Lobbyists begin to cash in on Republican-led Congress

K Street’s largest firms are starting to reap the rewards of the new GOP-controlled Congress, leaving lobbyists bullish about 2015.

Nearly all of two-dozen firms that provided their first-quarter earnings totals to The Hill on Monday — the deadline to report the figures to the House and Senate — saw their revenues increase.

{mosads}While some reported only modest gains, many in the influence industry say the uptick is likely just the beginning of an influx of new business generated by November’s elections.

“With the return to regular order and a robust pent-up policy agenda, we’re seeing renewed energy and efforts for bipartisan progress that should last at least until mid-2016, when campaign dynamics may finally take over,” Bruce Mehlman told The Hill.

His firm, Mehlman Castagnetti Bingel Rosen & Thomas, saw first-quarter advocacy revenue on par with the same period in 2014. Although it lost one of its major partners and underwent a rebranding last year, the firm earned $2.82 million from January through March.

Brownstein Farber Hyatt Schreck boosted its revenue by almost 7 percent over the same time last year, earning $5.83 million and kicking Podesta Group, which fell 16 percent, out of the No. 3 spot.

“We are optimistic that our momentum will continue over the course of the year,” said Marc Lampkin, head of Brownstein’s Washington office, citing its registration of seven new clients in the first quarter.

A handful of top 20 firms posted double-digit gains as compared to the first quarter of last year.

Covington & Burling, for instance, saw its revenue increase by 30 percent over the same time last year, banking $3.81 million.

“You can feel the level of overall activity going up,” said Dan Bryant, the chairman of the public policy and government affairs practice at Covington.

“What you hear in the halls of Congress — you hear that the Senate had lost its muscle memory in knowing how to legislate,” he said, adding that lawmakers in both chambers are “having to do the hard work of legislating again, which hasn’t happened in years.”

Helping to guide the process is an army of lobbyists who see new opportunity in the changed political landscape, and a series of deadlines for action now facing Congress.

Members of Congress recently worked together to hammer out a budget deal and approved legislation ending Medicare’s recurring “doc fix” dilemma. Both items received heavy input from K Street.

More battles are on the horizon, and lobbyists are already jockeying for position.

The coming months will bring fights over extending highway funding, reauthorizing both the Federal Aviation Administration and the Export-Import Bank, cybersecurity issues, various tax provisions and patent reform. 

“There are a lot of deadlines that have to get hit. That’s going to create activity,” said Steve Elmendorf. His firm, Elmendorf  Ryan, earned $2.51 million during the first quarter.

Several firms also pointed to a renewed zest for the amendments process in the Senate as a means for driving business and increasing revenue. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has vowed to keep the process open, providing ample opportunity for enterprising lobbyists.

“Any good lobbyist around town will tell you: You look for any [legislative] vehicle that is moving to address your client’s issue,” Darrell Conner, the co-practice group coordinator for the public policy and law group at K&L Gates, told The Hill. “If there are more trains leaving the station, there are more opportunities to address client issues.”

K&L Gates took in $4.65 million during the first three months of this year, a similar amount to the same period in 2014.

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld held on to K Street’s top spot, earning $9.6 million in the first three months of this year, a 12 percent boost from last year.

The firm had a transformative year in 2014, bringing in top talent in healthcare and tech — and millions of dollars in new business.

“The basic thrust is that the new strategic moves we made in the market were a good fit for us,” said Don Pongrace, the head of Akin’s public law and policy group, of the acquisitions.

On the other end of that equation was Squire Patton Boggs, which went through a merger and several rounds of defections, with some lobbyists heading to competing law firms. The firm saw a 30 percent drop in its first-quarter haul. 

It still earned $6.58 million in lobbying fees and remains solidly in the No. 2 earnings spot.

Podesta took in $5.6 million in lobbying revenue during 2015’s first quarter, down from $6.63 million at the same point in 2014.

“Our overall lobbying pipeline is robust, with some significant new engagements about to launch,” Podesta’s CEO, Kimberley Fritts, wrote in an email. 

Ogilvy Government Affairs, which saw a 14 percent jump over last year’s haul, is also looking to take advantage of the new Congress. 

“There was a logjam for awhile, but [the doc-fix] really loosened that up. People said, ‘Oh, they really can work together,’ ” said Moses Mercado, a principal at Ogilvy, a firm that added four new team members since the last first-quarter reports.

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