Lobbying Firms Prosper as Biden, Congress Push Ambitious Agenda

  • Many top firms had double-digit growth in 2021 first quarter
  • Republican firms experienced lobbying dip during period

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Lobbying firms in Washington posted revenue gains in the first quarter of the year as President Joe Biden moved to implement his ambitious agenda with congressional Democrats, who preside over narrow majorities in both chambers.

“The first year of a presidency is usually busy, but the first year of this presidency is busier than usual,” Karishma Shah Page, co-leader of K&L Gates’s policy practice, said in a telephone interview. “We’ve got a real robust outlook for policymaking the rest of this year, with a whole lot more legislation and administrative actions to come.”

The firm, which in the first three months of this year earned nearly $4.8 million in lobbying revenue and signed 25 new clients, had a 2% increase in revenues over the same period in 2020.

Lobbying disclosures for the first quarter of 2021 were required to be filed with Congress by the end of Tuesday, but 20 sent their revenue numbers to Bloomberg Government in advance. Most of them experienced growth over the last three months.

Lobbyists said that numerous factors have been driving business — a new administration with ambitious legislative and regulatory priorities, trade and tariff issues, a closely divided Congress trying to hash out economic relief, the budget and an infrastructure package that includes tax proposals.

Photographer: Leigh Vogel/UPI/Bloomberg
Many lobbying firms prospered in the first quarter of 2021 as President Joe Biden pushed his ambitious agenda including an infrastructure package.

“It’s a fascinating environment with Congress moving at a rapid speed on a multitude of issues critical to business despite the razor thin margins in both the House and Senate,” said Loren Monroe, who heads the state and local practice at BGR Group, in an email. “It’s a critical time for our clients to be involved on both sides of the aisle to impact policy development.”

The firm earned $8.3 million in lobbying fees during the first quarter of the year, a 6% boost over the same period in 2020.

Rich Gold, who leads the public policy and regulation group at Holland & Knight, called this a “once-in-a-decade” moment, similar to 2009 when the Obama administration oversaw massive economic recovery legislation, and an overhaul of the health care and financial systems.

Feeding Frenzy

“This is just going to be another one of those years where it’s just going to be front-to-back incredibly busy. Lots of business, lots of new entrants in town, lots of existing associations and companies will be arming themselves,” Gold said in a telephone interview. “It’s a feeding frenzy.”

Holland & Knight took in $7.4 million in lobbying fees in the first three months of this year compared to $6.4 million in the first quarter of 2020.

“You’re just seeing more and more activity in the areas that aren’t just going to be one stop,” said Marc Lampkin, the managing partner of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck’s Washington office, in a telephone interview.

“As we turn the corner towards the rest of the year, we anticipate that this set of issues will give way to another set of issues,” he added, noting that the implementation of pandemic and economic relief, infrastructure proposals and climate issues will take place next.

Brownstein earned $12.5 million in the first quarter, a 9% increase from the same time a year ago.

Thorn Run Partners saw its lobbying fees shoot up by 25% in the first quarter over the same time last year, to $4.2 million.

“Democrats have an ambitious policy agenda and full control of the government. But the margins are ultra narrow, so while the stakes are high, nothing is guaranteed,” said Andrew Rosenberg, co-founder of Thorn Run Partners, in an email.

Republican Dips

Firms with Republican ties experienced dips as Democrats took complete control of the government in Washington.

  • Ballard Partners, a bipartisan Florida-based firm known for its ties to the Trump administration, reported its first loss since opening its doors in Washington in 2017. In the first quarter of 2021, it earned $4.7 million, an 11% drop over the previous year.

  • CGCN Group, an all-Republican firm, earned $1.6 million in the first quarter, an 11% dip from the nearly $1.8 million it took in last year by this point.

Large Increases

  • Invariant, a bipartisan firm run by Heather Podesta, continued its upward trajectory. It earned more than $6.6 million in the first three months of 2021, up from about $4.8 million at the same time last year — an almost 38% increase.

  • Covington & Burling increased its lobbying revenues by 37% in the first quarter versus the same time in 2020, taking in $5.6 million from January through March.
  • Crossroads Strategies, which poached former Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and John Breaux (D-La.) from Squire Patton Boggs last summer, boosted lobbying revenues by 33% to just more than $5 million.
  • In the first three months of this year, Cornerstone Government Affairs took in almost $7.8 million, a 23% boost over last year at this time.
  • Public affairs and lobbying firm Subject Matter increased revenues by more than 20%, bringing in nearly $3.9 million in lobbying fees, compared to $3.2 million in the first quarter last year.
  • Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas posted $5.2 million in revenues in the first quarter, a 17% increase from the same period in 2020.

Revenue Losses

  • Squire Patton Boggs had a 16% drop in its first-quarter revenue over the same period in 2020, bringing in about $5.6 million.

  • Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which has long been atop the earnings list, had a slight decline in revenues in the first quarter. It also took in just more than $12.5 million in lobbying fees, compared to $12.6 million a year earlier. However, it was the firm’s fifth straight quarter with $12 million or more in revenue.

To contact the reporter on this story: Megan R. Wilson in Washington at mwilson@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com; Heather Rothman at hrothman@bgov.com

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