Some GOP lobby shops hold fast as Nov. 7 looms

Seasoned Democrats may be in high demand as lobbying outfits and businesses prepare for a possible Democratic takeover of at least one chamber in November, but some top all-Republican firms are not clamoring to hire them.

Seasoned Democrats may be in high demand as lobbying outfits and businesses prepare for a possible Democratic takeover of at least one chamber in November, but some top all-Republican firms are not clamoring to hire them.

Despite a growing sense of urgency in recent months to bring well-positioned Democrats to lobby shops, company government-relations offices and trade associations, several all-GOP and GOP-leaning lobby firms said that they are doing nothing to prepare for a change of congressional power.

“We are a Republican firm and our business model is to provide excellent service for our clients on the Republican side, without engaging in any hypothetical about the elections,” said Mark Isakowitz, president of Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock. “Being a Republican firm is part of who we are.”

Isakowitz said clients rely on the firm’s ability to provide GOP strategy and expertise. Clients use Democratic lobbyists to work the other side. “That basic dynamic is working,” he said.

Remaining Republican during a tight election demonstrates loyalty, said several GOP lobbyists. “We have an election in a couple of weeks and we are part of the [GOP] team,” said Isakowitz.

Jim Pitts, one of the founding principals of DC Navigators, is on the same page. Pitts acknowledged that his pitch would be a lot easier from a business perspective if Republicans stay in power.

He does not anticipate losing clients, but says the company will have to be more deliberate in how it grows its business in 2007 and 2008. Pitts expressed concern that a change in leadership could affect the firm’s growth potential.

“So far, none of our clients have expressed a need for us to go out and hire a Democrat,” Pitts said. “Most of our clients are very happy with the work that we have done for them. We have already had some re-sign for the new fiscal year.”

While DC Navigators is not hiring any Democrats, the firm has forged and plans to strengthen strategic relationships with Democratic lobbyists and consultants.

According to Pitts, DC Navigators has been working with Jonathan Sallet at the Glover Park Group, Michael Lewan at Brown Rudnick and Vin Roberti of Roberti Associates and VAR II, LLC, a strategist active in the Democratic Party.

DC Navigators is busy on the campaign trail working with prospective GOP presidential candidates, such as Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), as well as Joe Negron, the GOP hopeful running for the seat left vacant by Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.).

“We do not want to make [Democratic employees] uncomfortable when we talk about lobbying and then do something to help so-and-so Republican get elected,” Pitts said.  “We have had some talks with Democrats about joining the firm but the fit for them was not right, or for us, partly because of the electoral issues.”

A flip to Democratic control next year could even provide at least one staunchly Republican firm with a competitive advantage.

While former Attorney General John Ashcroft has been campaigning for Republican candidates and is “certainly not ready to concede that we’re going to lose either house,” the Ashcroft Group has contemplated what next year might bring, said Juleanna Glover Weiss, a senior advisor at the firm.

“We do anticipate that Capitol Hill will be subpoena central” under Democratic control, she said. Ashcroft’s experience as a senator and as the highest-ranking prosecutor in the country would make his firm valuable to any client being hauled before a congressional committee, Glover Weiss said.

Republican-leaning lobbying shops, or clients that have favored GOP representation, would have been smart to begin strategizing for a Democratic Congress months ago, one Republican lobbyist said. “If you wanted to do something, you should have started before now,” the lobbyist remarked.

For example, the once all-GOP Federalist Group hired several prominent Democrats this year, including former Rep. Chris John (La.).

But even some firms that have few or no ties to Democratic lawmakers can expect to continue to flourish, particularly if they have close relationships to Republican committee leaders, as opposed to the leaders of the chambers, the Republican lobbyist said.

Mike Dyer, a Republican and a senior principal at Blank Rome Government Relations, said that firm has not made any preparations or plans for a Democratic Congress, but it is looking to recruit new lobbyists as the winners and losers on the Hill shake out in the coming months.

Dyer emphasized that Blank Rome has striven to be a bipartisan firm, “even if we may be perceived from the outside” as Republican. Dyer noted that the firm has brought in veteran Democratic lobbyists such as Peter Peyser and Heather Podesta.

But Blank Rome is expecting its clients’ needs to change under a Democratic Congress, Dyer said. The firm’s work would shift from offense to defense, or vice versa, depending on the client, he said.

“The workload might shift from one client to another,” Dyer said. Still, he predicted, “End of the day, we’re still as busy as we were [this] year.”

Smart corporations and other interests maintain a steady engagement with both sides, Dyer said.

The lobbying firms that are the most vulnerable to a change in party control are those that have made their links to the House GOP leadership and the Bush administration their chief selling point, several Republican lobbyists commented.

Republican lobbyists repeatedly cited the now-defunct Alexander Strategy Group, which boasted close ties to ex-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) as an example of the type of firm that would have reasons to be nervous about a Democratic majority.

Compared to the first years of the Bush administration, recently there has been a “very clear trend” to ensure that law firms, lobby shops and government-relations offices have a much more bipartisan representation, said Peter Metzger, the vice chairman of Christian & Timbers, an executive-search firm.

Since this spring there has been a great sense of urgency to hire Democrats, said Beth Solomon, director of Christian & Timbers’s Washington, D.C. office. Many firms are trying to poach experienced Democrats from other firms, she said.

“There is an advantage in bringing in someone who already has the clients and understands the business,” she said. “Their price tag has gone up significantly.”

But lobby shops may have a harder time, at least in the first year of a Democratic Congress, plucking high-profile staffers. After so many years in the minority, many staffers would want to stay to see Democratic policies put into place.

Several GOP lobbyists pointed out that another election is just two years away.

A winning presidential candidate from either party could sweep congressional candidates along with them, Blank Rome’s Dyer said. A strong GOP presidential candidate also could help his or her party reclaim House seats that might be lost this year in historically Republican districts.

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