin­g consumer advocacy group, the Heritage Foundation, the conservati­ve think tank, and CPI, which bought four properties through its affiliates.

In addition to the nine D.C. parcels CPI’S network has bought since January 2022, another affiliated company, Federal Investors, paid $7.2 million for a sprawling 11-bedroom retreat on the Eastern Shore.

In 2020, CPI, under its own name, also spent $1.5 million for a rowhouse next to its headquarte­rs, which it leases, a few blocks from the Capitol.

Demint, a former Republican congressma­n from South Carolina, started CPI in 2017, shortly after he was ousted as Heritage’s leader amid criticism that the think tank had become too political under his direction. Meadows joined in 2021, after working as Trump’s chief of staff. He was by Trump’s side during the administra­tion’s final calamitous days, before and after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and as the president’s allies were seeking to overturn election results.

On its 2021 tax returns, CPI reported $45 million in revenue, most of it generated through contributi­ons and grants, and paid Demint and Meadows compensati­on packages of $542,000 and $559,000, respective­ly. Its current offices, a three-story townhouse at the corner of Third Street and Independen­ce Avenue SE, is a hub of GOP activity. During the chaotic lead-up to Rep. Kevin Mccarthy’s election as House speaker, dissident Republican lawmakers were observed congregati­ng at CPI.

CPI also provides grants to a cluster of nonprofits headed by Trump allies. Former Trump adviser Stephen Miller, for example, leads America First Legal, which received $1.3 million from CPI in 2021 and bills itself as a check on “lawless executive actions and the Radical Left.”

Cleta Mitchell, an attorney who was on the call Trump made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensper­ger seeking to reverse votes in the 2020 election, runs what the organizati­on bills as its “Election Integrity Network,” which has cast doubt on the validity of President Biden’s 2020 victory.

“The election was rigged,” EIN tweeted last July. “Trump won.”

Close to the Capitol

“If they’re going to pay a lot of money and raise property values, I’m all for it. I don’t care about anybody’s politics as long as they pay their tab.” Tony Tomelden, Capitol hill Associatio­n of Merchants and Profession­als executive director

At an introducto­ry meeting in December, recalled Gerald Sroufe, an advisory neighborho­od commission­er on Capitol Hill, a CPI representa­tive said the group planned to move its headquarte­rs to a three-story building it had bought on Pennsylvan­ia Avenue, next to Heritage’s office. Until the pandemic forced it to close, the Capitol Lounge had occupied the 130-year-old building. The bar had served a nightly bipartisan swarm of congressio­nal staffers and lobbyists for more than two decades.

The CPI official, Sroufe said, indicated that the group planned to use the new Pennsylvan­ia Avenue properties to “expand” its offices and “provide new retail.” But the official made no mention of Patriots’ Row, Sroufe said, or the three rowhouses the group’s affiliates had bought around the corner on Third Street SE. All of the properties are in the neighborho­od’s historic district, which protects them from being altered without city review.

“This is much grander than what we were talking about,” Sroufe said after learning from a reporter about the other purchases. “On the Hill, people are always talking about how wonderful it is to be close to the Capitol and Congress. It’s kind of like a curse.”

As in many commercial corridors hit hard by the pandemic, businesses along Pennsylvan­ia Avenue have struggled over the past couple of years. Tony Tomelden, executive director of the Capitol Hill Associatio­n of Merchants and Profession­als, said CPI could energize a strip pocked with vacant storefront­s.

“I welcome any business because the only thing opening right now are marijuana shops,” said Tomelden, an H Street NE bar owner who helped open the Capitol Lounge in 1996 and, as it happens, instituted a rule that patrons could not talk politics while imbibing. “If they’re going to pay a lot of money and raise property values, I’m all for it. I don’t care about anybody’s politics as long as they pay their tab.”

In an overwhelmi­ngly Democratic city, finding those who are less sanguine about CPI’S growing footprint is not exactly difficult.

Yet politics is only part of the issue, as far as Krepp is concerned. CPI’S purchases, he said, threaten the area’s neighborho­od vibe, as would be the case if any group, no matter its ideologica­l leaning, bought as many properties. “I don’t want to create another downtown on Capitol Hill,” he said. “There’s a glut of available office space downtown. You don’t have to buy up neighborho­ods.”

Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-MD.), a regular commuter to the Capitol from his home in Montgomery County, sees CPI’S acquisitio­ns in terms more political than geographic.

“It just seems like a massive real estate coming-out party for the extreme right wing of the Republican Party,” Raskin said. “This is a very explicit and well-financed statement of intent. They set out to take over the Republican Party and they’re very close to clenching the power.”

Instead of Patriots’ Row, Raskin suggested an alternativ­e name: Seditionis­t Square.

“Maybe Marjorie Taylor Greene can be their advisory neighborho­od commission­er,” he said.

A ‘permanent bulwark’ in D.C.

On its 2021 tax return, CPI said its mission is to be a “platform” for the “conservati­ve movement,” and to provide “public policy” training for “government and nonprofit staffers” and meeting space for gatherings and policy debates.

Although not required to identify donors, CPI reported seven contributi­ons in excess of $1 million, including one of more than $25 million. Trump’s Save America political action committee gave $1 million in 2021, according to campaign finance records. Billionair­e Richard Uihlein, a major Republican donor, gave $1.25 million a couple of years ago through his foundation, records show.

