Capitol Metrics bridges lobbying and data


John Brain founded Capitol Metrics in 2009. The subscription service pulls information from public records and puts it into a dashboard so clients can see who has been hired or fired, and how much is being paid. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For Capital Business)
December 1, 2013

Five years ago, John Brain was trying to help a family friend who was thinking about selling his lobby firm.

“I wanted to help him find firms that were similar to his that were purchased, or find firms that his would fit well with,” said Brain, who declined to name the firm. “I realized I wasn’t going to be able to do it easily.”

There were not many data-driven resources for lobbyists to research their competitors or potential merger partners. That’s when Brain got the idea to create Capitol Metrics, a subscription service that tracks the lobbying patterns of companies, lobby firms and trade associations — including who they’re hiring and firing, and how much they’re spending and earning to lobby on specific issues over time — for the purpose of giving lobbyists an edge in building their business.

Some of the data that the small firm presents — which comes from publicly available lobbying registration and termination reports, and quarterly Lobbying Disclosure Act records filed with the Senate — is similar to that offered by the Center for Responsive Politics, the Washington nonprofit research group that tracks money in politics. They both compile lists of the top lobby firms by revenue, as well as the companies and associations that are spending the most on lobbying. But Capitol Metrics goes deeper in breaking down some of the data and packaging it in a way that a lobbyist can better spot opportunities to pick up new business.

A lobbyist who subscribes to the $600-a-year service can, for example, analyze their own client base to see whether the fees they collect from specific clients are growing or shrinking over time, and on what issues. They can also flag a client to get alerts for when that company hires other lobby firms, how much those contracts are worth, and what issues they’re lobbying on.

They can track other lobby firms to see what percentage of their revenue comes from certain companies and what percentage of their revenue comes from lobbying on specific issues — say, immigration or tax — to get a sense of which firms are dominating the market in those areas. Trade associations can track which lobby firms their company members are hiring.

Brain founded the company in 2009 and started selling subscriptions in 2011. He now has more than two dozen clients, mostly lobbyists at firms and trade associations. He declined to disclose the company’s revenue other than to say it grown 325 percent since its first year..

Brain is a Washington area native whose father — and first Capitol Metrics client — is veteran lobbyist Chuck Brain of Capitol Hill Strategies. Creating a data-related business that grew out of the lobbying industry bridged Brain’s Washington upbringing and New York law firm experience. Before founding Capitol Metrics, Brain spent six years helping build and lead the business development unit at New York law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore. There, he learned data-driven techniques to help the law firm zero in on new opportunities. His group built databases tracking global deal activity, including which companies were being bought and sold, and which banks and law firms were representing the buyers and sellers, to spot trends in merger and acquisition activity that could help Cravath identify potential clients.

“I was always around lobbying,” Brain said. “A lot of my father’s friends are lobbyists and I interned on the Hill in high school. My [Cravath] experience gave me the lens to look at the data. Coming back here and being familiar with the lobbying industry, I was able to occupy the space in between lobbyists and the data.”

Brain initially relied on an outside IT vendor to create the Capitol Metrics dashboard, but today does most of the coding and data input himself. He works out of a shared office space near 19th and K Street, and is a one-man IT help desk, sales team and customer service representative.

“It’s a resource we use to stay up to date and have a good understanding of what’s happening in the industry,” said Geoff Gonella, a lobbyist at Cornerstone Government Affairs who has used Brain’s service for more than two years. “The information is pushed to us so it saves time.”

Catherine Ho covers law and lobbying for the Capital Business section of The Washington Post. She previously worked at the LA Daily Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit Free Press, the Wichita Eagle and the San Mateo County Times.
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