Lobbyists expect boom times under Trump

Lobbyists expect boom times under Trump
© Getty Images

Washington’s lobby firms are primed for President Trump as they seek to leave behind a lackluster 2016.

“The political shifting sands means there's going to be more corporate investment in Washington, in terms of impacting both legislative and regulatory activity,” said Marc Lampkin, the managing partner of the Washington office at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.

The firm's lobbying fees have been growing exponentially in recent years, but even the high-grossing shops could not overcome the business climate of 2016, when official Washington was often idled by the presidential campaign.

Monday was the deadline to submit disclosures on lobbying spending and earnings that took place during the fourth quarter of 2016.

ADVERTISEMENT
Nine of the 11 firms that earned $15 million or more in revenue last year experienced a decrease versus 2015, according to figures provided or calculated by The Hill.

Brownstein took in about $25 million in both 2015 and 2016. In the last three months of 2016, it made $5.73 million — a 23 percent drop from the same time a year before.

And the firm isn’t alone: Not even Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Washington’s largest lobby shop by revenue, was immune from the election-year downturn. 

In 2015, Akin earned more than $39 million from its clients, compared to $36 million last year.

But many firms are expecting business to bounce back in 2017. They say the flurry of activity at the present moment feels similar to when President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaGOP rep: North Korea wants Iran-type nuclear deal Dems fear lasting damage from Clinton-Sanders fight Iran's president warns US will pay 'high cost' if Trump ditches nuclear deal MORE took office in 2009 and Democrats controlled Congress.

“As we saw in 2009, companies and associations are gearing up for significant reform opportunities occasioned by an energetic new administration taking office with a supportive Congress,” said Bruce Mehlman, a Republican lobbyist at Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas.

Mehlman’s bipartisan firm was one of several able to defy the trend last year, with its annual lobbying revenues increasing by 10 percent. The shop pulled in nearly $13 million.

BGR Group, a firm primarily containing GOP lobbyists, has been hovering around $17 million in revenue for the last two years but is poised to attract new clients and garner increased fees from existing ones.

Similarly, the all-Republican Fierce Government Affairs has held steady in earning roughly $13 million per year since 2015. 

“For the first time in years there is a sense out there that things are going to be moving again in a big way,” said Dave Schnittger, once a top staffer to former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSpeculation mounts, but Ryan’s job seen as safe Boehner warns Trump: Don't pull out of Korea-US trade deal GOP Rep: Ryan wasting taxpayers dollars by blocking war authorization debate MORE (R-Ohio) who is now at Squire Patton Boggs. “People want to make sure they're part of it.”

But those on the left won’t be left out in the cold, as there will be plenty of opportunities for lobbying from the other side of the aisle.

One Republican on K Street confessed anonymously to The Hill that he had some of his best years financially in 2009, while Democrats controlled government.

As the new administration lays out its priorities, industry groups and lawmakers in both parties are jockeying to have a say in how the policies are implemented. 

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, on Monday held the first press conference since Trump’s inauguration and laid out the top legislative priorities for the administration.

That list included rolling back regulations from the Obama administration and enacting immigration reform.

“It's not just building the wall,” Spicer said. “It's how do we enact policies to make sure that what we have now doesn't happen again.” 

“It's a comprehensive look at how we're keeping people out of this country that shouldn't be here, that people who are coming to visit are leaving when they're supposed to, to make sure that we're tailoring immigration policies that make sure that we're not an open door for anyone to just walk in,” he continued.

Immigration is also one that energizes K Street, because the issue affects so many sectors, including manufacturing, technology, restaurants and construction. 

During Capitol Hill’s last big push for comprehensive immigration reform, in 2013, about 650 entities listed actively lobbying on the issue, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Covington & Burling’s Muftiah McCartin says that clients will also be paying close attention to the budget and appropriations process and trying to make their issues a priority.

“We're in a whole new world,” she said. “Both sides of the aisle don't know where the agencies are standing on certain issues.”

Congressional appropriations panels will have the “opportunity to drill down on some of the issues they care about,” McCartin said, saying that funding fights will be “front and center” in Trump’s first months in office.

Covington & Burling saw a two percent increase in 2016 over the previous year, taking in $12.62 million from its lobbying clients. 

The firm has made recent Republican hires to address impending action on reforms on taxes and healthcare. 

“Covington is ready to hit the ground running, and that's what we're going to have to do,” McCartin said.

Ogilvy Government Relations, a bipartisan firm, brought on a slew of new clients in the post-election season. It earned $10.5 million in 2016, a 4 percent increase from 2015.

Lobbying firms say that demand continues to grow from many types of advocacy that are not disclosed in official lobbying figures, such as public relations and grassroots advocacy.

“You'll see more use of social media and engagement of the grassroots community to influence public policy,” Lampkin said. “You can’t rely on shoe-leather lobbying in Washington.”

Lobbying firm Forbes-Tate has been expanding in those areas, hiring communications experts and those who have run political campaigns. 

Its lobbying revenue has also increased, going from $9 million in 2015 to $10 million last year.

The Podesta Group has also been boosting its grassroots and advocacy work for clients.

It earned $24 million in lobbying fees last year, versus $23 million the year before. Its public relations revenues also increased by a million dollars in the same period, going from $9 million to $10 million.

“If there's one thing that we learned from the presidential election it’s that you need to bring you message directly to the people,” Lampkin said.