Big bucks for K St.
K Street prospered in 2009 despite the lingering recession, as many firms reported sharp revenue increases thanks to a busy Democratic agenda.
On Wednesday, at least 18 firms out of the top 25 reported growth in their lobbying revenue from 2008 to 2009, according to new records released under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. Lobbyists credited the surge in revenue to Washington actively looking to turn around the downturn as well as an aggressive legislative agenda by the incoming Obama administration and substantial Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.
“It was an amazing year in terms of the number of things that came up and the momentous nature of them,” said Mark Ruge, co-chairman of the policy group at K&L Gates. “I have never even seen anything remotely like this year in terms of intensity and magnitude.”
K&L Gates earned $18.5 million in lobbying fees in 2009, a 23 percent improvement on its performance in 2008.
Calling it a “once-in-a-generation” year, Ruge said some of the debates that dominated 2009 — from the stimulus package to healthcare reform — alone were enough to keep lobbyists busy. But with so much being done at once by President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Memo: The Obamas unbound, on race Obamas' first White House dog, Bo, dies Census results show White House doubling down on failure MORE and Democrats on Capitol Hill, business for lobbyists went into overdrive.
Ruge was not alone in having a good year in lobbying. Several other firms matched K&L Gates’s climb, if not surpassed it.
The Podesta Group has now firmly established itself as one of the very top earners among lobby firms. The firm earned more than $25 million in lobbying fees in 2009, or a 60 percent increase from the nearly $16 million it earned in 2008.
Holland & Knight also saw profits rise in 2009, finishing with more than $21 million, or $6 million more than its 2008 earnings.
Patton Boggs kept its top spot among K Street firms, however. The firm earned more than $40 million in lobbying fees in 2009, showing 4 percent growth over its 2008 figures. Runner-up Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld saw its lobbying revenue decline by 6 percent from 2008, posting more than $32 million in lobbying earnings this past year.
“You had an uptick from the business community in general that was concerned by the Obama administration and significant Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress,” said Al Mottur, managing partner of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. “That is probably why you see so many firms showing increases this year.”
Brownstein had 57 percent growth in lobbying revenue from 2008 to 2009, earning more than $23 million last year.
Corporations of all stripes flocked to Washington over the past year and hired lobbyists to deal with the president’s policy agenda.
From following through on the Wall Street bailout to battling back financial regulatory reform — including a proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency and a bank fee —the banking industry has not been light on lobbying lately. In addition, climate change legislation has inspired intense opposition from oil and gas companies.
But several lobbyists said it was unlikely that their firms would be able to maintain the 2009 revenue levels this year.
Several major pieces of legislation are unlikely to come up this year, such as a climate change bill, or are coming to a close, such as healthcare reform legislation. Coupled with the elections that will drag lawmakers out of town and onto the campaign trail, lobbyists expect there will not be a repeat of 2009’s action on Capitol Hill.
“We were not going to have another stimulus. Climate change legislation is looking unlikely,” Mottur said. “It is not going to generate as much new interest from clients.”
Others said the surprise election of Scott Brown (R) to the Massachusetts Senate seat will slow Congress down and thus require less lobbying. Democrats will no longer have their supermajority of 60 seats in the Senate when Brown is sworn in.
“You will probably see a scaled-back agenda with a survivalist tendency, going back to bread-and-butter issues that played in the Massachusetts election, like jobs and taxes,” said Mike Ferrell, chairman of the legislative group for Venable. “I don’t know how you are going to see the same kind of revenue growth that you did in 2009. And I am an optimist.”
Venable was another firm that showed marked gains in 2009. The firm earned $12 million in lobbying fees, 40 percent growth from 2008.
Nevertheless, some lobbyists are expecting a busy year. Lawmakers will want to swing into action, boosting job creation and reforming Wall Street to ward off election defeats, according to Jack Quinn, chairman of Quinn Gillespie & Associates.
“The trajectory of a host of policy issues is going to change. I think we are going to see a lot of work,” Quinn said regarding Brown’s election.
His firm showed a decline of 17 percent in lobbying revenue from 2008, taking in more than $13 million last year. Despite the decline, Quinn said he is planning on expanding his firm and will build out its public relations arm this year.
“We did an incredible job of controlling costs and were able to maintain the same profit margin we have had for years,” Quinn said. “That has allowed us to start out on a rebuilding effort.”
Not all firms had reported their lobbying revenues to The Hill as of Wednesday. Check back on thehill.com in the coming days to see how more firms fared in 2009.
Jim Snyder, Roxana Tiron and Silla Brush contributed to this report.