Inside the super-secret Washington club – whose patrons include Hunter Biden and disgraced Senator Bob Menendez – where government deals affecting billions of dollars are done behind closed doors

Gun Rights
  • The 116 Club is a members-only venue in DC whose patrons have included Senators Bob Menendez and Mitch McConnell and Hunter Biden 
  • DailyMail.com was able to confirm the names of about 100 current and former club members, including at least 40 members of Congress 
  • ‘There’s less chance of being seen or overheard at the 116,’ a former Senate staffer told DailyMail.com  

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Its members and patrons have included Sen. Bob Menendez, now under indictment on bribery charges, banker Robert Tillery, who pled guilty to bilking a mentally frail military widow out of $83,800 – and Hunter Biden.

A hostess at the venue in its previous incarnation had an affair with John F. Kennedy before being unmasked as a Communist spy.

Together the clubs have had membership rolls teeming with carousers, skirt chasers, string-pullers and influence peddlers, at least five of whom later served time in prison on corruption charges.  

So why does the 116 Club, where the décor is drab and the dining fare unmemorable (other than the signature crab cakes) attract so many movers and shakers?

There is certainly nothing special about the place – indeed, it is ‘remarkably unremarkable,’ a longtime Washington lobbyist and former Senate staffer told DailyMail.com.

Yet many of the most powerful people in politics continue to be drawn to the quiet Washington DC residential street just blocks from the Capitol Building where the club is now headquartered.

The reason is that the 116 Club is the perfect spot for politicians to meet up with lobbyists they perhaps would rather not be spotted with in any other setting.

There is certainly nothing special about the place ¿ indeed, it is 'remarkably unremarkable,' a longtime Washington lobbyist and former Senate staffer told DailyMail.com.

There is certainly nothing special about the place ¿ indeed, it is 'remarkably unremarkable,' a longtime Washington lobbyist and former Senate staffer told DailyMail.com.

There is certainly nothing special about the 116 Club, located on a quiet  tree-lined street. Indeed, it is ‘remarkably unremarkable,’ a longtime Washington lobbyist and former Senate staffer told DailyMail.com

DailyMail.com observed patrons shaking hands after lunching at the 116 Club in Washington, DC in recent weeks.  DailyMail.com was able to confirm the names of about 100 current and former club members, including at least 40 members of Congress

DailyMail.com observed patrons shaking hands after lunching at the 116 Club in Washington, DC in recent weeks.  DailyMail.com was able to confirm the names of about 100 current and former club members, including at least 40 members of Congress

'Gold Bar Bob' Menendez, who has been charged with taking bribes from Egyptian government officials, holds intimate meetings at 116 with campaign donors

‘Gold Bar Bob’ Menendez, who has been charged with taking bribes from Egyptian government officials, holds intimate meetings at 116 with campaign donors

DailyMail.com obtained document from Hunter Biden's abandoned laptop, which shows a $60 payment to the 116 Club for dues

DailyMail.com obtained document from Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop, which shows a $60 payment to the 116 Club for dues

‘It’s a lot smaller than the typical private club, and places like The Monocle and Charlie Palmer are open to the public,’ said the former Senate staffer, referring to two of the most popular restaurants among Washington power brokers. 

‘There’s less chance of being seen or overheard at the 116.’

‘If you want to impress someone with all the important people you know, it’s a great place to take them to show a little leg,’ he added.

Little is written about the club. The New York Times published the last major article on it 40 years ago in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

116 Club's predecessor venue hosted model Ellen Rometsch who had an affair with John F. Kennedy before being unmasked as a Communist spy

116 Club’s predecessor venue hosted model Ellen Rometsch who had an affair with John F. Kennedy before being unmasked as a Communist spy

The Times called the 116 ‘a headquarters of subterranean power’ where ‘legislation affecting billions and billions of dollars’ is discreetly discussed and drafted.

‘Unless a Congressman is really in a lobbyist’s pocket he doesn’t like to associate with him in public,’ one Senate aide told the Times.

‘Nobody likes lobbyists and it’s best not to be seen with them too often.’

In 2017, Politico ran a brief article that called the 116 the ‘physical embodiment’ of influence peddling. 

That influence peddling comes pretty cheap – especially for government employees an elected officials who pay a $100 initiation fee and $25 in monthly dues. All others are charged $1,500 to join and $60 monthly.

