On Wednesday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) exited a congressional listening to and stumbled onto a stunning sight: Capitol Hill’s line-standing trade.

Line-standing isn’t distinctive to Congress. You possibly can learn tales about individuals paying different individuals to face in line to get into fancy eating places, unique theater productions, or to get the most recent iPhone.

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However line-standing for congressional hearings is, arguably, a distinct circumstance. These are public hearings that, in principle, are open to all People. However listening to rooms don’t at all times have sufficient area to accommodate all these , and attendees are sometimes let in on a first-come, first-served foundation.

Those that have the cash to pay another person to attend in line can basically purchase their method into the listening to — the factor that irked Ocasio-Cortez.

It doesn’t must be like this. The Supreme Courtroom banned the follow of paid line-standing in 2015 — and there was congressional laws to do away with paid line standing contained in the Capitol, too.

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Washington’s paid line-standing enterprise, defined

Washington has a number of fancy fundraising dinners, the place the one option to get in is to make a big donation. However congressional hearings aren’t imagined to be like that. They’re open to the general public, who safe a spot within the viewers by lining up outdoors.

For lots of hearings, this isn’t an issue. However for extra high-profile occasions, it may be exhausting to nab a spot with out displaying up hours beforehand. Enter the skilled line-standers: who, for the proper value, will maintain spots in line.

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There’s sufficient of a paid line-standing enterprise within the nation’s capital that you could find a number of companies that supply the service to their purchasers, sometimes lobbyists. There are a minimum of some reported instances of these holding spots in line being homeless, as Ocasio-Cortez asserted, though it’s unclear how continuously that occurs.

Linestanding.com, for instance, advertises “prime quality line standing companies for Congressional hearings” and affords on-line reserving.


Seat savers from Linestanding.com mark spots spots in line for lobbying companies on Capitol Hill previous to a Senate listening to on October 17, 2007.
Lauren Victoria Burke/AP

Washington Categorical, in the meantime, prices $40 per hour for “skilled, competitively priced line-standing and seat holding companies for congressional and judicial hearings.” The positioning notes that this agency has “developed vital experience in all the generally advanced particulars of seat holding and linestanding.” (One of many complexities of line-standing that I’ve seen firsthand is scuffles about who’s in entrance of who within the line).

Typically, these holding spots in line will stand behind a chunk of paper that notes who their spot is for, because the Daylight Basis reported in 2011:

The road for the primary group assembly of the tremendous committee snaked down an extended hallway within the Home Rayburn constructing final week, with individuals lining up simply after the constructing opened at 7:30 a.m. and rising to about 75 individuals over the following three hours. Among the many suit-clad staffers, lobbyists and residents ready to attend the 10:30 a.m. public listening to have been a number of individuals dressed casually: denims, T-shirts, shorts, biking gear.

Most significantly, that they had sheets of paper that mark whose spot they have been holding. When it will get near listening to time, these sheets of paper come out and lobbyists start to reach to swap spots with the holders.

In 2005, the Washington Publish reported on some particularly lengthy traces that have been stretching outdoors of the Capitol in the midst of winter — which means that line-standers needed to wait within the chilly.

That Washington Publish story additionally obtained into why lobbyists are so eager to get into the listening to room within the first place. What’s so particular, in any case, about being within the room for an occasion that will likely be broadcast free of charge on C-SPAN?

“You need to have the ability to give your shopper the first-class therapy,” Gary Hymel, the chief lobbyist with Hill & Knowlton, advised the Publish. “You get eye-to-eye contact. … That is reinforcing that you just’re actually and care.”

There was a invoice to finish paid line-standing. It didn’t get very far.

In 2007, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) was a first-term senator. She got here throughout the follow of paid line-standing and, like Ocasio-Cortez, was shocked.

“As soon as I noticed this was taking place, I used to be actually offended,” she advised reporters on the time. “That is the individuals’s authorities and these needs to be the individuals’s hearings. I’ve no downside with lobbyists entering into hearings, however they shouldn’t have the ability to purchase a seat.”

So she authored a invoice to ban paid line-standing. Her proposal would bar lobbyists from paying individuals to attend in line for them. And the penalties for breaking the principles can be stiff: as much as $200,000 and 5 years in jail time.

The road-standing trade rapidly rallied towards the proposal. The proprietor of Linestanding.com submitted testimony that argued McCaskill’s invoice would eradicate “an trade that employs tons of of entry-level staff, and as an alternative creating positions for much more lobbyists, the invoice would have the other impact of that supposed. It wouldn’t change the composition of who finally sat in listening to rooms; it could merely improve prices for all concerned.”

McCaskill’s proposal by no means left committee.

However throughout the road from Congress is the Supreme Courtroom, and that physique has taken some steps to tamp down on paid line standing. In 2015, the Courtroom barred attorneys from hiring individuals to carry their spot in line. It introduced that yr that, “solely Bar members who really intend to attend argument will likely be allowed within the line for the Bar part; ‘line standers’ won’t be permitted.”

That doesn’t imply paid line-standing is completely gone from the Supreme Courtroom. The Courtroom maintains two traces to look at oral arguments: one for attorneys who’ve joined the Supreme Courtroom bar, and one for the general public. And within the line for the general public, paid line-standing continues to be a wonderfully acceptable follow.

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