Political firms, K Street shops got paycheck rescue loans

Firms among the many small businesses that make up DC’s economy

In 2006, Tony Fratto was a Treasury Department official. In 2020, his firm got a forgivable loan designed to reduce unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic.  (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call file photo)
In 2006, Tony Fratto was a Treasury Department official. In 2020, his firm got a forgivable loan designed to reduce unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted July 6, 2020 at 6:10pm

Tony Fratto, a former Treasury Department official who runs the D.C.-based advocacy and communications consulting firm Hamilton Place Strategies, secured at least $350,000 from a federal relief program to help his shop make payroll during the pandemic. 

Some of the firm’s clients, including lobbying associations and companies from the hard-hit travel industry, abruptly severed ties with the shop amid the economic calamity of the COVID-19 crisis, he said. 

Hamilton Place Strategies was among many Washington-area policy, lobbying and political consulting firms that received forgivable loans as part of a government program to help small businesses meet payroll during the pandemic, according to recent administration disclosures. Though the sector is often criticized outside the Beltway — and even inside it — K Street policy and political consulting shops are among the many small businesses making up the economy of the nation’s capital. 

As many lobbying and consulting firms helped their clients shape and navigate the government assistance intended to keep a massive increase in the rolls of the unemployed from being even larger, many insiders themselves signed up for what is known as the paycheck protection program, or PPP, disclosures from the Small Business Administration show. 

‘People we care about’

“If not for PPP, we would've had to lay off people,” Fratto said. “We invest an enormous amount in our people with extensive training. Plus, these are people who we care about and don’t want to put them into unemployment during an awful job market.” 

Hamilton Place Strategies received somewhere between $350,000 and $1 million from the program, which provided some $521.5 billion total across the country in forgivable loans, and saved eight jobs among its 55-person roster.  

Other shops that put in for the loans included the longtime K Street firm Van Scoyoc Associates, the law and lobbying firm Wiley (formerly Wiley Rein), and the political polling and research outfit Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Inc., whose founding partner Stan Greenberg is married to Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut.

APCO received between $5 million and $10 million to make payroll for 316 employees, according to the disclosures provided by the administration. Greenberg Quinlan’s loan was in the $350,000 to $1 million range. 

Transparency follows criticism

The extensive data release came after lawmakers and others criticized the Trump administration for initially trying to withhold the names of loan recipients.

FiscalNote, the parent company of CQ Roll Call, has received a loan under the program, too.

The new disclosure provides names and details for all loans exceeding $150,000. K Street businesses were not among the top recipients overall. The biggest industry receiving loans was health care and social assistance, accounting for nearly $67.4 billion. That was followed by professional, scientific and technical services, at $66.4 billion; construction, at $64.6 billion; and manufacturing, at $54 billion.

Other well-connected firms that were listed as recipients of the forgivable loans included Rokk Solutions, a bipartisan shop whose partners include Ron Bonjean, a longtime congressional GOP aide, and Rodell Mollineau, a former top aide to Democratic members of Congress.  Rokk received between $150,000 and $350,000 for 12 jobs, according to the disclosure. 

The tech policy shop Glen Echo Group received between $350,000 and $1 million to keep 18 people on the payroll. 

“We've got 18 souls to keep employed and that is priority No. 1 right now,” said Maura Colleton Corbett, CEO of the Glen Echo Group, in an email.

Others on the list included the Ridge Policy Group, the firm of former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge; the Washington Group; and the Clyde Group, whose founder Alex Slater is a fund-raiser for Democrats, including Joe Biden.

“You really needed somebody who knew how the town works to help you get the money,” said K Street headhunter Ivan Adler.

David Lerman contributed to this report.

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