Foreign clients beginning to seek out Dem lobbyists

In the wake of Capitol Hill’s turnover, Democratic lobbyists and firms have found themselves in high demand from foreign governments and politicians.

Numerous contracts with Republican-heavy shops have ended, with their friends across the aisle filling the void. Although not as extreme as the shift among domestic clients, this trend suggests change down the road.

“I think it is only beginning. Understandably, foreign governments move more slowly than domestic corporations,” said Joel Johnson, a partner at the Glover Park Group. “This doesn’t mean they were unhappy with their representation. The old team may not be equipped to handle the new situation.”

Glover Park has registered four new clients with the Foreign Agents Registration Unit since last November’s election, according to Justice Department records.

The firm lobbies and provides public relations for its clients, but it is primarily known for its connections to Democratic politicians, especially Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

“There is a Democratic foreign policy establishment in exile right now. Dozens of prominent players from the Clinton administration are still very active and engaged,” said Johnson. “It makes good sense to reestablish those ties.”

“Most foreign governments and foreign corporations are very politically astute,” said James Thurber, a professor at American University who is writing a book about lobbying reform. “They are moving to contract lobbying firms that have excellent credentials and contacts with the new Democratic congressional party chairs and leaders. It is a good investment.”

Observing the shift by foreign governments, a Democratic lobbyist with several foreign clients said it has as much as to do with the 2008 presidential election as with last year’s midterms.

Said the lobbyist, “If they miss the policymaking right now, they are going to be acting in a reactive mode in a couple of years.”

“Washington revolves around majority control,” said a former Republican House leadership staffer. “Majority control impacts foreign clients, and those who advocate for them are best served when they have relationships on both sides of the aisle.”

Smaller firms have also picked up clients. Darlene Richeson, once an in-house advocate for Verizon, has signed her first foreign client, the government of Bermuda, at her own firm.

“I don’t think these clients look at this situation with the changeover in Congress any differently than any other client,” said Richeson, a Democrat. “You clearly want to have lobbyists that have the best relationships with the members who are in control.”

Richeson said the Caribbean nation was interested in connecting to members of the Congressional Black Caucus, many of whom now have leadership positions under the new majority.

In contrast, firms known for their Republican principals have seen their contracts ended or amended — even in the case of long-standing deals.

For example, Barbour Griffiths & Rogers will end its contract with Taiwan about five months earlier than planned. But CEO Lanny Griffith said it had nothing to do with politics.

“We have lost no clients because of the 2006 election,” said Griffith. “Now we have divided government, so Republicans and Democrats are both needed right now.”

The Livingston Group, headed by former House Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston (R-La.), is now working on its Turkey account with several Democratic lobbyists at the law firm DLA Piper.

“We thought it would be helpful to have that capability as well,” said Tuluy Tanc, a minister counselor at Washington’s Turkish Embassy, of DLA Piper’s hire in the wake of the 2006 election.

Meanwhile, J.C. Watts Companies in February closed a contract with the Peruvian government that was registered as recently as October 2006. The firm is run by former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.).

The Peru contract was “to work Democratic members on the extension of the [Free Trade Agreement],” said Steve Pruitt, a senior Democratic partner of Watts Consulting Group. He lauded the effort as “successful by helping to educate and gain the support of 96 Democratic members for that extension.”

But by the end of that month, Peru had hired Patton Boggs to work on the trade agreement instead. Democrats Thomas Hale Boggs Jr. and Gabriel Guerra-Mondragón, a former Clinton administration-appointed U.S. ambassador to Chile, helped secure the contract.

Brian Hale, a spokesman for Patton Boggs, emphasized in an e-mail to The Hill the firm’s “bipartisan” status. He said it was hired “not because of any perception of party affiliation, but rather because of our expertise and proven track record of success over the years.”

Seconding Hale’s sentiments, one lobbyist warned that although times have changed, they have not changed that much.
“It should be the Democrats’ year in ’08,” said Jim Pitts, a principal at Squire Sanders Public Advocacy, which has registered three foreign clients since the midterm elections. “But for the foreign governments, many of their issues are with the executive branch, and that’s Republican for the next two years.”