Lobby Revenue Up in Early ’05

Posted September 23, 2005 at 6:27pm

The top players in the Washington influence industry posted solid gains for the first half of 2005, as lawmakers turned their attention from the business of getting re-elected to a wide array of legislation.

For the first half of the year, the 10 biggest lobbying firms in the city experienced a respectable 10 percent bump in growth, according to a semiannual review of lobbying receipts conducted by Roll Call.

Patton Boggs continued its reign atop the heap, extending its lead over its nearest rivals by pulling in 18 percent more business than the over the same period last year.

“We’ve got lots of engines, and lots of them are pumping hard,” said Stuart Pape, managing director of Patton Boggs.

But with Congress tackling such contentious issues as overhauling Social Security and class-action and bankruptcy laws, updating energy and telecommunication policy, attempting a settlement of asbestos litigation, and pushing for a controversial trade pact, there was plenty of business to go around.

The top 25 firms saw their revenue climb a cumulative 8 percent, rising by more than $13 million over the first half of last year. That rate of increase, though modest in comparison to some recent years, marked a healthy industry-wide recovery after last year’s slump. Back then, lawmakers were focusing on the presidential race and their own re-election. With legislation slowing to a crawl, lobbying work followed suit and overall revenue for the top firms actually dropped by 1 percent.

Lobbyists said last year was an exception that proves a larger rule.

“Even in a decade of Republican control, government hasn’t shrunk one bit, and barring something that really disrupts the growth of the federal government, I don’t see this industry shrinking anytime soon,” said Mark Irion, CEO of Dutko Worldwide, which posted impressive 16 percent growth to capture the No. 5 spot.

Other major firms reporting above-average gains include No. 14 Livingston Group (+42 percent), No. 12 Holland & Knight (+39 percent), No. 20 Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds (+38 percent), and No. 6 Barbour Griffith & Rogers (+34 percent).

The rankings were assembled by gathering revenue numbers reported to Congress by each lobbying firm under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. The figures were obtained directly from the firms, after they had filed their reports but before all those reports were made available by the House or Senate.

To assemble the final list of 25 largest firms, Roll Call obtained mid-year revenue figures from the top 50 firms for the second half of 2004, as reported by Political Money Line. Then, Roll Call tabulated the revenue results for the first half of 2005. Figures for firms 26 through 50 are not reported in the final rankings.

Despite strong business for most firms, some faltered. Most of these firms chalked up the trouble to circumstances beyond their control.

Clark Consulting, for example, slipped eight spots to No. 19 this year after dropping about $1.4 million in reportable lobbying revenue.

The firm specializes in tax work and saw demand for lobbying on tax matters fall off after Congress passed a corporate tax bill in late 2004. But Ken Kies, Clark’s managing director, said the firm stayed busy off Capitol Hill, helping clients interpret the new law. Fees paid for that type of work are not disclosed under the LDA.

Greenberg Traurig continued the slide it started with the departure of its now-indicted former star lobbyist Jack Abramoff. At this year’s halfway mark, the firm posted a staggering 64 percent decline, tumbling from No. 7 out of the top 25 entirely.

The six-month results undercut the notion in vogue after the elections that all-Republican shops were poised to capitalize on their party’s electoral success.

To be sure, some all-GOP firms performed strongly. Barbour Griffith & Rogers continued its two-year-long march up the ranks, the Alexander Strategy Group enjoyed a big boost, and the American Continental Group, though not yet in the top 25, posted 48 percent growth to close out the first half of the year with $3.6 million in receipts.

Others, however, showed modest growth in line with that of their bipartisan counterparts. Fierce, Isakowitz &Blalock nudged its earnings up by 5 percent, and the No. 13 Federalist Group added 7 percent to its revenue.

“I’m a good, strong, partisan Republican, but I don’t think having a firm that’s all-Republican or all-Democratic is necessarily the best way to serve all your clients,” said Gregg Hartley, a top lobbyist with No. 2 Cassidy and Associates.

Added another Republican lobbyist: “Business goes to the firms where people get things done. Just because you’ve got Republicans doesn’t mean you get hired.”

The reverse is also true, apparently. At Quinn Gillespie and Associates, the absence of former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie has not stopped the firm from reeling in new business. It expanded its book by 17 percent, climbing two spots to No. 11.

After helping President Bush win re-election, Gillespie returned to the firm this year but quickly was called to duty again to help shepherd the Supreme Court nomination of John Roberts. Already, Gillespie is helping the White House coordinate a business coalition to promote its immigration reform plan.

“He does have this short-term White House gig, and it takes him away from us from time to time,” said Richard Powell, the firm’s managing director. “But he’s been able to achieve balance, and it’s served us well.”

This year’s results also included a near-Cinderella story. The lobbying shop of the 100-year-old law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, which launched only three years ago, barely missed placing in the top 25.

“Our goal is not to be any particular place in the rankings,” said Elliot Portnoy, who chairs the firm’s lobbying practice. “We want to grow with good quality people in a bipartisan way, with both lawyers and non-lawyers, and have some fun, get involved in the big issues, and add real value to our clients.”

Despite the good news all around, former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) was measured about K Street’s prospects.

“You always hope clients are coming back to fill the void, but there’s no guarantee,” he said. “We’ve had a pretty successful year in picking up slack where others fall down, but I think it’s still a pretty good business to be in.”