For nearly two years, they were bashed on the campaign circuit and singled out as evidence of what’s wrong with Washington. Now, however, lobbyists — especially those who specialize in fiscal policy, health care and energy — say they are looking forward to booming business when President-elect Barack Obama’s administration begins to target its first issues.
Lobbyists with Democratic ties in particular are hot commodities on K Street, completing a shift that began after Democrats took control of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections.
“Given the recent political reality, and certainly after [Tuesday] evening, you’re certainly going to see more lobbying firms, corporations and associations shore up their Democratic relationships and capabilities,” said Nels Olson managing director of the Washington office of Korn/Ferry International, a recruiting firm.
Companies with large lobbying shops have moved staffers with strong Democratic ties to the top of the heap. Lockheed Martin Corp., for instance, just announced that Gregory R. Dahlberg, a former Democratic staff director to a House committee, will replace the retiring Brian D. Dailey, who worked in President George H.W. Bush’s National Space Council.
Comcast Corp. replaced its Republican D.C.-office head with Melissa Maxfield, an aide to former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
Also, lobbying firms such as Patton Boggs LLP, Venable LLP and the Podesta Group Inc. recently announced hires from the staff of Sen. Christopher Dodd, Connecticut Democrat; House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat; and House Majority Whip James Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat.
BGR Holding LLC, once an all-Republican lobbying firm, announced on Election Day that it had purchased Westin Rinehart, a firm with Democratic ties.
“To reflect the evolving political realities in Washington, BGR is committed to becoming a premier bipartisan firm in town,” said Michael Meehan, president of BGR Public Relations. “This acquisition underscores that commitment and positions BGR well as we continue to expand our bipartisan offerings.”
Don’t expect K Street to turn entirely blue just yet, however.
Kirk Blalock, a partner at Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock, said his all-Republican firm partners with Democratic lobbying firms when it needs to appeal to Democrats in Congress. He said he’s not going to change his hiring practices as a result of the Democratic sweep Tuesday.
Most other lobbying firms say they are careful to maintain their bipartisanship.
“You have to be nimble, you have to be viewed as a firm that can act with either party, and you have to have professionals who are valued for their capabilities as much, if not more, than their political credentials,” said Stephanie Silverman, principal in the lobbying firm Venn Strategies LLC.
Lobbying firms that are considered too partisan “wouldn’t last for very long in this town,” she said.
Lobbyists say they don’t expect a Democratic equivalent of the mid-1990’s “K Street Project,” in which Republican leaders pressured advocacy and lobby groups to hire Republicans. In addition, all-GOP firms saw the value of bipartisanship when the Democratic takeover in the 2006 midterms left them scrambling.
“I think a lot of people seem to have learned their lesson — that you can’t get too far one [political] way or another,” said Denise Grant, head of the legal and government affairs practice at Russell Reynolds Associates Inc., a senior recruiting firm. “This is always going to be a two-party town in one way, shape or form.”
Last year, for instance, the all-Republican firm the Federalist Group went bipartisan and changed its name to Ogilvy Government Relations.
For staffers employed by newly defeated Republican members, however, it may already be too late to move to the lobbying world.
“At the end of an administration, there is a large outpouring of people looking for jobs,” Ms. Grant said. “There’s a lot of supply, and the demand is never going to meet that at one point in time.”
The rebalancing of lobbying firms and corporations have been shaking out since just before the 2006 midterms.
“Like the Boy Scouts, our motto is ‘Always be prepared,’” said Ken Johnson, senior vice president at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a pharmaceutical lobbying group. “We’ve been moving the pieces around on the chess board for some time now getting ready for next year,” he said, referring to the debate on health care that is expected to come with a new Congress and White House.
On the whole, lobbying business could increase in 2009.
“This is going to be a growth industry in Washington,” said Michael J.G. Cain, chairman of the political science department at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and director of the Center for the Study of Democracy. He specifically pointed to health care and the green energy sector - which will be “here with a vengeance,” he said.
Lobbying companies have already experienced a burst in business from the financial sector.
“We’ve seen an increase in the past six weeks of about a dozen clients that are focused on different aspects of the fiscal recovery,” said Rich Gold, head of the public policy practice at the law firm Holland & Knight LLP. “A lot of local governments are interested in infrastructure backlog, seeing an opportunity to produce some good, local high-paying jobs.”
Other industries left out in the cold during the Bush administration are hoping for brighter days ahead.
“Organizations that felt over the last eight years that they didn’t have an ear in Washington are going to feel like they have the ability to be heard,” said Jessica Lenard, vice president of Dow Lohnes Government Strategies LLC, pointing to the environmental community and energy companies. “There are lots of folks in the wings who have been waiting.”