Earmark Ban Changes Spring Season for Lobbying Firms

Posted March 26, 2011 at 5:00am

Appropriations lobbyists used to have one certainty this time of year: forms to fill out. Piles and piles of forms requesting Congressional earmarks.

Spring was the deadline for most Member-sponsored earmark requests, and so this was the silly season for much of K Street. But with earmarks out of favor, lobbyists who specialize in the federal appropriations process have watched their business transform dramatically. In many cases, they have lost business and are working to figure out how to woo new clients on the hunt for government dollars.

But it isn’t all bad.

“The one plus of this thing is, we haven’t had to fill out any forms,” quipped Howard Marlowe, president of the American League of Lobbyists who runs Marlowe & Co.

Still, Marlowe said, there’s plenty do to.

“We’ve certainly had our clients in and meeting with their delegations, submitting information — no forms,” he said. “It’s back to the old days with fact sheets.”

Marlowe added that his clients have continued to ask for Hill support, including urging Members to write letters on their behalf for grant requests.

“We’re always busy,” he said. “There’s less activity here going on that’s related to Congress and more related to making sure we have good relationships with executive branch agencies, or doing other things like marketing our business.”

Mike Fulton, a lobbyist with GolinHarris, said his shop didn’t deviate much from its typical spring schedule this year.

“Our clients came into Washington by March, and we had Hill meetings and we sat down and talked about the projects that the university or association or community college or hospital wanted to achieve,” he said. “We didn’t ask for any earmarks, but we just said, ‘This is what we’re working on. This is what we need, and if you see any opportunities, that would be great.'”

Fulton added that his company, like Marlowe’s, has increased its focus on helping clients win federal grants.

“Last week, we had an event with a university client that was kind of interesting,” he said. “It was a federal opportunity seminar.”

Federal agency program officers and representatives of his university client — which he declined to name — got together to discuss potential programs. He added that he’s been encouraged by “the number of people who stayed and re-upped their contracts and rolled up their sleeves and said, ‘Let’s talk about how we can work together.'”

H. Stewart Van Scoyoc, who runs Van Scoyoc Associates, has seen his business take a hit in recent months, but expects a rebound.

“At the very end of last year, beginning of this year, we experienced a fair amount of people saying, ‘It doesn’t look like anything’s going to change, so we either want to cut back or step aside,'” he said. “But we also saw a lot of clients who have been working with us for a long time that said, ‘We need to change our approach, take a step back, but we still have the same goals.'”

Van Scoyoc said that even though there may be fewer forms to fill out this year, it’s still an intense season of competing for new business and working the agencies in addition to Capitol Hill. He’s seen an uptick in potential new business, particularly from universities and municipal governments, he said.

“I look at the next two weeks, and I’m on the road almost full time as we’ve been downselected to make several oral presentations,” he said. “This is for a variety of reasons the most difficult business environment for the kind of work we do, for the 30-some years I’ve been doing this. That says to me, you’ve got to be a very strong firm … in order to be competitive.”