I met with Paul Kanitra on a cold fall day at the Capitol Hill Lounge. His boyish face and slight New Jersey accent, combined with a surprising height, make him a physical poster boy for the fast-talking Washington lobbyist. However, his wealth of experiences, entrepreneurial spirit, and passion for breaking the mold when it comes to the business of government make him a unique force to be reckoned with.
At 34-years old, Kanitra has enough experience in the world of lobbying to know the game, but is not so old as to be stuck in the rut of business as usual that seems to capture so many K Streeters. “Lobbying is not progressive,” he told me. “It’s very much a closed off old boys club. The business hasn’t changed much since electricity came to Washington.” Kanitra’s firm Lobbyit.com however, is looking to change all that. In Kanitra’s own words, Lobbyit.com is the WalMart of government relations to Patton Bogg’s Bloomingdales.
Launched in 2009, Lobbyit.com is unique in the sense that it is the only lobbying firm in D.C. to offer its clients set prices. Based on a tier system, with the cheapest package going for just $995 a month, smaller associations can have a presence on Capitol Hill without breaking the bank. The higher, more expensive tiers offer more comprehensive services, including more meetings with members, and local, state and federal bill tracking.
Kanitra’s passion for story telling is palpable when talking to him. As is his desire to make his own path in Washington. He cut his teeth as an inexperienced 24-year old at the Associated Locksmiths of America. “I was able to learn a lot while I was doing it,” he said of his first job in the world of government relations. “I knew I didn’t want to do the traditional Washington path of studying hard on the Hill in only one area and then jumping ship to go to K Street.”
From there, Kanitra spent a year doing government relations for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony in Nevada, followed by nearly half a decade working government relations for Carfax out in Centerville, Virginia. It was there that he realized that what he really wanted was to run his own operation. “You see a lot of young lobbyists who want to strike out on their own,” he said. “You may have experience, but others will always have more. I realized I needed an unique angle.”
And in that, he has succeeded with Lobbyit.com. The boutique firm already has eight full time employees, and has constant plans for expansion. According to Kanitra, their business has doubled in the last year, and they are signing new clients every two weeks. Organizations as diverse as the American Jail Association, Arts for Learning, and the Brick Industry Association all rely on Kanitra’s services to give them a voice in Washington. Voice of America even highlighted Lobbyit.com as part of a series introducing Chinese citizens to the role of lobbying in American democracy.
Of course, like any good Washingtonian, Kanitra is more than just his job. He is a formidable force on the basketball court for Hoops for Hope, volunteers with the Special Olympics, and enjoys nights dining out on 14th Street with his fiancé. His philanthropy and social life are all bolstered by his satisfaction with the work he is doing on Capitol Hill. “All of our clients have a good story to tell,” he said. “A good client and a good story is all you need to be successful in this field.”