K Street Expects Growth Regardless of Economy

Posted January 18, 2008 at 6:04pm

Recession may be the hottest word on Capitol Hill, but it hasn’t hit K Street — yet. While lawmakers spent much of last week trying to figure out the best way to kick-start the economy, headhunters and lobbyists said they see an opportunity for more work, not less.

“If you look at the current economic situation, everyone from Citigroup to [Bank of America] are laying people off in dramatic fashion, but that’s not necessarily going to have an effect downtown,” said Peter Metzger, who manages the headhunter firm CTPartners’ Washington office. “As dramatic changes take place it takes dramatic measures that ensure special interests are represented.”

And Metzger is not alone in this view. Many lobbyists said that while they aren’t expecting a huge increase in revenue because it’s an election year, they will be busy.

“I don’t see a slowdown in the market,” said Ivan Adler, a headhunter at the D.C.-based McCormick Group.

Dickstein Shapiro’s Andrew Zausner agreed.

“I think it’s going to be a very busy but short year,” said Zausner, head of Dickstein Shapiro’s lobbying practice. “Congress has not put up an awful lot of affirmative accomplishments in this Congress and I think there is a push to do a bunch of things that actually get enacted into law.”

One of those things could be the economic stimulus package that has been getting a lot of attention of late. Another could be legislation to address the ever-present challenge of climate change, Zausner said.

He added that there may be other issues that get teed up this session as lawmakers await a possible “trifecta” of Democrats in charge of both chambers of Congress and the executive branch.

As Democrats are looking to pick up three to five seats in the House in this fall’s elections and also make gains in the Senate, lobbyists said that lawmakers may think about whether they want to make compromises on legislation that they may not have to in the 111th Congress.

“I still think it’s going to be a busy year, [but] some of the items on the wish list are going to wait until there’s a new president,” said former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard, who heads DLA Piper’s lobbying practice.

One other change facing the K Street hiring market is the new ethics laws that extend former lawmakers’ ban on lobbying Congress to two years. Senior-level staff also face an increased lobbying ban of the entire Congress for one year.

Since the new ethics rules went into effect late last year, lobby shops have been forced to be more cautious when hiring staffers and lawmakers.

“There was an outpouring of folks right before the [new law took effect],” said Rich Gold, head of Holland & Knight’s lobby practice. Still, he’s not necessarily jumping to make quick additions to the firm’s practice.

“The combination of where the economy is and how we act in business in the short term under these new rules makes our hiring practices very conservative,” Gold said.

And while Democrats have been a hot commodity since the change in Congressional leadership, two recent Republican financial services hires last week — first, Rep. Richard Baker (R-La.) to head up the Managed Funds Association, and then Tim Ryan, a JPMorgan Chase executive to lead the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association — have left lobbyists questioning whether there’s been a shift in the market.

But headhunters said there hasn’t. CTPartners’ Metzger said that his firm has been trying to place senior Democrats, particularly on the Senate side. And as health care remains a prevalent issue on the campaign trail, firms are looking to hire lobbyists with health care bona fides to work with clients on the perennial Congressional issue.

For the most part, looking forward, firms said they expect Democrats to continue to be in demand over Republicans.

“I think demand especially for senior-level Democrats is there still,” said McCormick Group’s Adler.

While many low- to mid-level Republican staffers have struggled in the current market to move off the Hill, Adler said that shouldn’t cause GOP job-seekers too much angst.

“I think that there will be people out of the current administration that will find jobs,” Adler said.

Jessica Brady contributed to this report.