Lobby shops’ first quarter is mixed bag

K Street lobbying firms saw mixed results in their revenue stream as  a new president took office, a new Congress was sworn in and the economy took a downturn.

Several of the most prominent firms saw a rise in income compared to this time last year but two of the top lobbying shops saw revenues drop.

Monday was the deadline for firms to report fees for the first quarter of 2009. Many posted substantial gains over what they earned in 2008’s first quarter.

Several firms credited President Obama with their rise in revenues.

“I don’t know if the president intended to help our business,” said Mike Ferrell, chairman of Venable’s legislative practice group.

Ferrell said the changeover in the administration has helped boost his firm’s earnings this year. The group reported fees of about $2.8 million for 2009’s first quarter, a more than 34 percent gain over the same period in 2008.

Obama’s push for a move involved, activist government has led companies to be “excited, interested and concerned on what the change means for them from a practical and financial standpoint,” Ferrell said.

He noted that plans on Capitol Hill for renewed financial regulations have led companies to come calling his firm and others. Also, changes in how the Homeland Security Department will be funded and anticipated tax reform have led to more client registrations and more fees for Venable.

“We are going to see a continued surge of activity as more flesh is put on the bone for the administration’s economic plans,” Ferrell said.

Venable was not alone in seeing an increased income.

The Podesta Group posted a more than 50 percent gain from its first quarter last year, taking in $5.2 million in the first three months of 2009. Holland & Knight took in $5.1 million for this latest quarter. That is about a 37 percent gain over its showing in the same period in 2008.

Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck had a 12 percent gain from its performance in last year’s first quarter, posting revenues of $3.8 million. And K&L Gates took in $4.7 million for this quarter, which works out to about 20 percent more than the firm did in 2008’s first quarter.

“The stimulus bill was a powerful engine in Washington for a lot of people like us,” said Mark Ruge, co-chairman of the public policy and law practice group at K&L Gates.

Legislation like the stimulus, the Troubled Asset Relief Program and various appropriations measures are “money bills,” Ruge said. The firm’s clients are gearing up for bills dealing with energy, healthcare reform and education.

“You really couldn’t afford to wait until the middle of the summer to get involved,” Ruge said.
But because of the economic downturn, clients have tried to renegotiate contracts and reduce fees, Ruge said.

And while some firms reported surges in lobbying revenue compared to last year, several others on K Street were not so lucky.

The lobbying community’s two biggest earners — Patton Boggs and Akin Gump — saw drops from their first quarters in 2008. Patton Boggs took $8.4 million this quarter, an almost 20 percent drop-off from the same period last year. Akin Gump posted a 9 percent loss from 2008’s first quarter, with $8 million in lobbying revenue so far this year.

“We look at it as our $8 million is an increase from our $7.53 million last quarter,” said Akin Gump's Steven Ross. “This is about where I would have predicted we would be.”

“It is partly the recession and partly the fact that clients were waiting to see how quickly big pieces of legislation would begin moving, like the energy bill or healthcare reform,” said Jack Quinn, chairman of Quinn Gillespie & Associates. “Now they are coming on because those pieces of legislation are moving quickly.”

Quinn’s firm reported $3.4 million this quarter, which is an 8 percent drop from what it earned in the same period in 2008. Quinn said his firm has signed up almost $3 million worth of business since December, which will show up in the second-quarter reports.

Others who saw their earnings drop this quarter from last were also optimistic.

“I think it’s really one of the busiest starts to a new Congress and new administration that I can remember. There is activity in nearly every committee and agency, and notwithstanding the economic slowdown, there is a tremendous amount of activity in Washington,” said Loren Monroe of BGR Holdings. The group earned $4.1 million for 2009’s first quarter, down 13 percent from the same period in 2008.

The firm, formerly known as Barbour Griffith & Rogers, was known for its Republican leanings but has made strides recently to become more bipartisan, hiring its first Democrats and hosting fundraisers for Democratic politicians.

Several lobbying firms did not respond with their first-quarter revenues in time to meet The Hill’s print deadline. As more reports roll in, look to TheHill.com for updates on how K Street has done so far this year.

Click here for a breakdown of lobbying firm revenues.

Silla Brush, Roxana Tiron and Jeffrey Young contributed to this article.