But to be admitted as a 116 associate requires a recommendation from two members and approval by the board. The current membership is said to number only in the low hundreds.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, DailyMail.com observed regular comings and goings at the club’s red brick townhouse on 3rd Street NE in Washington’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

We noted lobbyists such as Thomas Alexander of national security contractor Saildrone Inc., who was Under Secretary of Defense for Policy on counterterrorism, special operations and counternarcotics between 2019 and 2020; and Surya Gunasekara of the energy, environmental, and tax policy consulting firm Section VII Strategies, who previously was a senior congressional staffer at the House Ways and Means Committee.

Others we spotted that afternoon and during earlier visits included Scott Shiller of Ligado Networks, an ex-director for Israel, Jordan, and Palestinian Affairs at the National Security Council in the Trump White House; Caroline Franklin, a former staffer to three members of Congress who currently directs the Business Council of Alabama’s ProgressPAC; and Stephen Aaron, a former Senate staffer-turned-lobbyist whose clients have included the National Rifle Association and Altria, who lives right around the corner in a property he bought for almost $1.3 million last November.

DailyMail.com was unable to positively identify some of the people we observed heading in and out of the club, but the majority of those who departed headed to nearby congressional office buildings and were evidently staffers or political hangers-on who had business with them.

But some were clearly happy with whatever went on inside the club. 

‘That may have made the quarter,’ a reporter overheard one lobbyist say with a laugh to three colleagues as they walked from the 116 to the Hart Senate Office building.

‘That could have made our year,’ a companion replied happily.

Many of the most powerful people in politics continue to be drawn to the quiet Washington DC residential street just blocks from the Capitol Building where the club is now headquartered. The private club's roster is a closely guarded secret

 Many of the most powerful people in politics continue to be drawn to the quiet Washington DC residential street just blocks from the Capitol Building where the club is now headquartered. The private club’s roster is a closely guarded secret

Lobbyists such as Thomas Alexander, of national security contractor Saildrone Inc, were seen by DailyMail.com visiting the club recently

This man was identified to DailyMail.com as an aide to Gabe Camarillo, the Under-Secretary of the Army

Lobbyists such as Thomas Alexander (left), of national security contractor Saildrone Inc, were seen by DailyMail.com visiting the club recently. The man  on right was identified to DailyMail.com as an aide to Gabe Camarillo, the Under-Secretary of the Army

Teresa Black, executive vice president, chief operating officer, of Chubb Ltd's North America surety division, was seen by DailyMail.com leaving the private club

Daniel McCarthy who worked on George W. Bush'sOffiice of Legislative Affairs and then went on to start his own lobbying firm DMM Strategies was among those spotted leaving the 116

Teresa Black, executive vice president, chief operating officer, of Chubb Ltd’s North America surety division, was seen by DailyMail.com leaving the private club.  Daniel McCarthy who worked on George W. Bush’sOffiice of Legislative Affairs and then went on to start his own lobbying firm DMM Strategies was among those spotted leaving the 116

Ryan Dattilo, a partner at Aquia Group whose motto is 'A bipartisan approach to getting things done' was seen leaving the club. He previously worked on antitrust and bankruptcy issues for Congress

Scott Shiller of Ligado Networks, an ex-director for Israel, Jordan, and Palestinian Affairs at the National Security Council in the Trump White House

Ryan Dattilo right) , a partner at Aquia Group whose motto is ‘A bipartisan approach to getting things done’ was. seen leaving the club. He previously worked on antitrust and bankruptcy issues for Congress. Scott Shiller of Ligado Networks, an ex-director for Israel, Jordan, and Palestinian Affairs at the National Security Council in the Trump White House

Karen Valanzano, Head of Chubb Federal Government and Political Affairs, was pictured leaving the club

Celia Morte, Director, Strategic Marketing Innovations, Inc., was seen outside the club. She is the ex National Security Advisor to Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana

Karen Valanzano, right, Head of Chubb Federal Government and Political Affairs, was pictured leaving the club. At lest, Celia Morte, Director, Strategic Marketing Innovations, Inc., was seen outside the club. She is the ex National Security Advisor to Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana

Surya Gunasekara of the energy, environmental, and tax policy consulting firm Section VII Strategies, who previously was a senior congressional staffer at the House Ways and Means Committee, was seen dropping by the club 

DailyMail.com was able to confirm the names of about another 100 current and former club members and denizens by scouring through political archives and public records, including Federal Election Commission reports that revealed at least 30 members of Congress paid membership dues and wining and dining charges at the 116 from their campaign treasuries during the past five years.