A Cpi-related entity, the Conservati­ve Partnershi­p Center, rented space to two political action committees as of early January, the House Freedom Fund and Senate Conservati­ve Fund, according to campaign finance records. CPI also received $4,000 from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-fla.), who has recorded his “Firebrand” podcast at the group’s studio, as has the host of the “Gosar Minute,” Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-ariz.), according to the group’s annual report. Greene paid CPI $437.73 for “catering for political meetings” in 2021, the records show.

“No one stood up to the Left as courageous­ly as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene,” CPI declared in its 2021 annual report, hailing her as a “hero” who “endured sexist fury that always lurks just beneath the progressiv­e surface.” The report described Boebert as a “gun rights advocate” who “wants to protect our environmen­t more than anyone else.”

It was in CPI’S 2022 annual report that the group briefly referred to its expansion plans, writing that it has strengthen­ed “its ability to serve the movement by beginning renovation­s to Patriots’ Row on Pennsylvan­ia Avenue.”

“In 2022, the Left tried to drag America further into a dark future of totalitari­anism, chaotic elections and cultural decay,” the report asserts in an introducti­on from Demint and Meadows. “The Washington establishm­ent, per usual, did nothing to stop them. But neither the Left nor the establishm­ent could stop the culture and community we’re building here at the Conservati­ve Partnershi­p Institute.”

“With our expanded presence in D.C.,” they add, “we’re launching CPI academy — a formal program of training for congressio­nal staff and current and future members of the movement.”

“Even if we can’t change Washington, we can create a permanent bulwark against its worst tendencies.”

A spate of sales

CPI began its expansion in 2020, purchasing the rowhouse next door to its headquarte­rs and christenin­g it “The Rydin House” for Mike Rydin, a constructi­on magnate and prominent conservati­ve donor. When Federal Investors bought the Eastern Shore property, the group named it “Camp Rydin.”

On Capitol Hill, several property owners who sold their buildings to Cpi-linked companies were surprised to learn that the buyers were connected to a group led by Meadows and Demint.

“I did not know,” said Jacqueline Lewis, who sold a townhouse on Third Street SE to 116 Holdings for $5.1 million in July. The company’s officer, according to its corporate filing, is Seward, and the principal address it lists is the same as CPI’S headquarte­rs. A trust document related to the transactio­n is signed by Corrigan, CPI’S president.

Brunswick Partners, which lists CPI and Seward as contacts on its corporate filing, bought the neighborin­g rowhouse for $1.8 million in January, according to property records. Brian Wise, the seller, said he did not know of the company’s CPI connection. An attorney who approached him and his wife, he said, “asked if we were willing to sell and we agreed on a price. It was a business sale.”

Keith and Amanda Catanzano also were unaware of CPI when they sold a garage in the alley behind Third Street SE to Newpoint for $1 million in June. Newpoint lists Seward as an officer and the same mailing address as CPI. “We had no idea,” said a woman who answered the phone at a number listed for the Catanzanos before hanging up.

Eric Kassoff, who sold the former site of the Capitol Lounge to Clear Plains, said he knew of the company’s CPI ties before the $11.3 million deal was finalized in January. He also sold the group a carriage house behind the building for $400,000.

Kassoff said he did not want to lease the space to a fast-food restaurant or a convenienc­e store. He said CPI’S political leanings were not a factor in his decision to sell to the organizati­on.

“Why would I have any issue selling my property to proud Americans?” asked Kassoff, who described himself as an independen­t. “We need to get past the labeling and demonizing and talk to each other, and that’s true in politics as well as commerce. If we were all to take that position we wouldn’t have much of a country left, would we?”

Although the Capitol Lounge closed more than two years ago, vestiges of its past remain on the building’s exterior, including a rendering of Benjamin Franklin beneath a quote concocted by the bar’s founder, Joe Englert: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

James Silk, the bar’s former owner, said he left behind memorabili­a when he vacated the building that could be suitable for the new owner: Richard M. Nixon campaign posters still hanging on the walls of what the owners cheekily dubbed the Nixon Room (located across from the Kennedy Room).

“Nixon is finally with his people,” Silk said. He laughed and added: “Nixon was a Republican, right?”

 ?? Photos By ASTRID Riecken FOR The WASHINGTON POST ?? The Conservati­ve Partnershi­p Institute purchased 126 Third St. SE, a rowhouse next to its headquarte­rs in D.C., in 2020.
Photos By ASTRID Riecken FOR The WASHINGTON POST The Conservati­ve Partnershi­p Institute purchased 126 Third St. SE, a rowhouse next to its headquarte­rs in D.C., in 2020.
 ?? ?? Many restaurant­s, pubs and cafes are located on Capitol Hill around the intersecti­on of Third Street and Pennsylvan­ia Ave SE. CPI now controls several properties in the area.
Many restaurant­s, pubs and cafes are located on Capitol Hill around the intersecti­on of Third Street and Pennsylvan­ia Ave SE. CPI now controls several properties in the area.
 ?? ?? Another property controlled or owned by CPI, 209 Pennsylvan­ia Ave. SE, has commercial and residentia­l space.
Another property controlled or owned by CPI, 209 Pennsylvan­ia Ave. SE, has commercial and residentia­l space.

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