The K Street mergers and acquisition scene may not be as vigorous as it was a decade ago, but it’s definitely not over.
British conglomerate WPP, which already owns several D.C. lobbying and consulting firms including Quinn Gillespie & Associates and Burson-Marsteller, announced Tuesday it is scooping up the Glover Park Group.
“We felt like they are the smartest people in the business,” Glover’s Joel Johnson said.
For the past five years, the private equity firm Svoboda Collins has been the majority partner in Glover Park, Johnson said. “Over the years, we’ve always been interested in how we take the company to the next level,” he said.
But such acquisitions don’t always work out. The culture of the bigger firm can usurp the scrappy vibe of a boutique, and in some cases — such as Barbour Griffith and Rogers — firms have actually bought themselves back from a parent company.
“There’s a sense that bigger is not always better,” said Doug Pinkham, president of the Public Affairs Council. “A lot of corporations and associations are looking at boutique firms more.”
Pinkham noted that WPP’s newest acquisition shows that even though lobbying isn’t a recession-proof enterprise, it is “recession resistant” and small firms can make attractive investments.
“The trick is maintaining that boutique-iness under the corporate structure, which could be the best of both worlds,” he said.
Johnson said that’s the plan at Glover: “The culture of the firm is core to everything we do, and we’re going to continue that.”
Citizens United in Advertising
Think there are already too many political and issue ads? Well, Victor Hannak wants even more, and he’s started a business — Standlouder.com — that he says will give “everyday citizens” and small-business owners access to the airwaves.
“Up until now, only wealthy groups like large corporations could afford it,” Hannak said. “We want to turn those monologues into national dialogues that everybody can participate in.”
But he and his lawyer, Womble Carlyle’s Jim Kahl, are awaiting approval from the Federal Election Commission.
The idea is for ordinary citizens to view campaigns and then sign on by pledging money to help fund billboards or TV ads. Hannak’s business would take a cut of the money.
“We’re asking the FEC, ‘What is the level of regulation to which this would be subjected?’” Kahl explained.
Both said they saw opportunities after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allows corporations and unions to spend unrestricted money on campaigns.
“This is Citizens United for the many rather than for the few,” Hannak said.
Lobbying for Gadhafi’s Billions
Lobbyists who represent victims of Libyan-sponsored terrorist acts have intensified their efforts to get more money to compensate Americans harmed in such attacks.
The lobbyists argue that it should be a condition of relations between the U.S. and the new post-Moammar Gadhafi Libyan government. Crowell & Moring partner Stuart Newberger, who is working on the effort, said he predicts a shortfall of some hundreds of millions of dollars to the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission.
“We’re asking Congress to have [the] State [Department] set up this program using Gadhafi’s frozen assets here in the United States,” he said.
Newberger’s clients aren’t the only ones lobbying for access to Gadhafi’s money in the United States.
Earlier this year, the Interim Transitional National Council of Libya retained Patton Boggs to, among other things, assist “with the effort to make funds of the Gadhafi regime that have been frozen in the U.S. available for use by the Council, for the benefit of the people of Libya,” according to a filing with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
David Tafuri, a partner at Patton Boggs who represents the council, which is the new Libyan government, said there isn’t a question of where the frozen money should go.
“These funds are still the Libyan people’s money,” he said. “As Crowell & Moring knows quite well, there was a deal signed between the old government of Libya and the U.S. to establish a compensation fund to pay off the victims. That needs to stand.”
Tafuri said that if the victims need additional money, then their claims should be against the U.S. government and the State Department, which managed the fund.
But Newberger said his effort has generated bipartisan support on Capitol Hill during a time of otherwise intense partisan rancor.
“This may be the only fully bipartisan thing going on,” Newberger said.
A collection of Senators including Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this fall saying they were “extremely concerned” about the way American victims were being treated.
One major challenge, though, is finding a legislative measure to attach the provision to. “We’re looking for any vehicle that’s moving,” said Mike Hacker of HDMK.