Other fruitful sources were government ethics investigations and court records as an astonishing number of 116 associates have been probed on federal corruption charges or criminally prosecuted, and their membership status was exposed in legal filings.

‘Gold Bar Bob’ Menendez, who has been charged with taking bribes from Egyptian government officials, holds intimate meetings there with campaign donors. 

Prior to his legal travails, banker Tillery was a regular at the 116, which he once described as ‘the other place where congress meets…by invitation only.’

We learned that numerous other influential figures are club regulars as well, including Senate Minority Leader  Mitch McConnell, who lives on the block, his deputy John Cornyn, and Jerry Moran who sits on the Intelligence Committee and is ranking member on the Veterans Affairs Committee.

When he was interviewed by the FBI during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rick Dearborn disclosed that he, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and various other Trump administration and campaign officials were 116 members. 

Dearborn, who had previously worked for six senators, is now a partner at the lobbying firm Mindsite. 

‘You buy a membership for privacy, proximity, access and the networking,’ a well-connected political operative told us. ‘It’s perfect if you’re a lobbyist for merchants of death, the tobacco industry and that sort of thing.’

The 116 emerged from the wreckage of the short-lived Quorum Club, which was founded in 1961 by Bobby Baker, the top Democratic staffer in the Senate and a longtime political advisor and crony of then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson.

It was an immediate hit and grew to include 197 carefully selected members, including senators, congressmen, key aides to LBJ, close friends of President John F. Kennedy, Hill staffers, lobbyists, military officers and executives from 90 companies, many defense firms and financial institutions.

Quorum Club membership was restricted to men, but associates were allowed to bring their mistresses. For those bereft of female companionship, Baker had an ample supply of ‘play girls,’ as FBI agents who monitored the club described them in confidential reports.

One of those was Ellen Rometsch, a part-time model who worked at West Germany’s Washington embassy.

Railroad lobbyist Bill Thompson asked Baker if he could take Rometsch to the White House to meet JFK and an affair ensued.

‘President Kennedy called me and said it’s the best head job he’d ever had, and he thanked me,’ Baker recalled years later.

Thanks to the strict security measures and ban on outsiders, members and guests can comfortably conduct business in a cloistered atmosphere beyond the bounds of scrutiny, or even the law

Scandals surrounding the Quorum eventually forced its closure in 1965 – but that September, a crew of Baker’s closest associates opened the 116 and much of the previous membership quickly signed up.

The founders were keen to minimize public awareness of the new establishment’s ties to the Quorum Club, so they renamed it after its then address at 116 Schott’s Alley.

However, nothing much of substance changed.

The new club adopted the old one’s membership fees policy, which gives the game away about the general purpose of both. Members of Congress, staffers and government officials who have political influence pay a lot less than the lobbyists, operatives and executives who want to mold their decisions.

And members and guests continue to run into legal problems.

In March 1994, ex-Congressman Tony Coelho, who had resigned his seat when it was reported he profited handsomely on a junk bond investment made with money borrowed from a banker and Democratic donor, hosted a dinner at the 116 for about a dozen agribusiness lobbyists.

The purpose of the gathering was to raise money to pay off a $150,000 campaign debt for Mayor Henry Espy, the mayor of Clarksdale, Mississippi.

But the lobbyists were more concerned about the mayor’s brother, Mike Espy, President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Agriculture, who had been a great friend to their industry, especially Tyson Foods, the Arkansas poultry giant known for its close ties to Clinton and his wife Hillary.

Unfortunately, Mike Espy would be on the hook for part of the $150,000 debt if Henry didn’t come up with the money to pay it off.

Fearful that financial stress would distract Secretary Espy from larding favors on their firms, the lobbyists agreed to donate to the cause and ask colleagues to as well.

Espy resigned from the Clinton administration in late 1994 after the meeting at the 116 Club was exposed. Fifteen individuals and companies pleaded guilty to providing him with illegal contributions and gifts.

The 116’s membership is a bipartisan group, disproportionately represented by natives of the South with political and business interests in the defense and financial sectors. Almost all have influential positions in Congress and government or held such positions before cashing in on their public service by becoming lobbyists and consultants.

But the secrecy surrounding the club has made it extremely difficult to know who exactly is a member.

A business executive who dined at the 116 three years ago described club members as obsessed with secrecy.

‘I was warned not to use my cell phone or take pictures and was given a friendly reminder when I left not to talk about being there or anything I saw,’ he said.

