Busy lame-duck gives K Street firms a lift

Several of K Street’s most prominent lobby shops showed steady growth in 2010, ending the year on a high note thanks to the flurry of activity during the lame-duck session of Congress.

Some observers had anticipated a slow year for lobbying revenue in comparison to 2009, when the blockbuster legislative fights over the healthcare and financial-services reform bills sent K Street into overdrive. Midterm election years are also typically a slow period for lobby shops, since lawmakers are away from Washington for much of the summer and fall.


But several lobbyists interviewed by The Hill said 2010 beat expectations thanks to a busy lame-duck session that saw lawmakers approve a number of bills, most notably the mammoth compromise package on taxes. 

“We were very, very busy because Congress's lame-duck session was more active and busier later into the year than usual. That was a big factor,” said Nick Allard, a partner at Patton Boggs.

Thursday was the deadline for the fourth-quarter reports that are required under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). The reports provide a window into the earnings of K Street’s biggest firms. 

Perennial K Street powerhouse Patton Boggs reported making $45.2 million in lobbying fees for 2010, which included revenue from the Breaux-Lott Leadership Group — the lobby firm run by former Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) that merged into Patton earlier in 2010.

Patton’s figure is about an 11 percent improvement over the firm’s $40.7 million total for 2009. Allard noted that 2010’s lobbying figure does not capture much of the firm’s expanding portfolio in regulatory legal work.

The Obama administration is spinning off new regulations at a steady clip as it implements the healthcare and financial-services laws. The regulatory work of many firms is not reportable under the LDA, several lobbyists noted, so the fourth-quarter reports provide an incomplete picture of K Street’s activities. 

“These figures don't reflect the large tectonic shift toward regulatory work given the Congress passing the healthcare reform law and Dodd-Frank,” Allard said.

Rich Gold, head of Holland & Knight’s public policy group, said the shift to work on regulations is likely to continue in 2011.

“It's pretty clear from agencies like [the Environmental Protection Agency] and [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] to the implementation of the healthcare and financial services law that we are going to see a uptick in regulatory work,” Gold said. 

Holland & Knight reported earning $21.1 million in lobbying fees in 2010, a 3 percent decline from its 2009 lobbying revenue of $21.7 million.

Gold predicts regulations will dominate his firm’s work over the next year, since a divided Congress will give President Obama little chance to push through major legislative overhauls.

“Because the administration has a significantly diminished legislative agenda, there is not going to be the huge lobbying battles over authorization bills this year,” Gold said. “This Congress is not going to produce the same lobbying numbers as the last Congress did.”

Other lobby firms continued to do well in 2010 despite the anticipated slowdown from the midterm election campaigns.

The Podesta Group, for example, reported $29.4 million in lobbying fees for 2010, a 15 percent increase over its 2009 revenues of $25.5 million.

The Podesta Group’s lobbying total puts it on par with Van Scoyoc Associates, which also reported earning $29.4 million for lobbying last year, a 5 percent jump over its 2009 lobbying revenue of $28.1 million.

Other shops saw declines instead of growth.

Dutko Worldwide’s lobbying revenue dropped from $19.8 million in 2009 to $17.3 million last year, a decline of 13 percent. Gary Andres, the firm’s vice chairman, left Dutko last month to become staff director of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

Ogilvy Government Relations, meanwhile, reported a 20 percent decline in fees, with lobbying revenue falling from $21.8 million in 2009 to $17.5 million last year. Ogilvy downsized from 18 lobbyists to 12 in 2010 but has begun a hiring spree to restock its roster.

Quinn Gillespie & Associates also saw a slight dip in lobbying revenue, from $13.6 million in 2009 to $12.3 million in 2010. John Feehery, president of Quinn Gillespie Communications, said the lobbying figures don’t reflect the firm’s expanding public-relations wing.

“We are poised to grow in the new year,” Feehery said. “The bottom lines for companies should be better, so they should be able to invest in government relations and communications.”

Feehery is a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog.

But several firms reported steady upticks in 2010.

K&L Gates disclosed that the firm made $18.9 million in lobbying fees for 2010, up from $18.6 million in 2009. Former Rep. Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.), a government affairs counselor at the firm, said the oversight push of the GOP-led House will be felt on K Street in the coming year. 

“The oversight that will occur will require work with members of Congress as well as legal work, preparing to be a witness and give testimony,” Walsh said. “Companies will have to be ready for that.”

Williams & Jensen also saw growth in lobbying revenue — reporting $17.4 million in earned lobbying fees for 2010, up from $17.2 million in 2009.

Steve Hart, chairman of Williams & Jensen, predicted “a heavy spike” for lobbying revenue in 2011. He said the window is closing on Congress to move major legislation since the upcoming presidential election year will draw lawmakers away from Washington.

“The president is really the only one who can set the agenda across both houses of Congress,” Hart said. “I'm waiting for his State of Union address.”

Check back with The Hill for a complete rundown of how all the major K Street firms fared in 2010.

- Dustin Weaver contributed reporting to this article.