K Street hopes for lift from lame duck

Revenue on K Street is in a holding pattern ahead of a lame-duck session that could be one for the record books. 

Friday was the deadline for lobby firms to disclose their second-quarter reports for 2012 as required under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). While some on K Street reported revenue gains over 2011, others saw a decline despite an active spring session for Congress.  

Some lobbyists predicted the preparations for the lame-duck session after the election — when lawmakers are expected to tackle big-money issues like the Bush-era tax rates and automatic spending cuts — would bring a spike in business at the end of the year. 

They noted that the heat of a presidential election is putting legislating on hold until then, as both Republicans and Democrats push for votes they think will put them in a good political position come November.

Firms including Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Ogilvy Government Relations, Williams & Jensen, Alston & Bird and Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti reported slight to moderate gains for the first half of the year, ranging from 2 percent to 6 percent.

But the top dog on K Street, Patton Boggs, reported a slight decline from last year, while Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the traditional No. 2, took a 13 percent dive. 

The Podesta Group, which had the third-highest revenues for 2012’s first half, reported no change between this year and last. 

Four other shops — Van Scoyoc Associates, Cassidy & Associates, Cornerstone Government Affairs and Dutko Grayling — saw double-digit drops in LDA revenue. 

Kevin O’Neill of Patton Boggs said that, with a payroll tax cut extension and broad transportation measure already through Congress this year, lawmakers had in many ways exceeded expectations.  

But he said the 2012 campaign might have caused some parts of corporate America to be less aggressive on the lobbying front. Patton Boggs raked in a reported $24.2 million in lobbying revenue for the year’s first half, a 2 percent decline from 2011’s $24.8 million.

“There’s a natural sense in the business community right now that election years, especially presidential election years, can’t be as jam-packed with signatures achievements as a non-election year,” said O’Neill, the firm’s deputy chairman for public policy. 

“That’s a common perception and may cause clients to take their foot off the pedal quicker than they otherwise might.”

But O’Neill also said that the firm was satisfied with its numbers, especially because lots of their work on regulatory issues falls “under the radar” and isn’t reflected by the LDA reports.

He noted that extensive preparations are being made for the lame-duck session, and said clients are eager to make sure they aren’t caught flat-footed when Congress moves into overdrive in December.  

“Putting the game plan down, figuring out which players you need to have on the field: Astute clients may not be as visible in a quarter like this, but they’re doing an awful lot to get ready,” O’Neill said, comparing the current period to a pep rally before the big game. 

Smith Davis, a partner at Akin Gump, noted that his firm was heavily reliant on billable hours last quarter, and partly attributed the revenue drop to a slowdown on Capitol Hill after the failure of last year’s supercommittee. 

Akin Gump saw LDA revenues drop from $17.7 million in the first half of 2011 to $15.7 million this year. The firm’s second-quarter haul of $7.8 million also marked their lowest quarter in the last six. 

“To the extent Congress is active, those representing corporate America are going to be active,” Davis told The Hill. “When Congress is less active, you are less active.” 

Davis chalked that slowdown up to both the presidential election and the partisan gridlock that he said was prevalent in Washington. 

But the Akin Gump partner also said that he believed clients were starting to rev up during the first three weeks of July on lame-duck issues like taxes and budget sequestration.

Ogilvy Government Relations — which is undergoing a reshuffling after the exit of top lobbyists Drew Maloney and Wayne Berman — saw a 2 percent increase in revenues during the first six months of the year. 

An Ogilvy lobbyist told The Hill that the firm was beefing up its healthcare work, and also wanted to increase its lobbyist roster back to around 14 or 15 after the most recent departures.

“That’s about where we’d like to be, and that’s been our past practice,” the lobbyist said. “We’ve been very successful at growing Ogilvy, and we’re clearly going to be in transition and then in a growth mode over the next four to six months.

The lobbyist also acknowledged that the firm would be helped by the current efforts to prepare for the lame-duck, as firms try to pave the way for decisions that can often be made outside the public eye. 

“At some point, all the doors are shut and no one takes calls,” the lobbyist said. “When it gets down to the leadership and their packaging in whatever the hell they want to do, you want to make sure your stuff is in there.”