Pressure mounting for GOP lobbyists to deliver

Pressure mounting for GOP lobbyists to deliver

Republican lobbyists are facing high expectations from clients to show results and prove their worth now that the GOP controls both the House and Senate.

A promise by new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Impeachment throws curveball in Iowa to sidelined senators MORE (R-Ky.) to bring back regular order in the chamber has industry and advocacy groups salivating over the prospects of less legislative gridlock, more action on bills and more amendments.

One GOP aide on Capitol Hill says that his phone has been ringing more than ever with calls from K Street.

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Lobbyists are “under so much pressure, so even though they don’t want to make those calls, they do,” the staffer said. People are willing to “burn up their political capital with their relationships much faster” because of that pressure. 

GOP-dominated firms  — including Clark Geduldig Cranford & Nielsen, S-3 Group, BGR Group, Lugar-Hellmann Group, Gavel Resources, Fierce Government Relations, Harbinger Strategies and Republic Consulting — are in high demand as clients scramble for access to the new Congress.

And that’s on top of thousands of Republican lobbyists in bipartisan firms large and small.

Meanwhile, recent bipartisan deals on budget initiatives, Medicare payment rates and legislation to curb human trafficking have all paved the way for higher expectations in the corporate world.

“Even with slim majority in the Senate, periodic Democratic filibusters and an administration that often sits back and throws bombs at Republicans, clients expect GOP consultants to find the path forward to advance their priorities,” said Loren Monroe, a principal at BGR Group. “Frankly, any good lobbyist should be comfortable being evaluated on their ability to help clients accomplish objectives.”

Many of the same trends happened after the 2008 elections, when firms close to senior Democrats began to reap the benefits of having President Obama in office and Democrats holding majorities in both chambers.

Two firms in particular — Podesta Group and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck — saw their lobbying earnings skyrocket in 2009. In the years prior, both had been near the bottom of the top 20 firms by revenue. As Obama entered the White House, they shot to the top.

After the 2008 elections, “there was heightened activity and expectations to have relationships with the Democrats,” said Al Mottur, a senior Democrat at Brownstein. “Business interests looked to engage in that activity to protect their interests. You have the same thing happening now on the Republican side.”

Policy fights during that time, however, were on large legislative packages such as the economic stimulus, ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank financial reform, so the pressure from clients wasn’t as intense, he said.

“When Congress reforms the entire financial services sector, Goldman Sachs isn’t expecting guaranteed results from their lobbying efforts, nor should they be,” Mottur said.

A policy environment fostering “incremental, smaller initiatives,” like the recent “doc fix” compromise, may mean higher expectations, he said.

While Brownstein profited from Democratic control, it has managed to sustain high earnings by bringing on former GOP leadership aides such as Barry Jackson and Marc Lampkin, who both worked for Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerA time for war, a time for peace — and always a time to defend America Esper's chief of staff to depart at end of January Soleimani killing deepens distrust between Trump, Democrats MORE (R-Ohio).

There’s another shift happening on K Street as lobbying spending begins to tick upward, creating pressure to perform. 

“When times were tough in this town, there probably was a resistance to bringing on additional resources,” and the directive “from C-suite was to lower the cost of Washington,” said Bill Jarrell of Gavel Resources, a Republican firm founded this year.

During the economic decline, many corporations and business interests cut back on advocacy.

“But now in this new world, you’re seeing more opportunities,” he added.

One Republican lobbyist, who asked not to be named, said that more legislative activity means that his Democratic counterparts are being held to a higher standard as well.

“It’s increased pressure for everyone to get back on their game,” he said.