Republican lobbyists face business risk: A Biden administration

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When Republicans seized control of Congress and the White House in 2016, lobbyists with ties to President Donald Trump and powerful GOP lawmakers saw their stock skyrocket. Tuesday’s election could sweep all of that away, locking Republicans out of power and sending K Street scurrying for well-connected Democrats instead.

On Monday, one of Washington’s biggest lobbying firms, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, got a jump on the potential transfer of power, announcing it had hired former Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) away from a rival firm.

Pryor is one of fewer than a dozen former Democratic senators on K Street who served alongside Biden. His father, David Pryor, also served with Biden for 18 years in the Senate; both men endorsed him this year ahead of the New Hampshire primary.

While the firm didn’t snap up Pryor because of his relationship with Biden, the move could pay off if Biden wins. Marc Lampkin, a Republican who serves as the managing partner of Brownstein Hyatt’s Washington office, said the firm hired the Arkansas Democrat with an eye to “the potential makeup of Washington and state capitals in 2021 and beyond.”

Most of Washington’s biggest lobbying firms in town are bipartisan, with enough Republicans and Democrats on staff to allow them to secure meetings and get their calls returned no matter who’s in the White House or in control of Congress. But some smaller lobbying shops that have thrived in Trump’s Washington could suffer if he loses and Democrats reclaim the Senate.

“There’s a few firms that are going to take a big hit,” said Stewart Verdery, a veteran of President George W. Bush’s administration who now runs Monument Advocacy, a bipartisan lobbying firm.

Perhaps no lobbyist has been more associated with Trump’s Washington than Brian Ballard, a longtime Florida lobbyist who became a top fundraiser for Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Ballard opened a Washington office in 2017 after Trump was elected, then relocated to a bigger one the following year, as companies and foreign governments flocked to his firm, Ballard Partners, for help navigating Trump’s administration. The firm is now the sixth-largest in Washington by lobbying revenue, according to a POLITICO analysis of disclosure filings.

Ballard, who has raised more than $1.6 million for Trump’s reelection, the Republican National Committee and state Republican parties, according to disclosure filings, said in an interview that he was confident Trump would win. But he also insisted his firm — whose Washington office tilts Republican but also includes Democrats such as former Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) — will prosper even if Trump loses.

He plans to hire more lobbyists with congressional experience next year regardless of the outcome of the election. “In the event that there’s a Biden presidency, our firm will evolve,” he said. “It’s not about who’s in the White House.”

Dave Tamasi, a Republican lobbyist who served as finance chairman of the Trump Victory committee in 2016, said he expects Trump to win. But he did an assessment a couple of months ago and concluded that his firm’s business would decline by only 5 to 10 percent if Trump lost.

“My business partner’s a Democrat and he’s as plugged in as plugged-in can be,” Tamasi said in an interview.

One all-Republican lobbying firm, CGCN Group, has diversified its business during the Trump administration in ways that could make it easier to endure Democratic control of Washington.

The firm has partnered with the Democratic lobbyists Mike Williams and Jennifer Stewart on a bipartisan lobbying offering that aims to find common ground between Democratic lawmakers of color and conservative Republicans who represent some of the country’s poorest congressional districts. And it hired the Environmental Protection Agency’s deputy general counsel, Justin Schwab, earlier this year to start an affiliated legal firm, CGCN Law.

“There’s going to be a lot of lawsuits coming if there is a Biden administration, certainly at the EPA,” said Sam Geduldig, CGCN Group’s co-chief executive.

New presidents always stoke demand for lobbyists who are seen as close to the incoming administration.

Betsey Wright, a former chief of staff to Bill Clinton when he was Arkansas’ governor, became a sought-after lobbyist after Clinton was elected in 1992. Ed Gillespie, who worked on George W. Bush’s successful campaign in 2000, saw his lobbying firm thrive after Bush won.

But the shock of Trump’s 2016 victory and the relative paucity of Beltway insiders with close ties to his inner circle drove strong demand for lobbyists who could open doors in the administration.

Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, and Barry Bennett, another Trump campaign veteran, started a lobbying firm within weeks of Trump’s election. Lobbyists with ties to Trump such as Ballard and Tamasi expanded their firms or set up new ones, while several established firms hired former Trump campaign aides.

Lewandowski left the firm he founded with Bennett several months into the Trump administration and is now affiliated with another lobbying firm, Turnberry Solutions, though Lewandowski isn’t a registered lobbyist himself. Turnberry has lobbied the White House on behalf of clients such as T-Mobile and Elevate Textiles, a North Carolina textile mill, in recent months, according to disclosure filings.

Turnberry might lose a couple of clients if Biden wins, but the firm will endure, said Jason Osborne, a Turnberry lobbyist, who added that he was “cautiously optimistic” that Trump would prevail on Tuesday.

“The vast majority of our business is not related to who’s in the White House or who’s in Congress,” he said.

No lobbyist has raised more for Trump’s reelection than Jeff Miller, who’s brought in more than $8.8 million for Trump’s reelection effort and the RNC. Miller, who’s close to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy as well as Rick Perry, Trump’s former energy secretary, started a lobbying firm in 2017 that’s earned more than $25.1 million in lobbying revenue in Trump’s first term, according to disclosure filings.

Reached via text message, Miller wrote that there was no need to comment because “the President’s going to win.”

Other Republican lobbyists are less sanguine.

“If I had to bet today, I’d say that Biden wins,” former Rep. Thomas Reynolds (R-N.Y.), a former National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) chairman who’s now a lobbyist at Holland & Knight, said during a panel discussion last month.

Former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), another former NRCC chair who’s now a lobbyist at the same firm, said during the discussion that Trump could still win but that he needed an “inside straight.”

“I don’t say this with any joy or anything but I do think at the end of the day there are a lot of Americans who just don’t want Donald Trump in their living room for the next four years,” Davis said.

In an interview on Friday, Reynolds said he thought Trump’s prospects had improved in the past couple of weeks but that he remained the underdog.

“Does he have a pathway to win? Yes,” he said. “Is it a difficult one? Yes.”

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