Ex-Cantor aides start lobby firm

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A trio of former Republican leadership aides is heading to K Street, seeking to capitalize on the GOP’s recent gains in Congress with a new lobbying venture.

Steve Stombres and Kyle Nevins, who served as top lieutenants to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), are teaming up with John O’Neill, an ex-aide to former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), to form Harbinger Strategies.

{mosads}The lobby shop opens for business on Jan. 1, just days before the 114th Congress convenes.

The new firm is custom-tailored for a Republican-controlled Congress, coming equipped with an all-star mix of GOP leadership talent and “battle-tested” advocacy abilities. 

“Timing is everything, and so we were thrilled to see the Senate flip because we felt that was going to be good not only for getting things done, but also because we are a bicameral firm,” said Stombres, who most recently served as Cantor’s chief of staff.

Stombres started to explore job options after Cantor lost a primary battle to challenger David Brat earlier this year.

Stombres announced in June that he would be leaving Capitol Hill. He huddled with lobby firms, corporations and associations — until Nevins took him out to lunch.

“That’s one of the things I miss about the Hill is the people — and Steve was one of my favorite people on the Hill,” said Nevins, who departed Cantor’s office in 2013.

Nevins, once Cantor’s No. 2, and O’Neill, a former policy director for Lott’s leadership office, are leaving Capitol Counsel to help spearhead the firm.

Each member of the group has “an entrepreneurial bug,” Nevins said. “We wanted to go out on our own, and we wanted to create something.”

The split with Capitol Counsel — a top-earning K Street firm that consistently increases its earnings — is amicable, he said. Both he and O’Neill will stay there through the end of the year. 

John Raffaelli, a founding partner of Capitol Counsel, said, “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the both of them, I will enjoy working with them in the future, and I’m going to miss seeing them every day.”

While they couldn’t talk about specific clients, O’Neill said the firm will “have a close partnership with Capitol Counsel on a number of clients” and that he “looks forward to a mutually beneficial relationship in the years ahead.”

Harbinger Strategies will highlight its partners’ expertise in financial services, tax and defense issues, but no policy issue is off limits. Nevins predicts the firm will be active with the Energy, Transportation, Judiciary and appropriations panels in Congress.

The name of the firm, suggested by Stombres, represents being able to stay ahead of the curve for clients; a harbinger represents a signal for something that’s about to happen.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), the chief deputy whip, touted the ability of the firm’s partners to foresee challenges and influence outcomes.

In the House, Stombres and Nevins “had an uncanny ability to read the pulse of the chambers and think three steps ahead on any given situation,” McHenry said in an emailed statement. “Together with John’s vast Senate experience, they have an unparalleled view of the legislative process.”

Still, the number of single-party lobby shops has dwindled on K Street, with firms both large and small opting to go the bipartisan route. Even the fiercely Republican BGR Government Affairs, founded by former Republican Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, now has a few Democrats on board.

Harbinger’s partners contend there is still a benefit for clients in having an all-GOP firm, especially one with such deep connections in both the House and Senate.

Nevins helped run the legislative agenda and schedule for the House floor. O’Neill, as a policy director and counsel for Lott, then the Senate Republican whip, helped run the Senate leadership’s floor strategy.

In addition to his leadership role on Capitol Hill, Stombres served as an Army Reserve officer, specializing in military intelligence.

“Leadership sometimes changes, but a lot of it stays the same,” Nevins said of the behind-the-scenes staffers who remain on Capitol Hill for decades. “We know how it works, we know the process, we know the members — and we have the relationships that persist.”

Although Stombres will be new to K Street, his former colleagues say he knows how to handle the toughest of legislative scenarios, which will prove to be helpful in his advocacy gig.

Mike Sommers, chief of staff to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), remembers clawing through the government shutdown with Stombres last year.

“He always brought to the table a level-headedness and a sense of humor that always made every meeting, every discussion just that much better just because he was in the room,” Sommers told The Hill. 

“The most effective lobbyists are the people that have actually been in the position of the people they’re lobbying,” he added. “For me, I know they have a better understanding of the issues we’ve had to deal with on a daily basis. All three of them are battle tested.”

Sommers has known O’Neill since his days as a tax counsel to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on the Senate Finance Committee, and also worked closely with Nevins while he served in leadership.

Good lobbyists, he said, “don’t bring you problems, they bring you solutions.”

Tags Boehner Chuck Grassley Eric Cantor John Boehner

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