The More Things Change …
Bockorny Petrizzo Sees Comings, Goings and Relocations
When David Bockorny and T.J. Petrizzo combined their lobbying firms in July 2004, the new partners had a bold vision for their shop’s growth. They said publicly that they hoped to build up their dozen-lobbyist enterprise to as many as 18 professionals by that year’s end.
Since then, the firm has maintained an enviable roster with some 40 blue-chip clients, and in recent months it has brought on four senior-level lobbyists, with three more lobbyists expected to be hired within as many months.
But several of the firm’s lobbyists have exited, leaving it with 13 professionals. And the two name partners have increased their presence outside of the Beltway, fueling speculation about the firm’s future. [IMGCAP(1)]
Petrizzo, who merged his Petrizzo Group into Bockorny’s shop, is launching a new firm, Petrizzo Strategic Communications, based in central Florida, where Petrizzo recently moved his permanent residence. And while Petrizzo said he still plans to remain active in the Bockorny Petrizzo practice next year, Bockorny will take on day-to-day management of the firm in 2006, the two said in an interview.
While Petrizzo commutes from Florida, Bockorny resides from Sunday night through Friday in Washington, D.C., and returns to his home base in South Dakota on weekends.
In addition to Petrizzo’s Florida venture, Bockorny said he, too, is considering regional practices near his weekend turf in South Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska.
Throughout the process, the name partners have kept their clients informed, including an e-mail that went out in August letting them know about Petrizzo’s move to Florida.
“We’re not content to sit inside the Beltway,” Bockorny said. When he and his wife bought their home in South Dakota, Bockorny, a Republican, said he had to field speculation that he was considering a challenge to Rep. Stephanie Herseth (D-S.D.). “I’m not,” Bockorny said.
Bockorny and Petrizzo, both GOP insiders and top fundraisers for their party, say the firm currently employs five Democrats and eight Republicans. In the 2004 election cycle, according to records complied by the Center for Responsive Politics, Petrizzo donated more than $97,000. For the same period and according to the same data, Bockorny contributed more than $73,000 in campaign cash.
“Pound for pound, for a firm our size, we’ve got a lot of reach,” said Bockorny, who took up his lobbying career after leaving the Reagan White House, where he worked in legislative affairs. “In Reagan legislative affairs, our strength was that we had a variety of different backgrounds — regional, some were more policy, others were more political. It was the mix of skills that was the strength.” That’s the template on which he has based his private-sector lobbying, as well, he said.
The lobbyists who have left Bockorny Petrizzo include Chris Long, who moved out of the region and has gone into the real estate business; Chris Bowlin, who joined the MWW Group; Dan Moll, who left for Duane Morris Government Affairs; and Phil Rivers, who joined Bockorny Petrizzo earlier this year and recently left to help start the D.C. office of Texas law firm Locke Liddell & Sapp, and who said he left Bockorny Petrizzo on good terms.
Bockorny and Petrizzo “were and are still good friends,” Rivers said. “We’re planning to do some political things together.” Locke Liddell, he added, “was for me personally a better fit because of the fact it was a law firm, and I was interested in doing some legal work.”
Rivers said he joined Bockorny Petrizzo because he knew and observed Bockorny on the Hill, “and I felt he had a winning way about him.” And after working inside the firm, Rivers said he continued to be impressed with Bockorny and called him “one of the top people in town in his ability to strategize and conceptualize and make things happen in the Congress.”
The recent hires include Marty DePoy, a former lobbyist with the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts, whose issues include terrorism insurance and other financial services matters; Diane Major, a top GOP health care lobbyist, who has been a policy analyst for the Senate Republican Policy Committee, a health legislative assistant for Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.) and a lobbyist at the American Hospital Association; Sharon Ringley, who joined the firm from Amazon.com’s Washington, D.C., office; and Andy Dodson, a former lobbyist with the National Beer Wholesalers Association.
Dodson, who was recruited in part by Long, said that “what attracted me to this place is the clients and my colleagues. The firm is known for aggressive lobbying and getting results.”
DePoy, another one of the new vice presidents, said he has seen Bockorny Petrizzo from both the client side and employee side. His former organization had long retained Bockorny’s previous firm, then hired Bockorny Petrizzo after the merger. “It’s a seamless operation,” he said.
Petrizzo said the firm’s clients have been impressed with the recent additions.
“Our clients have told us that they are just phenomenal,” he said. “They are just really fun people to work with. You spend so much time here at work, that it’s really important that you have fun while you’re doing it.”
But several people familiar with the firm and its two predecessor firms — the Petrizzo Group and Bergner Bockorny Castagnetti Hawkins & Brain — described Bockorny and Petrizzo as driven and sometimes volatile personalities who can be difficult to work with and whose own personalities have sometimes clashed.
Petrizzo said that even he has heard about such rumors.
“I know how this town operates,” Petrizzo said. “I look at it as a compliment that rumors like that start. People know how competitive we are and how good we are, and our detractors are trying to throw up things.”
Bockorny said he is accustomed to logging 18-hour work days, sometimes seven days a week. “We do it because we love it. And we have great clients,” he said.
The clients include the Institute for Legal Reform, St. Paul Travelers, News Corp., America’s Health Insurance Plans, Direct TV, Drugstore.com, Amazon.com, American Bankers Association and Glaxo Smith Kline, among others. Those clients, according to the most recent lobbying disclosures filed, generally pay between $100,000 and $200,000 for six months of services. And the firm’s annual revenues hover around $8 million.
Bockorny Petrizzo’s Web site includes a passel of quotes from many satisfied clients., including one from Dick Davidson, president of the American Hospital Association who said the firm “provides excellent strategy with a broad bipartisan reach to the most powerful leaders in Congress and the administration.”
The Petrizzo side of the business began in 1999 when he left his post as chief of staff to then-Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.) and started a solo practice. Dunn has since left Congress and taken up a lobbying career of her own at DLA Piper Runick. Petrizzo brought on his first employee by the end of 2000.
The Bockorny side of the firm traces its roots back to January 1986, before Bockorny himself had even joined the business. The original firm, Berman Bergner & Boyette, was founded by Jeffrey Bergner, after he left the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Wayne Berman, who is now an owner of the all-GOP lobbying firm Federalist Group and Van Boyette, now a partner at Smith & Boyette.
In the months leading up to Bockorny’s merger with Petrizzo’s firm, all the other name partners had left Bergner Bockorny. Chuck Brain left to found his own firm, Capitol Hill Strategies. Jay Hawkins departed in August 2004 for the Alpine Group. David Castagnetti left in the spring of 2004 to join the Kerry presidential campaign as director of Congressional relations, and is now with Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, a fast-growing bipartisan shop.
Bergner left the lobbying shop at the end of 2003 because, he said, he wanted to focus more on policy than lobbying. Since that time, he has been a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. In recent weeks, Bergner was nominated for the post of assistant secretary of State for legislative affairs and his Senate confirmation is pending.
Bockorny and Petrizzo said they have a great working relationship. “I make T.J. better and he makes me better,” Bockorny said. “I think there are very few people who work as hard as I do, and T.J. works as hard or harder than I do. That is the thing that brought us together.”
The name partners said that not all practices and all lobbyists thrive in that environment. “In any merger, there’s going to be transitions,” Petrizzo said. “We didn’t merge to sit back. We merged to step it up. It’s not a charitable organization. We’re there to make money, and you want to field the best team that you can.”