(Updated a Jan. 21 story, adding a chart at the bottom)
Washington lobbying firms have closed the books on 2019, which new revenue numbers show was a lucrative year, and are prepping for what they say will be a fast and furious 2020.
Despite the legislative slowdown that occurs during election years, a half-dozen lobbyists said they expect that a hectic agenda awaits them.
“In 2020, there’s a very short runway, but we’ve got a lot of traffic on that runway,” said Moses Mercado, a principal at Ogilvy Government Relations. “Like, a lot.”
Last year, Ogilvy pulled in more than $11 million in lobbying fees, a 6% increase over the previous year.
His firm is one of the 24 top-grossing K Street firms that sent Bloomberg Government their 2019 figures, which are due to the House and Senate by midnight on Jan. 21. Only six firms had a decline in their lobbying fees.
What happens over the next two months, as primary voting begins in many states, could push more action in Congress, Mercado said.
When large numbers of voters go to the polls, “it resets what happens on Capitol Hill,” he said. “You’ll see people working together to get these things done. People start thinking of those things when you have an interested electorate, you have to go home with something.”
Battle For No. 1
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which has been the annual earnings leader since 2014, reported taking in $42.58 million last year, the highest of any lobbying firm since 2012.
It had 37 net new clients in 2019 – bringing its total to more than 250 – and made a number of high-profile hires, including former lawmakers and White House officials. In the fourth quarter, the firm earned $11.4 million – an 18% increase over the same period in 2018.
Hunter Bates, a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who now co-leads the firm’s lobbying shop, said the numbers are “driven by one of the most consequential legislative quarters in recent years.”
“The last three quarters were exceptionally strong with trade, healthcare and taxes dominating the agenda and culminating in a number of successes for our clients in the year-end legislative packages and trade deals,” he said in an email. Congress recently finished work on the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.
Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck has been closing the revenue gap with Akin Gump over the last year, twice earning more over the course of a quarter in 2019, but coming short of the overall full-year victory.
“Akin Gump won the year, we won the quarter,” Marc Lampkin, the managing partner of the firm’s Washington office, said Tuesday.
Brownstein posted $11.52 million during the fourth quarter and $40.78 million for the entirety of 2019, a 29% increase over 2018. It, too, hired a number of high-profile former lawmakers and officials throughout the year and ended with 193 clients, according to the firm.
Ups And Downs
Last year’s revenue boost was relatively modest for many firms, with only six posting a jump of 9% or more over the previous year.
Invariant, the bipartisan firm run by Heather Podesta, boosted its lobbying fees by 24%, taking in $16.36 million. The lobbying shop of Forbes-Tate Partners, which also handles public affairs and grassroots work, reported more than $15 million in revenues.
BGR Group, a mostly Republican firm, and Monument Advocacy each had a 9% increase over 2018, earning $29.46 million and $8.94 million, respectively.
“Our two strongest areas – trade and tech – were both front burner issues all year,” said Stewart Verdery, the founder of Monument Advocacy, which has offices in Washington D.C., Seattle and San Francisco. Its clients include Amazon.com Inc., the Enterprise Cloud Coalition, the Identification Technology Association, Ancestry.com LLC, Apple Inc., and ByteDance Inc., the maker of TikTok.
Hogan Lovells, Van Scoyoc Associates Inc., K&L Gates, and Covington & Burling are among the firms that had a decrease in revenue.
Law and lobbying firm K&L Gates reported $17.73 million in its lobbying fees in 2019, a 3% decline.
But that drop was accompanied by the growth in the firm’s public policy practice that doesn’t fit within the narrow legal parameters of what counts as lobbying revenue set by the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA).
“It’s been an unusual period of time where a fair amount of non-LDA work has driven our practice to a new height,” said Darrell Conner, a government affairs counselor at K&L Gates.
Such work includes helping clients with trade policy compliance, counseling them how to respond to congressional investigations, or representing figures in the impeachment of President Donald Trump. It can be even more profitable than lobbying.
Rush Before Election
Covington & Burling had $16.35 million in revenue in 2019, a 2% dip from the year before.
Muftiah McCartin, the co-chair of Covington’s public policy practice group, said in an email that her team is expecting a busy 2020 – even looking toward next year, “as Democrats tee up 2021 priorities, including legislation addressing climate change, infrastructure investment and healthcare/drug pricing.”
Verdery said lobbyists are coming up with contingency plans if Democrats fare well this November, which would put the business community on the defensive.
“How do you position yourself to not be victim No. 1, 2 or 3?” he said.
In addition, there are a number of must-pass items including appropriations bills and a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that Congress will consider this year. Funding for a number of healthcare programs ends near the end of May, and both the authorization of the flood insurance program and the five-year law that funds surface transportation programs expire on Sept. 30.
“We don’t subscribe to the notion that nothing happens from a policy standpoint in a presidential election year, and we counsel our clients accordingly,” said Dave Schnittger, the spokesman for Squire Patton Boggs’s public policy practice. “Constant engagement on both sides of the aisle is the surest strategy for navigating the uncertainty that lies ahead.”
Squire Patton Boggs had $25.81 million in lobbying revenue last year, a 6% increase over 2018, and brought in almost $6.7 million in the final three months of 2019.
“Clients can also expect an Increase in end-of term regulatory activity – and for clients who are seeking deregulatory actions, absent a second Trump term, the best opportunity, perhaps ever, to achieve those goals, may be the coming months,” Schnittger added.
With assistance from Jorge Uquillas
To contact the reporter on this story: Megan R. Wilson in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org