The All-GOP Firm: It Ain’t Dead Yet

Posted January 30, 2009 at 5:52pm

On K Street, where the prevailing political winds blow hard, there aren’t many Republicans flying their GOP flag at full-staff.

Don’t tell that to Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock. The nine-lobbyist all-Republican firm isn’t shying away from its red-state roots.

As the most prominent all-GOP lobby shop left in town, the firm is brazenly keeping its one-party status, bucking the street’s longtime bipartisan trend.

“Republicans matter, and clients around town and ours recognize that,” said Kirk Blalock, a name partner in the firm. “The fact that we’re doing well in this environment shouldn’t be surprising.”

Over the past three years, the firm’s lobby revenues have held fairly steady at $7.7 million.

And Blalock is confident the firm won’t begin to struggle even with Democrats taking hold of Congress and the executive branch.

Their formula: Stay small while taking on white-shoe clients along with coalition work in order to maintain steady revenues.

Fierce Isakowitz counts clients such as the Business Roundtable, the Recording Industry Association of America and Coca-Cola Enterprises as longtime accounts, who paid the firm $60,000, $40,000 and $30,000, respectively, in the fourth quarter of 2008.

It also relies on coalition work and lobbying for trade agreements to bolster its bottom line.

Name partner Mark Isakowitz has long been the head of the Coalition for Patent Fairness. Katie Huffard, a former aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), also runs the Coalition for a Competitive Pharmaceutical Market and the Corporate Health Care Coalition.

The firm has also opted to stay relatively small; it has not added a lobbyist since Aleix Jarvis, former legislative director for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), joined in January 2005.

The firm’s clients appear to echo its confidence in their all-GOP strategy.

Only two clients terminated lobbying contracts with the firm at the end of 2008: The Credit Union National Association and the American College of Gastroenterology both opted to look elsewhere for lobbying help because they needed Democratic representation, according to Blalock.

One area that is likely to decrease will be the lobbying on free-trade agreements.

Kirsten Chadwick, a former Congressional liaison for President George W. Bush, has served as the lead Republican lobbyist for free-trade votes, including the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

“For the most part, we’re keeping all of our clients minus the free-trade agreements that Kirsten did because under Obama it is unclear if there will be any,” Blalock said.

Fierce Isakowitz is not alone in its all-GOP status. There are still a few small lobby shops with former Members of Congress at the helm that have resisted the bipartisan trend.

The Nickles Group, headed by former Oklahoma Sen. Don Nickles (R), and the Ashcroft Group, founded by former Missouri Sen. and Attorney General John Ashcroft (R), have both remained all- Republican.

That might not always be true for the Nickles Group.

“Business is still pretty good, but I don’t really put us down in the all-GOP” category, Nickles said. “I’ve considered from Day One of having a prominent Democrat join our group.”

Nickles has been in talks with several Democrats, although he says an addition is not imminent.

The 40-member Ashcroft Group has moved its focus away from lobbying in the past two years, although it still counts Oracle and the National Association of Broadcasters as clients, according to year-end lobby reports.

“Our primary focus is on the investigatory, litigation strategy and regulatory space,” said Juleanna Glover, a senior adviser with the firm.

In the past couple years, several once- staunchly GOP lobbying shops have moved into bipartisanship, as the Republicans’ grip on Congress and K Street has ended.

Shops such as DC Navigators, Barbour Griffith & Rogers (now BGR Group) and the Federalist Group (now Ogilvy Government Relations) have added Democrats to their mix.

Ogilvy, which made the move in 2006, hasn’t looked back. While partisan rancor was nearing an all-time high, what was then one of the biggest and most prominent all-Republican shops added Andrew Rosenberg, a former aide to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). The firm now has nine Republicans and seven Democratic lobbyists.

“We do believe that we were fortunate that we started this process long before the Democrats took control,” Drew Maloney of Ogilvy said. “We thought this was the way government relations was going, which is the need for a bipartisan approach to problems.”

More recently, BGR Group made its breakaway move following the November elections.

The firm that once bragged to the Washington Post that even its secretaries were card-holding Republicans has moved aggressively to bring on Democrats.

“It is imperative for our lobbying lineup to reflect the political realities,” Loren Monroe of BGR said. “There are both Democratic and Republican decision makers in Washington as well as in state capitols and city halls.”

Even the DCI Group, which was closely associated with the outgoing Bush administration, has tried to present a less partisan face and no longer has an all-GOP roster.

Although the firm reported 14 terminations of lobbying clients in 2008, including General Motors, the city of Alcoa, Tenn., and Denver Children’s Hospital, it wasn’t because companies were dissatisfied with the DCI Group’s Republican reputation.

“The recent changes in our federal lobbying portfolio were anticipated and consistent with a strategic decision to discontinue our appropriations practice,” the group’s Geoffrey Bassey said in an e-mail statement.