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Lobbying industry on winning streak in the Trump era

Lobbying industry on winning streak in the Trump era
© Greg Nash

Lobbyists are winning big under President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns Corker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE.

Although the first three months of 2017 was a busy time for K Street, the first quarter of Trump’s second year proved to be even busier.  

Hot off the heels of Congress pushing a massive tax-reform bill through, lobbyists were called in to work with lawmakers on fixes, in addition to working on burning issues in technology and trade.

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Lobbying firms must submit reports on their earnings for the first three months of 2018 by Friday at midnight. Figures given to The Hill by a handful of firms ahead of that deadline show that K Street is continuing on an earnings streak that began when Trump entered the White House. 

Many lobbying firms say that their earnings increases have been driven by a boost in work for existing clients, though K Street has also experienced an uptick in new clients as well. 

Squire Patton Boggs has signed a net 22 clients from January 2017 through March 31. Its revenues increased about 7 percent over the first quarter of 2017, to $6.3 million.

“We credit the growth to the continuing demand from clients for help in navigating the unpredictability of present-day Washington, and to new business from companies seeking help in managing challenges and opportunities arising from the newly-enacted US tax-reform law,” said Dave Schnittger, spokesman for Squire Patton Boggs’s public policy practice. 

The firm also recently brought on the GOP staff director of the House Ways and Means Committee, an addition it says will help clients navigate the complex tax-reform law and score victories in any revisions. 

Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck earned $7.24 million in the first quarter in 2018, an 8 percent increase over the same time last year. It had a net increase of 26 clients from the beginning of 2017 until the end of March this year.  

“I think that this administration's different from many others and there's a real lack of certainty. We've encouraged our clients to stay engaged even when it feels like things are slowing down on the Hill. We don't know how some of these key issues are going to unfold, and the regulatory space is active still,” said Elizabeth Gore, the chairwoman of the firm's government relations department. “There is a cyclical nature to the lobbying spending, but I think that all bets are off with this administration because it's uncharted territory.”  

BGR Group took in 37 percent more in lobbying revenue than it did in the first months of 2017, earning $6.85 million. The firm had a net increase of 25 clients from January 2017 through March 31, 2018. 

Although the firm’s advocacy arm is mostly comprised of Republicans — founded by GOP heavyweights Haley Barbour, Lanny Griffith and Ed Rogers — it has some Democrats on its bench. 

“Policy expertise and political experience are critical when clients evaluate who to hire. Clients crave certainty as they navigate the confused political environment,” said Loren Monroe, a spokesman for BGR Group. The firm’s “bipartisan team has a track record of helping clients to successfully work with Congress and the Administration.”

Invariant, a growing bipartisan firm run by Democrat Heather Podesta, saw a 19 percent increase over the previous year. In the first quarter of 2018, the firm took in nearly $3 million in lobbying revenue. 

Ballard Partners, a bipartisan firm formed by a Florida GOP fundraiser close to Trump, signed 57 clients since it opened its Washington office last year, some of which had been brought from the Florida flagship office. Its revenues, which totaled more than $4 million in the first quarter, now rival Washington’s top firms.

Cornerstone Government Affairs, which had 24 net new clients, saw revenues climb 34 percent during the first quarter over the same period in 2017. The firm, which largely operates in the appropriations space, took in $6 million. 

K Street's top earner, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, continued to reign supreme, hauling in more than $10 million since January.

So far this year, Congress has been mulling changes to the tax bill, gearing up for legislation to fund the government, chipping away on the farm bill and hauling tech executives into committee hearings. 

The Trump administration has been active on many fronts, but trade policy has taken center stage. This year, it slapped tariffs on products including solar panels, washing machines, steel and aluminum.

Trump has also been discussing changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement and floated re-entering a trade deal with Pacific Rim nations, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“I guess the way that I would put it is that it's a dynamic environment, to say the least,” said Darrell Conner, a government affairs counselor at K&L Gates. 

As with most election years, the legislative outlook for the remainder of 2018 is fairly bleak, with lawmakers expected to spend much of their time on the campaign trail. Some funding bills are expected to move through Congress, though, and there is the potential for action on issues like immigration, entitlement spending and opioids. 

“I do believe that this is just like any other election year, they are in the process of developing messaging legislation going into the election cycle and you will see a number of legislative vehicles geared toward that, especially before the [August] recess,” Conner said. 

K&L earned $4.4 million during the first three months of the year, a small increase over the same time last year.

Other firms such as Forbes Tate, CGCN Group and Monument Policy Group, which offer more advocacy options than just the lobbying services included in the public revenue figures, have also seen more business. 

Those firms earned $3.1 million, $2.1 million and $1.9 million, respectively, in the first three months of 2018, all growing their book of business from the previous year.

John Murray, a partner at Monument Policy Group, expects a steady clip of work throughout the election year because of the crossover between lobbying and public affairs parts of the firm. 

“We have a lot of issue campaigns we're working on that ride the wave of the fall election as a mechanism to get [clients] to be part of the conversation,” he said.

“Election years lend themselves well to issue advocacy efforts because you've got both action in D.C., but obviously also in battleground markets where candidates and issue groups are engaged in particular policy discussions.”