Lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates loses highest-paying client

Cassidy & Associates lost its highest-paying client this year after Equatorial Guinea severed its relationship with the lobbying firm, industry sources confirmed to The Hill on Friday. 

The country was Cassidy's top client, paying the firm almost $2 million in 2009 and $970,000 so far this year, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. 

Sources said Equatorial Guinea questioned its return on the large retainer it was paying Cassidy. The firm had only three of its lobbyists registered to work on the account, and two of them were working for at least 16 other clients. The third lobbyist was on maternity leave.  

In comparison, nine people are registered to work on Cassidy's second-largest account, Boston University. Seven people are devoted to its third-largest account, Alenia North America, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

While several of Cassidy's accounts have three or fewer lobbyists, some clients who paid the firm far less had more personnel working on their issues.

The Motion Picture Association of America, for example, has paid Cassidy almost 98 percent less than Equatorial Guinea so far this year, but had four lobbyists registered to work on its account. 

Losing the account could be a challenge for Cassidy, which has struggled to keep up with the growth of other top K Street firms. 

Cassidy consistently ranked as Washington's top-earning lobbying firm earlier in the decade, but has slid to sixth in revenue so far this year. 

Between 2008 and 2009, the most recent calculation of year-to-year revenue changes, the firm’s revenue shrank 4.5 percent, according to reports. That made it one of three firms among the top 10 in earnings to shrink during that period.  

In the last few years, heightened scrutiny of earmarks has challenged Cassidy, which is known for its appropriations work. Though led by a Democrat, Gerry Cassidy, the firm has not benefited as much from this year's lawmaking bonanza as other firms with well-known Democrats. 

Equatorial Guinea, for its part, appears to be shifting its focus from traditional lobbying to public relations.

It hired former Clinton White House aide Lanny Davis earlier this year to improve its image in Washington. It has also worked with Qorvis Communications since last year. 

The oil-rich West African country has faced challenges to its public image. The son of its President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo was the subject of a probe released in February by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. 

The report found that the president’s son moved more than $110 million in suspect funds into the United States through lawyers, real estate agents and escrow accounts and used the money to buy a $30 million Malibu mansion and a $38.5 million Gulfstream jet, among other things. 

Equatorial Guinea also came up in a 2004 probe by the panel of money laundering at Riggs Bank.

Matthew J. Lauer, the Qorvis partner who focuses on international clients, said it’s not unusual for foreign nations to move away from traditional lobbying to place a greater focus on PR. 

"People still see the value in traditional lobbying, but its not always the first stop now when you come to Washington, when it used to always be the first stop," he said. 

Cassidy & Associates did not immediately return requests for comment. 

Kevin Bogardus contributed to this article