Lobbyists Greet Obama With Smiles (and Business Prospects)
In a historic election that saw Americas first African-American president and expanded Democratic majorities in Congress, K Street was cheering for something else as well: a cornucopia of potential new business.
Were hearing a lot from banking and the securities industry and transportation. Theyre going to be hot, said Diane Blagman, a veteran lobbyist at Greenberg Traurig.
Excitement at the prospects of record fees next year, however, was tempered by fears and anger about the type of restrictions an Obama administration might place on its hiring of any of the citys tens of thousands of lobbyists.
Talking to people around town, there are a lot of Democratic lobbyists who would love to serve in an Obama administration, if they can get around these crazy proposed lobbying restrictions, said Elizabeth Moeller, who heads the public policy group at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.
Its unclear exactly how the new administration plans to handle lobbyists résumés rumors range from an outright ban on the hiring of anyone who has been a registered lobbyist to permitting lobbyists to work for the administration provided they dont handle issues for which they were previously paid to lobby on the Hill.
Many lobbyists appear to be expecting a solution that is less in line with both the Republican and Democratic campaigns anti-lobbyists rhetoric and more in keeping with the realities of running a complex government, if only because many lobbyists are technical experts whose skills may prove too useful to ignore.
More immediately, however, is the prospect of a real bounty of new clients.
A lot of issues weve been working on, like climate change and renewable energy, have gone from simmering to about to hit boiling, Moeller said.
Health care reform, as well, noted Karen Ignagni, who runs Americas Health Insurance Plans, is going to be big.
We think the economic situation has exacerbated the need for Congress to prioritize this issue, said Ignagni, whose group represents HMOs. We dont buy into the idea that a minimal plan is enough. I think there is a real opportunity to discuss comprehensive reform.
K Street should also be energized by a real fear among many in corporate America that the new Democratic administration is going to be regulation-heavy.
People are saying: This is going to be horrible, Obamas going to regulate everything. The horrible people are going to take over, said one lobbyist who did not wish to be identified.
There are other changes that also might come to the industry, including more sunlight on how lobbyists work, said former five-term Rep. Dan Mica (D-Fla.), who now runs the National Credit Union Association.
The Obama camp has had study groups working all summer long on changes they would make on how advocacy would take place in this town, Mica said.
Theyre talking about having complete and total transparency in advocacy. I say, thats tremendous. That is a boon to the credit union system. We dont have the money that some of our adversaries have. If it is fully transparent, Mica said, well go toe to toe with anybody.
T.R. Goldman contributed to this report.