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Will All the GOP Lobbyists Please Stand Up?

Kimberley Fritts may not be the Podesta Group’s typical public persona. That role most often belongs to Democratic donor and firm founder Tony Podesta. But with the GOP poised to make gains in the Senate — perhaps big enough to capture control of the chamber — Fritts, a former Republican staffer who usually stays behind the scenes, recently sat in her downtown corner office and touted the shop’s ties to her party. “We’ve got a very strong bench of Republicans here that I’m really proud of,” said Fritts, Podesta Group’s CEO. Clients and K Street firms, such as Podesta, are looking seriously at the prospect of a GOP-led Senate in the next Congress. Nearly all K Street firms, unlike Capitol Hill, opt for a bipartisan business model and can adapt to the shock of power changes. But being a K Street Republican right now, especially one with Senate connections, can be good for business. Kimberley Fritts of the Podesta Group (CQ Roll Call File Photo) “We hire the people that are right for the job. It happens to be that we’ve hired three Republicans,” Fritts said, noting recent hires Amy Pellegrino and Rachelle Johnson, both one-time GOP Senate aides, and Alexandra Sollberger, formerly with the House Education and Workforce Committee. Fritts says client business, and not political fortunetelling, motivated those hiring decisions. But even though Podesta’s client teams include lobbyists and messaging people from both sides of the aisle, politics is part of the job. One thing the GOP lobbyists will face, though, is a Republican party that may be less interested in helping K Street’s corporate clients, as conservatives in the party have repeatedly taken positions at odds with its more corporate faction. “I think basically you’ve got to have 535 strategies for anything you do,” Fritts said. “What motivates them? Is there a personal connection? What are the economics in their district or their state. It literally is like running 535 mini-campaigns for better or worse.” The firm’s expansive offices, festooned with a modern art collection curated by Tony Podesta, play host to fundraisers for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Fritts noted that her side of the firm has raised four times as much money for Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican poised to become Senate majority leader if his party gains control, than the firm’s Democrats have given to McConnell’s challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. The firm doesn’t have a political action committee, but its clients and employees can each donate to candidates. In the current election cycle, Fritts has donated more than $60,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, according to Federal Election Commission data. “I’m a big supporter of the NRSC, and I have been for years,” said Fritts, who joined the firm in 1995 after working as deputy campaign manager for Jeb Bush’s unsuccessful Florida gubernatorial effort. (He won four years later.) “All of our people pool money and give to the committees, to each one of them, at a certain level, so that they can participate in events, take their clients, go and have the one-on-ones with the members.” Another K Streeter, Janet Mullins Grissom, a former chief of staff to McConnell and now with Peck Madigan Jones, has a lot to gain with a GOP-led Senate. “The vast majority of our teams are bipartisan. That’s one of the reasons I came to this firm,” said Grissom, a former top in-house lobbyist for Ford Motor Co. Though she makes no attempt to hide her own politics, Grissom added, “We are well positioned for whatever happens.” In addition to Grissom and name-partner Peter Madigan, who are both Republicans, the firm’s roster includes Drew Cantor, a former senior aide to the Senate Republican Conference; Justin McCarthy, who worked for now-Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, when Portman was the U.S. trade representative; and Andrew McKechnie, a former policy adviser to then-Senate Finance ranking member Charles E. Grassley of Iowa; and recently hired Jen Olson, a former aide to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Even the possibility of Republican dominance of both sides of Capitol Hill has helped fuel business at the BGR Group, a firm founded by former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican who helped Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., pull off a victory over a primary challenger in Chris McDaniel. “We've seen a substantial uptick in potential clients asking about our services," said Jeff Birnbaum, who is president of BGR Public Relations. BGR began as an all-Republican firm and is well known for its high-level GOP strategists, though the firm employs a handful of Democratic staffers. “The Senate has been going back and forth so much lately that you’re getting whipsawed,” said Richard Hunt, a Republican who runs the Consumer Bankers Association. “It behooves a company or trade association to have a balanced team.” Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.