Top lobbying firms report record-breaking 2021 earnings
Most of the top lobbying firms raked in record revenue last year as K Street worked overtime to influence President Biden’s ambitious agenda, according to new lobbying figures shared with The Hill.
Lobbying spending had already reached record highs in 2020 after Congress authorized trillions of dollars in new spending to fight the pandemic. But Democrats’ takeover of Congress and the White House helped further propel the influence industry to new heights.
The nation’s largest companies and their trade associations turned to lobbying firms with close ties to congressional leaders and administration officials to fight Democratic proposals to reshape key industries and crack down on corporate consolidation.
The leading K Street firms benefited from an influx of first-time clients such as cities seeking federal infrastructure funding, pandemic-hit companies pushing for COVID-19 relief and emerging industries like cryptocurrency and green energy, in addition to increased lobbying spending from powerful corporations.
“In my mind, the last year is really about new clients,” said Marc Lampkin, who leads Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck’s lobbying team. “Starting in 2020 and going into this year, companies and trade associations really felt like they needed to come to Washington because there was so much at stake with what government was doing.”
Brownstein brought in $56.3 million in lobbying revenue last year, more than any other firm on record. That’s an increase of 14 percent from the firm’s 2020 total, which set a new benchmark at the time.
The influential firm reported nearly $16 million in fourth-quarter earnings, a 29 percent bump from the same period in 2020, according to figures that were required to be filed to Congress Thursday. In recent months, Brownstein’s lobbyists keyed in on federal implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure bill and key provisions in the Build Back Better Act.
Corporate lobbyists successfully pushed lawmakers to make industry-friendly changes to virtually every section of Biden’s social spending and climate plan, including the bill’s provisions around corporate taxes, drug pricing, clean energy and paid leave. Democrats’ razor thin majorities in Congress made it easier for lobbyists to influence the bill.
The spending package is currently shelved after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — the primary target of high-stakes lobbying campaigns alongside Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — announced that he couldn’t support the bill.
“What’s unique here is that it’s a 50-50 Senate, so you can’t lose one,” Lampkin said. “And if you lose two, that makes it very difficult to govern.”
Lobbying and law powerhouse Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld reported $53.4 million in 2021 lobbying revenue, a new high-water mark that represents an 8 percent jump from 2020 and a 25 percent increase from 2019.
Brian Pomper, a lobbyist at Akin Gump and former Democratic Senate Finance Committee aide, credited the firm’s booming earnings in part to its work on health policy, which remains a focal point as the pandemic rages on.
“And I see that accelerating over the coming year with an intense focus on the reauthorization of user fee programs for the pharmaceutical and medical device industries,” he said, adding that international issues, particularly the U.S.-China relationship, will also draw significant attention going forward.
BGR Group reported $35.1 million in 2021 revenue, a year-over-year increase of 10 percent. Loren Monroe, a principal at the BGR Group, said that the COVID-19 response, measures to crack down on tech giants and infrastructure implementation helped drive the firm’s unprecedented $9.2 million fourth-quarter haul.
“We are anticipating a wild 2022 as there are several different moving pieces in a high-stakes election year,” he said, noting that a slimmer Build Back Better plan and the China competition bill are still in play in addition to impending Biden administration regulations.
Several of the top lobbying firms enjoyed massive year-over-year increases that resulted in record-breaking 2021 hauls.
Holland & Knight brought in $34.9 million, a whopping 24 percent increase over 2020. Invariant increased its annual revenue by an astonishing 48 percent to $31.2 million.
These kinds of huge revenue swings are uncommon, particularly for the largest firms, which are stocked with former congressional staffers and government officials from both political parties and typically don’t see their business shift much when control of government changes hands.
The large number of K Street firms reporting record earnings likely indicates that total federal lobbying spending hit an all-time high in 2021.
Cornerstone Government Affairs increased its revenue by nearly 24 percent to $34.6 million. Forbes Tate Partners bumped its revenue to $25 million, up 28 percent from 2020. Tiber Creek Group, formerly known as Peck Madigan Jones, enjoyed a 43 percent increase to $24.6 million.
Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas saw its revenue jump 34 percent to $23.8 million.
Other top firms, including Cassidy & Associates (22 percent year-over-year increase), K&L Gates (14 percent) and Van Scoyoc Associates (8 percent), also saw a bump in earnings.
Another leading firm, Squire Patton Boggs, saw its annual lobbying revenue stay relatively flat compared to 2020, earning $24.4 million.
Ballard Partners, which broke into the ranks of the top firms during the Trump administration thanks to its lobbyists’ close connections to former President Trump, is one of the few firms that didn’t get a revenue boost under Biden. It earned $18.6 million, down from $24.6 million in 2020.
K Street insiders expect the lobbying boom to fizzle in the second half of 2022, when lawmakers shift their attention to key midterm races.
Before that happens, lobbyists are focusing their efforts on legislation to limit the power of the nation’s largest tech companies — a Senate panel advanced its own antitrust bill Thursday — and Democratic efforts to revive the Build Back Better plan in a new form. They’re also anticipating a deluge of Biden administration regulations surrounding labor rules, trade and the environment.
“People believe that election years tend to slow down considerably, and that’s what we’re anticipating. So there’s this furious rush to get things while there’s still gas in the tank. Everyone agrees that in an election year you get a small window of opportunity, then politics takes over in Washington,” Lampkin said.
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