July 10, 2014

Navigators Shifts Compass Toward Democrats

The Democratic takeover on Capitol Hill happened more than two years ago, but K Street lobby shops are still feeling the pressure to turn left.

“Firms are still heavily trying to figure out their way of becoming bipartisan if they are not,” said Blair Bennett, a headhunter at Korn/Ferry International. “When everyone is looking at their bottom line, bringing Democrats in is a good business decision.”

While the number of all-Republican lobby shops has dwindled, firms that have made the switch to become bipartisan are still working to bring up the numbers of Democrats on their books.

Navigators Global is the most recent example of a shop switching course. Navigators shed four senior Republican employees in recent weeks as the firm has focused its efforts to become more bipartisan.

“We’re continuing our press to become a balanced bipartisan firm,” Navigators President Phil Anderson said. “Our focus is on lobbying and communications. We have a team that we think is uniquely positioned in that background.”

The lobby shop, which was formed in 2003 as an all-Republican firm, joined forces with Democratic firm Roberti Associates earlier this year, bringing on Democrats Vincent Roberti and Harmony Knutson. Democratic consultant Tracy Sefl also joined from the Glover Park Group.

Four Republican lobbying and public relations employees have exited the firm over the past several weeks, including Rhonda Bentz, Michelle Raines and Rob Stutzman, who were in the firm’s strategic communications practice. Lobbyist Frank Tillotson has also made his exit.

Tillotson, who was a vice president of the firm, joined Navigators after serving as senior vice president of Congressional affairs at the Export-Import Bank of the United States. He also served until 2007 as senior counsel to the House Financial Services Committee.

Tillotson ended his tenure with the firm at the end of September but will continue to be a strategic partner with the firm on financial services clients, according to Anderson.

Tillotson did not return calls.

Bentz left the firm at the end of August to form her own public relations firm, Bentz Strategies.

“I was lucky enough to have a handful of clients that came with me when I left Navigators,” Bentz said.

Bentz is working as a solo operator, partnering with others as work requires.

Raines, who was a vice president at the firm, left in mid-September to become vice president of operations at the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee. Raines, a former assistant for political affairs to then-Vice President Dick Cheney, served as chief operating officer of the 2008 Republican National Convention before joining Navigators.

Stutzman, who was based in the firm’s Sacramento, Calif., office, is leaving to work on Republican candidate Meg Whitman’s gubernatorial bid in California. Stutzman has been working as a senior adviser to the campaign.

Anderson said the exits were all “completely individually based” and not the result of a restructuring of the firm or financial pressures.

“Our revenues and billings are up, and we’re very proud of that,” Anderson said.

The firm reported $2.72 million in lobbying revenue during the first half of 2009, according to Senate lobbying reports. The firm reported $2.07 million in lobbying revenue during the first half of 2008.

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