A Washington lobby firm that thrived during the earmark era is passing from the scene.
Denny Miller Associates (DMA), which was founded in 1984, will close its doors on Dec. 31.
Denny Miller’s wife, Sandra Burgess Miller, is also retiring after serving as the firm’s executive vice president. She said the couple is headed out West to spend time with family.
“While we can still do a lot of fun things — like fish, hunt and ride horses on the ranch — we are going to do that. And our grandkids are older, and they want to see us more,” Burgess Miller said.
The firm represents powerhouse companies, such as American Airlines, AT&T, Boeing, FedEx and General Dynamics. It also has a heavy Washington state focus, working for local government agencies like the Port of Tacoma and the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Miller is known as a skilled hand in the appropriations process, and his retirement is not going unnoticed on K Street.
“I would say it’s the end of an era,” said Manny Rouvelas, a partner at K&L Gates. “Lasting 30 years is a long time in this business. He had a Northwest focus with his clients and had a major influence in that area here in Washington.”
Employees at Denny Miller Associates plan to stay in the influence business, and some are starting ventures of their own.
Wally Burnett, Shay Hancock, Tim Lovain and Chris Miller plan to open a new shop named Capitol Strategies in 2014. Sandy Mathiesen will be of counsel to the new firm. They have been talking to their clients at DMA about joining them there.
“We are hopeful that you will see a lot of similarity between the clients we have worked with and the clients we will have in January,” Burnett said. “I suspect there will be a lot of carryover.”
Others are starting their own shops as well.
Judy Hafner is starting Vantage Point Strategies on Jan. 1. The firm will focus on the defense, homeland security and cybersecurity industries.
Other employees at Denny Miller Associates are heading to prominent law and lobby firms.
Judson Greif is joining K&L Gates. Marianne Helms is going to Van Ness Feldman and Will Stone, former chief of staff for ex-Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), has signed up with Jefferson Consulting Group.
In addition, Maren Colon, Miller’s executive assistant, has joined the Consumer Bankers Association as government relations coordinator.
Miller said that he has spoken with most of his firm’s clients and recommended that they keep the firm’s lead staffer on board.
“I received excellent responses from all,” Miller said.
Former Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) — a close friend of Miller going back to their days as Senate aides — said he expects K Street shops to jockey for the firm’s state and municipal clients.
“A number of these clients will stay with these people who represented them at Denny Miller Associates,” said Dicks, now a senior policy adviser to Van Ness Feldman. “Some of the clients under state law will have to be open to periodic competition. A lot of people will compete for those clients … so we will have to wait and see.”
Miller’s firm has seen its lobbying revenue dip over the years, reflecting a broader downturn on K Street. It earned almost $5.2 million in lobbying fees for 2010, but that had fallen close to $3.6 million last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
A ban on earmarks, K Street’s bread and butter, has hit the influence industry in the wallet.
Other firms that specialize in appropriations, such as Cassidy & Associates, have been forced to retool after seeing a decline in lobbying revenue.
The niche is also hurt by the fact that many of the old bulls from the appropriations committees have left Capitol Hill.
Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), along with Reps. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and Bill Young (R-Fla.), have all passed on. Other appropriators, such as Dicks, have retired.
“The nature of the lobbying business has changed. One of the big changes has been the ending of the earmarks. A lot of people specialized their business in that,” Dicks said.
Lobbyists at Denny Miller Associates say the firm adjusted after Congress moved away from earmarking.
“I think we started moving away from direct earmarks five or six years ago because we realized the field was getting very crowded on Capitol Hill. It’s something we have adapted to quite well,” Hancock said. “We work on the authorization side a lot more. We have worked on policy matters much more.”
Dicks said Miller was a great lobbyist, one he enjoyed working with while in Congress.
“We are going to have more time to spend together, a little bit,” Dicks said. “Denny is going to be missed. He has been a very effective and successful advocate for his clients.”