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The new Congress made for a tepid start to the year for some of the city’s largest lobbying firms, while other big shops reported increases to their bottom lines during the first quarter.
Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and Holland & Knight were among the firms that posted dips in their Lobbying Disclosure Act revenue for the first quarter of 2011 compared with the same period last year.
“I just think it’s going to be a passive, kind of unimpressive Congress from a legislative achievement perspective,” said Rich Gold, who leads Holland & Knight’s lobbying and regulatory practice. Last year, the firm reported $5.5 million in first-quarter LDA receipts, compared with this year’s $4.8 million.
However, an uptick in non-LDA work has more than compensated for the 12 percent LDA decline, Gold added. Regulatory matters, state government relations and strategic communications work is up about 20 percent, he said. “It’s not 2009, and it’s not even really 2010 overall, but it’s still up,” Gold said.
Brownstein Hyatt’s LDA work declined from $5.8 million in the first quarter of 2010 to $5.2 million for the first quarter of this year. “We have experienced a steady increase in our public policy business during the past several years,” Al Mottur, managing partner of the firm’s D.C. office, said in a statement. “Though we naturally see some fluctuations as a result of quarterly reporting, we expect another successful year for our lobbying practice.”
Mottur added that the “slight reduction in our first quarter filing is attributable to a number of projects that reached conclusion, along with the uncertainty of a new congress.”
For some firms, though, that uncertainty has helped bring on new business.
Cassidy & Associates, which for years was the city’s largest LDA operation but has lost ground to some of its competitors, reported a slight improvement in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period in 2010. At the end of last year, the firm laid off nearly 20 percent of its staff and restructured by bringing in lobbyists from its former subsidiary, the Rhoads Group.
“It’s good to be stabilizing after three years of a tough economy,” said Cassidy & Associates’ Gregg Hartley, who was a top aide to Sen. Roy Blunt during the Missouri Republican’s time as a House Member. “Given the economic period we’ve been through and the restructuring we’ve been through, this is a good stable point. The trend appears to be upward.”
Cassidy reported $5.5 million for this year’s first quarter, up about $50,000 from the same period in 2010.
The ongoing budget struggle on Capitol Hill has brought new business to the firm, which pioneered the earmarking process. One of the shop’s newest clients is the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
“Our mission is to monitor what’s going on on the appropriations committees to see what impact that will have on pharmaceutical concerns,” Hartley said.
He added that regulatory work is also up.
Ogilvy Government Relations also seems to be bouncing back from a decline in its LDA revenue after several of its lobbyists departed for other firms. Revenue grew more than 4 percent, from $4.3 million in the first quarter of 2010 to $4.5 million in the first quarter of this year.
CEO Drew Maloney said new clients — such as Hilton Worldwide, Travelers Indemnity Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb — and new hires helped drive the increase.
Alston & Bird’s lobbying practice posted an increase from $2.7 million in 2010’s first quarter to $2.9 million in this year’s first quarter.
“I think it’s going to be a great year for us,” said Alston policy practice leader Bob Jones. Former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) affiliated with the firm this year, and Alston’s health care practice scooped up ex-Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.).
“The stars just aligned on that,” Jones said of the addition of Tauzin. He added that Pomeroy would be a great asset to the firm’s health care practice and would help build an agriculture business.
BGR Group, which started as an all-GOP shop and is now bipartisan, saw revenue bounce to $4.3 million in the first quarter of this year from $3.5 million the same period last year.
Patton Boggs, the city’s biggest LDA practice, grew to $12.4 million in the first quarter of the year from $10.4 million in the first quarter of last year. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld remained steady at $8.7 million. Ditto for the Podesta Group, which brought in about $7 million in each of the first quarters of 2010 and 2011.
One of the biggest spenders on lobbying, meanwhile, took a significant dip.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported spending $10.9 million on lobbying in the first quarter of this year, down 56 percent from the first quarter of last year, when it reported $25.1 million.
Of course, the chamber was significantly busier during the first quarter of last year, when it was lobbying heavily against the Democrats’ health care overhaul bill and debating financial services reform.
“The Chamber’s lobbying activity remained consistent with previous non-election years and resulted in a number of positive results for our members,” chamber spokesman J.P. Fielder said in an email. “Among the many issues we were engaged in, our efforts to repeal some of the most onerous provisions in the health care law has resulted in some early success and will continue, and the pending trade agreements are seeing renewed activity.”