Lobbying firm returns to GOP-only roster

A lobbying shop that gained notoriety for shedding its GOP label after the 2008 elections has parted ways with its Democratic employees, showing that the partisan business model is alive and well on K Street.

Navigators made a splash in December 2008 when it merged with Roberti Associates to become Navigators Global. The merger brought on board the firm run by Vin Roberti, a well-known fundraiser and adviser to House and Senate Democrats.

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But last month, Roberti and several other Democrats left the firm, leaving only Republicans behind.

“Subsequent to Vin’s departure, we are going back to our wheelhouse and our roots as a GOP firm,” Phil Anderson, president of Navigators Global, told The Hill.

Anderson said the firm plans to keep the name Navigators Global and add more Republican lobbyists.

Roberti’s exit follows heavy GOP gains in the last election. Republicans took control of the House and narrowed the Democrats’ majority in the Senate. 

When Navigators went bipartisan after the 2008 elections, it was seen as a sign that Democrats’ control of Washington — which then consisted of both chambers of Congress and the White House — would result in other GOP-leaning firms hiring Democratic lobbyists. 

Navigators’ new move shows that partisan lobby shops are still going strong on K Street. 

“I think it’s a fair debate on what model of firm serves clients best,” Anderson said about bipartisan versus partisan lobby shops. 

“Each firm has to decide what to do on its own to best serve their clients. We decided to go in this direction because we thought it was the best way to serve our clients,” he said.

Roberti left the firm in mid-February, and Democrats Tracy Sefl and Meghan Johnson exited soon after, Anderson said. Another Democratic employee, Harmony Knutson, left the firm earlier in 2010.

Roberti and Johnson did not return e-mails from The Hill asking about their departures. Sefl declined to comment.

Two former Navigators employees have recently settled into high-profile roles on Capitol Hill. Cesar Conda left the firm to become chief of staff to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), while Don Kent departed to become chief of staff to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).

In the wake of Conda’s and Kent’s departures, Anderson said, the firm is bringing on fresh recruits.

Starting later this month, Danielle Burr will be a principal for Navigators. Burr was a whip liaison for Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and has also been a senior legislative director for the Associated Builders & Contractors.

Susan Nelson is also coming on board at Navigators as a principal. A lobbyist for Gray Loeffler, she was the national finance director for Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign and finance director for the Republican Governors Association for the 2002 elections.

In addition, well-known GOP political consultant Mike Murphy has rejoined the firm after advising Meg Whitman’s California gubernatorial campaign last election. Murphy is also now a partner at Revolution Agency, an advocacy and public affairs firm. 

“Coupled with our [senior vice president] Trent Wisecup, Murphy’s return to the firm and leveraging his role with Revolution returns a best-in-class communications capability to Navigators,” Anderson said.