Thanks to the strict security measures and ban on outsiders, members and guests can comfortably conduct business in a cloistered atmosphere beyond the bounds of scrutiny, or even the law.

Senator Katie Britt, who holds a position on the Senate Appropriations Committee and gave the Republican response to the State of the Union address, is also known to frequent the club

Senator Katie Britt, who holds a position on the Senate Appropriations Committee and gave the Republican response to the State of the Union address, is also known to frequent the club

At least six members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee hold meetings and wine and dine at the 116, among them Oklahoma Senator Markwayne Mullin, who used political funds to pick up the tab during five visits to the 116 last year

At least six members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee hold meetings and wine and dine at the 116, among them Oklahoma Senator Markwayne Mullin, who used political funds to pick up the tab during five visits to the 116 last year

The 116 became especially cherished as a sanctuary during the Covid pandemic because the club didn’t enforce health mandates imposed by the local government on restaurants, bars, and other gathering spots, the political operative told us.

Sources said the 116 generally didn’t seem concerned with monitoring activities at all, thereby allowing for an easy ‘workaround’ of rules of all sorts, as the operative put it.

By way of example, he cited a law that bars lobbyists from picking up the food and drink tab for members of Congress, which could be safely skirted at the club if the respective parties opted to do so since there was virtually no chance the press or public would ever know.

‘The 116 is a throwback to the bygone era before ethics rules, which was more fun and more productive than today’s,’ the operative added.

William Oldaker was the 116's treasurer until 2020.  He is a general counsel of the FEC, lobbyist, banker, political donor and consultant for many top Democrats

William Oldaker was the 116’s treasurer until 2020.  He is a general counsel of the FEC, lobbyist, banker, political donor and consultant for many top Democrats

Alabama Congressman Robert Aderholt, who holds a seat on the House Appropriations Committee and its defense subcommittee, is a 116 member and regular. He’s spent more than $10,000 in campaign money on food and beverages at the club during more than 50 visits.

Senator Katie Britt, who holds the same positions as Aderholt on the Senate Appropriations Committee and is a former president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama – where Caroline Franklin now works – is also known to frequent the club.

She’s been at the 116 at least six times since taking office in January of 2023 for meals and fundraisers.

Britt is a former chief of staff for Richard Shelby, her Senate predecessor. Shelby holds the record for total spending of political money at the 116, shelling out more than $37,000 during his congressional career.

At least six members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee hold meetings and wine and dine at the 116, among them Oklahoma Senator Markwayne Mullin, who used political funds to pick up the tab during five visits to the 116 last year.

North Carolina Senator Ted Budd, whose Building Up Democracy’s Dream Leadership PAC, reported dropping $824.11 there on food and beverages on February 6. 

In the lobbyist camp, the late William Oldaker, the 116’s treasurer until 2020, personifies the type of quintessential insider who joins the club.

A general counsel of the Federal Election Commission, lobbyist, banker, political donor and consultant for many top Democrats, Oldaker had a particularly close relationship to Joe Biden, who he raised money for and advised for more than 25 years when he was in the senate.

It’s virtually certain Oldaker, who died in 2021, sponsored Hunter Biden’s bid for 116 membership – which was active until at least 2018 – as the pair founded the lobbying firm of Oldaker & Biden in 2001.

Former Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, who held a seat on the Agriculture Committee, periodically held fundraisers at the 116 and some of her lobbyist friends sponsored events there for her as well

Former Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, who held a seat on the Agriculture Committee, periodically held fundraisers at the 116 and some of her lobbyist friends sponsored events there for her as well

Five years later, Hunter and Jim Biden, Joe’s brother, secured a $1 million loan from WashingtonFirst to buy a hedge fund despite both being poor credit risks at the time.

It was no coincidence that Oldaker co-founded WashingtonFirst, had a seat on the board and had recently set up a political account for Joe Biden that held $500,000.

Former Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, who held a seat on the Agriculture Committee, periodically held fundraisers at the 116 and some of her lobbyist friends sponsored events there for her as well.

Based on the contributions Bustos reported to the FEC after the fundraiser, she netted at least $10,000 at the 116 affair from the lobbyists, their family members and corporate executives.

Bustos resigned her seat last year to become a lobbyist at Mercury Public Affairs, where she and her son Nick both represent a number of agribusiness clients.

Given all this, it’s highly likely Bustos will continue to fraternize at the 116 in the coming years, but now she’ll be paying-to-play instead of being paid-to-play as she was when in Congress, which is exactly the way Washington – and the 116 Club – works.

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