Boom times: Lobbyists riding high in the Trump era

Boom times: Lobbyists riding high in the Trump era
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The first year of the Trump presidency has been a boon for lobbyists, with many of the top shops in Washington seeing a handsome boost in revenue.

While the Trump administration has been making its mark in the regulatory space, Republican lawmakers have been working to carry out the party’s agenda on healthcare, tax and trade, among other things.

Lobbyists say the frenzy of activity shows no signs of slowing down.

“With tax reform in high gear, a continued focus on areas such as health care and trade, and federal budget negotiations, I would expect this level of activity to continue through the remainder of the year and into 2018,” said Hunter Bates, a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKey GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Trump hints at new executive action on immigration, wants filibuster-proof Senate majority The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — The Hill interviews President Trump MORE (R-Ky.) and partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

Akin Gump earned $9.6 million in lobbying fees from July through September, working for clients such as the American Bankers Association, Altria, Chevron and AT&T. In all of 2017 so far, Akin Gump has taken in nearly $29 million for its advocacy work.

Among the largest jumps in lobbying revenues for the third quarter of the year came from Crossroads Strategies, whose advocacy totals increased by 50 percent.

The firm took in $8.75 million for its lobbying work from January through September, compared to $5.86 million the same time last year. While the firm shed 11 clients this year, it has signed 36, including Liberty Mutual Group and Dropbox.

Larger lobby firms like BGR Group, Covington & Burling and Squire Patton Boggs have also posted large gains over 2016, with each seeing lobbying dollars jump anywhere from 30 percent to 40 percent.

Covington & Burling earned $4.4 million over the previous three months, and $13.4 million so far this year — compared to $3.1 million and $9.6 million during the same periods in 2016, respectively.

Squire Patton Boggs, which is on the rebound after losing the No. 1 spot in the revenue game, continued a winning streak that began earlier this year. Its third-quarter revenues in 2017 jumped from $4.51 million to $6.15 million.

“Another very solid report for SPB,” Dave Schnittger, a firm spokesman, told The Hill.

“But when you look at the broader scope of our public policy work, which you really need to given the global nature of our firm, you get the true picture of our growth,” he says.

While lobbying revenue has increased exponentially, Schnittger also emphasized the growth in earnings from Squire Patton Boggs’s non-lobbying work, which is not publicly disclosed. That category includes foreign lobbying and advisory services by former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerNancy Pelosi: Will she remain the ‘Face of the Franchise’? Jordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker GOP senator says he 'regularly' considers leaving Republican Party MORE (R-Ohio), among others.

Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which has climbed up the revenue rankings, saw modest increases this year, earning about $20.7 million versus $19.8 million in 2016.

But the year’s not over yet: there are regulatory actions, a debate over tax reform and telecommunications and tech issues coming to the forefront. The battle over healthcare is also far from over.

“There was an expectation that healthcare was going to come to some kind of resolution some way or another, but I don't think that's the case,” said Elizabeth Gore, the chair of Brownstein’s government relations department.

“Healthcare appears to have a life of its own, it never is off the table," she said. "We may see some new clients in that area, but our other clients aren't going anywhere because the issue isn't going anywhere.”

BGR Group, which has a lobbying shop and public relations arm, reported earning $6.1 million in lobbying fees during the third quarter of 2017, compared to $4.3 million during the same time last year. Since January, its lobbying revenue has reached about $16.8 million.

“It's been balanced growth, and despite the struggles to finish several of key legislative bills, a number of our clients and we believe that success is on the horizon,” said Bob Wood, the president of BGR Government Affairs. “Because of the regulatory and policy action in Congress and the administration, we expect this level of activity to continue through the end of the year.”

Firms are required by the end Oct. 20 to submit the lobbying revenue they earned in the third quarter of 2017. By the time this story was published, 19 large and medium-sized lobbying firms had provided revenue figures to The Hill — and all but one an increase from the first nine months of last year. (The outlier’s revenue had a small decrease of about 1 percent.)

Forbes-Tate, which has long been growing its business to include public affairs and grassroots services, has taken in more than $8 million so far in 2017, a $1 million increase from 2016.

Monument Policy Group and CGCN Group, firms on the smaller side of the spectrum, have also rocketed up in revenue.

Both have also added public affairs components to their lobbying shops in recent years and brought in new talent.

CGCN Group has quadrupled in size in recent years and has growing revenue to match. 

Its revenue has jumped more than 20 percent in 2017 over the previous year, with the firm earning $6.14 million through September.

The firm hired former Koch Industries spokesman Ken Spain and former Wall Street Journal reporter Patrick O’Connor to help clients with public affairs and strategic communications.  While that work not included in lobbying revenue data, CGCN Group says it has been busy with both advocacy and communications work.

Monument Policy Group’s third-quarter numbers bounced up 22 percent, and the firm took in nearly $1.8 million over the three-month period. Its year-to-date figures were boosted by a $590,000 one-time payment from one lobbying client, the families of victims of the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa two decades ago.

Even without that contract in the equation, the firm rang up 20 percent more in revenues in 2017.

The firm’s founder, Stewart Verdery, says the increase is due to new hires that are bringing in business and from its expansion into non-lobbying work.

“Having the investment in a full advocacy approach with public relations and government affairs has really paid off, especially for trade associations and tech clients that are coming under attack,” he told The Hill. “They realize that the threat to their business isn't only in Dirksen, but on the Sunday shows, the think tank calls and online.”