K Street eyes late-year rebound

Washington’s top-grossing lobby firms treaded water through the third quarter of 2015, with many reporting stagnant or declining revenue from July through September.

Squire Patton Boggs, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Podesta Group, Capitol Counsel and K&L Gates all saw fees decline compared with the same period last year — if only slightly. 

{mosads}The third quarter this year brought K&L Gates a 3 percent decrease compared with 2014’s third-quarter numbers. Brownstein’s fees took a 1 percent dip, and Capitol Counsel’s fell 8 percent.

At the same time, House Republicans are struggling to move past a tumultuous — and unresolved — leadership shake-up that has added uncertainty to a host of legislative priorities in Congress.

Even so, many on K Street expect an active fall and winter, with hot-ticket items related to trade, cybersecurity and the budget on the table through the beginning of next year.

“We continue to be optimistic and continue to work with our clients. Despite all the turmoil and all the chaos at the moment, we’ll find the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Stu Van Scoyoc, the president and chief executive at Van Scoyoc Associates.

He predicted that Congress would eventually pass a debt- limit increase and a large omnibus spending bill.

“You have to make sure everything [clients want] makes it to the final product,” he said.

Van Scoyoc Associates, BGR Group and Holland & Knight all saw modest growth, taking in $5.25 million, $4.23 million and $5.05 million, respectively, during 2015’s third quarter.

Washington’s No. 1 group, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, bucked the trend, however, and took in its highest third-quarter numbers ever. The firm earned $9.73 million in lobbying fees over the last three months, a 10 percent increase compared with the same period last year.

“The strength of our results is really a testament to our ability to produce successful results for clients,” said Donald Pongrace, the head of the firm’s public law and policy practice.

Many agencies below the top 10 revenue earners saw big jumps in their advocacy balance sheets during the third quarter, according to figures provided to The Hill, with some posting double-digit growth.

Some, such as Cornerstone Government Affairs, expanded into new markets. The firm now has nine state-level offices nationwide, to which it attributes some of its 16 percent revenue surge over this time in 2014. 

There is “a lot of synergy”
between federal and state clients, said Cornerstone partner Jim Richards, in addition to an uptick in work with existing clients.

All-Republican firms Fierce Government Affairs and CGCN Group saw 11 percent and 37 percent boosts, respectively, during this year’s third quarter. Fierce took in $3.27 million and CGCN posted $2.01 million in lobbying fees.

Covington & Burling, which had a 16 percent revenue increase, has been involved in some high-profile battles this year.

“We saw an uptick this year so far because of an expectation that Congress was going to try to get things done before we get into a presidential year,” said John Veroneau, the chairman of the public policy and government affairs practice at Covington.

Covington took in $3.4 million during the third quarter and has been active in the debate over the transportation funding, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Export-Import Bank and defense procurement reform.

Those long-term fights also led to great business for other firms this year, as lobbyists in town have largely seen an increase in business when looking at the year overall. 

Even some of the agencies with stagnant quarter-over-quarter revenues fared better in the context of the entire year, including K&L Gates, Van Scoyoc and Brownstein, which saw its total annual revenue thus far rise 10 percent.

Marc Lampkin, managing partner of Brownstein’s Washington office a former aide to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) , predicted a strong finish to the year. The firm signed 10 new lobbying clients during the third quarter.

Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas had increases in revenue across the board, taking in a total of $8.69 million so far this year.

“Though messy, Congress has gotten a lot done already this year, said Bruce Mehlman, a co-founder at the firm, pointing to the so-called doc fix and the USA Freedom Act, which modified several parts of the Patriot Act and reformed the National Security Agency (NSA).

There are “many more significant items near completion,” Mehlman added, “provided they can get past the intense challenges created by tough budget politics in an increasingly populist environment.”

Monument Policy Group, which was heavily involved in reforms to the NSA, saw revenues this year increase by 20 percent, and the company has taken in $4.07 million through September.

Troubles for House Republicans came to a head with Boehner’s announced resignation late last month — at the tail end of the third quarter — and it remains to be seen how K Street can navigate a fractious Congress, if a new GOP leader does not emerge soon. 

“As Yogi Berra said, ‘It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future,-’ ” said Covington’s Veroneau.

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