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Street Talk: House GOP Lobbyists See Change In Fortunes

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Former Rep. Deborah Pryce says business for Republican-friendly lobbyists has picked up since it became clear that 2010 would be a good year for the GOP.

If your résumé lists former employers such as Tom DeLay, Dennis Hastert or even John Boehner, you may have spent the past four years wondering whether potential clients thought your CV was laced with deadly toxins for all the love it got.

After being the “it crowd” on K Street for a dozen years, lobbyists close to House Republicans got edged out by colleagues with ties to Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn in 2006.

But the old club of downtown House GOP veterans, having survived the bleakest days, is back in fashion now that their party will rule the chamber again.

“The phone is ringing a lot more, and e-mails are coming in a lot more,” said Ralph Hellmann, the top lobbyist at the Information Technology Industry Council and a one-time aide to then-Speaker Hastert.

Added Jack Howard, a staffer for then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) during the 1994 takeover: “It brings back memories.”

Even though Republican lobbyists have hung on by cultivating niche specialties, reducing their fees or focusing largely on the Senate, K Streeters with House GOP leadership ties expect the good times to start rolling again. Still, they admit it won’t be easy — and it won’t be a repeat of previous Congresses. But it will be better, much better, than it has been the past four years.

Former Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio), who is affiliated with the all-GOP lobbying shop Clark Lytle & Geduldig, started her K Street career two years ago. “It’s been challenging,” Pryce said.

But even before Election Day swept Republicans into control of the House, she said business had already started to pick up — offering a taste of what could come in the 112th Congress.

“As folks realized what this election was going to look like, it’s been very obvious in terms of phone calls and people wanting to reach out,” she said. “We’re well-positioned. I served with all the incoming chairmen. The stars are lining up right.”

Carl Thorsen, a former aide to then-Majority Leader DeLay and a one-time House Judiciary Committee staffer, said he thinks the new GOP-controlled House will help his bipartisan Thorsen French Advocacy firm lure business.

“I think it’s going to be a net addition in clients for our business, and we are already having those discussions,” Thorsen said. “There’s going to be a shift, and the way the system works, people are going to need to work with consultants who have access and relationships on top of their substantive and strategic abilities.”

But let’s face it: Clients haven’t been paying a premium in recent years for access to the House GOP.

“I thought it was a growth experience,” Thorsen said of building up a clientele while Democrats controlled both chambers and the administration. “It really forced me to hone my focus on ways I could add value for clients when it wasn’t always abundantly apparent.

“I’d lobbied when we were still in the majority, and in that capacity I thought my role was more straightforward and the goals more obvious,” he added. “In the House minority, especially when there’s a big margin, you have to hustle more, you have to look at the process more closely and understand where the pressure points are.”

During the past few years that Republicans have been in the minority on Capitol Hill, Drew Maloney, another former DeLay aide, forged new connections to the Senate and continued to build relationships with House Republicans. And as one of the minds behind the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Club 218 fundraising program, Maloney worked to help his party retake the majority.

“I think the new majority is going to be operationally different from the previous — you learn from prior mistakes, then try to improve,” he said.

Howard, vice chairman at Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates, said it has felt a bit like the past while advising House Republican aides on Capitol Hill over the past week.

“I was up there quite a bit this week, talking to people,” said Howard, who also worked for then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and in the George W. Bush administration. “I was struck by a lot of the experiences that they’re going through are similar to what we were going through in ’94. But they’re much better prepared because they know what to prepare for. We really didn’t because it had been 40 years.”

Even veteran Republicans such as Howard, whose advice is sought by those on the Hill, will need to adapt to a new lineup of committee chairmen and fresh faces.

“I’ve known them, but the challenge for me is, I need to understand their priorities, their agenda, and then be able to interpret that for clients,” he said. “The rhythm of the town is going to switch. You walk through the hallways. The rooms are all the same, a lot of people are the same, but there’s a lot of change.”

He added: “You can’t put too much stock in the old ways. There’s going to be a powerful current of change, and you’ve got to adapt to that.”

Hellmann noted that House Republicans clearly have a stronger and better relationship with the business community. “And they’ll be moving legislation which the business community wants to see passed, so it’s in their best interest to work together,” he said.

And even if the GOP-connected lobbyists find themselves competing with one another for clients or face time with Members, Hellmann said it’s a tight-knit group.

“In the end, we’re family,” he said. “We spent years together working; sure we may compete, either at an association level or firm level, but we can still all be friends at the end of the day.”

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