Lobbying Firms Thrived in 2020 Bolstered by Virus Aid Advocacy

  • Many firms reported big revenue increases in 2020 over 2019
  • New administration, Congress could be boost for lobbyists

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The coronavirus pandemic was a boon for Washington lobbying firms, many of which posted record-high revenue in 2020. Lobbying executives predict that trend will continue this year with a whirl of activity by a new administration and Congress.

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the No. 1 firm by revenue, took in $49.6 million in lobbying fees last year, $7 million more than in 2019, marking the strongest revenue the firm’s lobbying shop has ever had. Its clients include Lyft Inc., ZTE Corp., the National Association of Theatre Owners, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, and the Puerto Rico Statehood Council.

Brian Pomper, the co-head of the firm’s public law and policy practice, expects the work to continue with President Joe Biden trying to push an ambitious agenda through a closely divided Congress.

“Against the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic, we can expect a renewed focus on a number of issues, including immigration, taxes, energy and environment, and healthcare, along with a continued focus on trade,” he said in an email. “In other words, I think we can expect a continued high degree of activity on Capitol Hill.”

Firms were required to submit their fourth-quarter lobbying disclosures to the Senate by Thursday. About two dozen sent their revenue figures to Bloomberg Government beforehand — all but four performed better in 2020 than the previous year.

Several firms said their lobbying revenues jumped 20% or more over the year before, including Cornerstone Government Affairs, Invariant, Ballard Partners, and Crossroads Strategies.

Jeff Forbes, founding partner at Forbes Tate Partners, attributed his firm’s 29% lobbying revenue growth to a combination of hiring new talent and the influx of work associated with the massive pandemic relief packages that moved through Capitol Hill last year.

Forbes said the top inquiry from clients has been about how lawmakers will handle climate measures, and he expects Congress will pivot to environmental policies after the next Covid-19 relief package is completed. Biden has stressed combating climate change as a top priority.

“The question is: What can you get through a 50-50 Senate? And almost more importantly, what can you get through a four-vote-majority House?” he said in a phone interview.

Revenue Drops

Some firms reported revenue drops, including Hogan Lovells, CGCN Group, and Squire Patton Boggs.

David Schnittger, a principal at Squire Patton Boggs, said the reason for his firm’s 6% decrease was two-fold. As a global law and policy firm, much of its work isn’t reflected in the advocacy reporting under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.

Consulting and foreign lobbying, for instance, aren’t included in those disclosures. Schnittger said the firm’s foreign lobbying revenue, governed by the Foreign Agents Registration Act, increased from about $7.9 million in the first half of 2020 to $10.3 million in the second half of the year. It represents the governments of Saudi Arabia, China, and South Korea, among others.

And with the firm’s lobbying for domestic clients, the inaction on Capitol Hill and the coronavirus relief talks that fell apart multiple times led some to “push the pause button” over the summer, he said.

Clients are optimistic about the “potential for new stability in Washington” under the Biden administration but wary of what some of the polarization illustrated by the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol “might portend for prospects of significant bipartisan legislation being enacted,” Schnittger said in an email.

Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg
Lobbyists see a busy year as a closely divided Congress grapples with President Joe Biden’s ambitious agenda.

Starting Gate

Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck was second in revenue and among the firms that jumped at least 20% from 2019. Its clients include Tencent America LLC, the Chinese company behind WeChat, Uber Technologies Inc., Walgreen Co., and Marriott International Inc.

Marc Lampkin, managing partner of the firm’s Washington office, said in a phone interview that many of the top issues this year will mirror 2020, with a continued focus on Covid-19 relief, economic development, and trade, particularly as it relates to relations with China. In regulatory activity, he predicted labor issues to be a high priority, such as overtime regulations and independent contractor rules that impact companies such as Uber and Lyft.

Stewart Verdery, the founder of Monument Advocacy, said now is the time to get issues — from technology and energy policy to immigration and labor matters — in front of congressional committees, as leaders decide what they want to tackle in this session of Congress.

“They’ve got two years to come up with consensus to get things from the starting gate to the finish line,” he said in a phone interview.

Monument Advocacy’s growth to a record $9.1 million in lobbying revenue was driven by its work regarding the federal response to the coronavirus and expanding its offerings in the agriculture area. The firm’s clients include Amazon.com Inc., Feeding America, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and Bytedance Inc., the company behind TikTok.

K&L Gates had a “historic” year in 2020, said Karishma Shah Page, co-leader of its public policy and law practice. Page cited the flurry of work resulting from the pandemic as what spurred the practice’s best-ever returns — $18.5 million in lobbying revenue in 2020, compared to $17.7 million the year before.

“We’re still happy to put 2020 in the rear-view mirror, and be looking ahead to 2021 and the policy work that comes with a new administration and Congress,” Page said in an email.

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; Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bgov.com

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