Capital Business recently caught up with Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., chairman of Washington’s most lucrative lobbying firm Patton Boggs, and Ed Newberry, the firm’s managing partner, to discuss the election, the Obama administration’s treatment of Washington lobbyists and how the outcome of the election will impact the lobbying business. Boggs is a major Democratic fundraiser, contributing $80,300 to Democratic representatives, senators, committees and candidates in 2011-12, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Newberry contributed $13,050 in 2011, split between candidates of both parties and recipients unaffiliated with either party. The following are excerpts from a September interview.
The Obama administration has come down hard on lobbyists, banning registered lobbyists from serving on government advisory boards. How do you as a lobbyist work with an administration like that?
Boggs: When Obama ran, all the polling data said people don’t like Washington. But the Democrats controlled the Congress. It would’ve been hard for Obama to run against a Democratically controlled Congress. So, who’s the next target? The next target was Washington lobbyists. We’re a little bit more popular than Congress, but not much ... It has been a great flaw of the administration that they kept people who really are experts in their fields from being advisers to the government, employees of the government, because of the crazy ban they put on lobbyists in the government. Now they’ve greatly changed that [last year, the Obama re-election campaign hired former lobbyist Broderick Johnson, and in March, Joe Biden tapped former lobbyist Steve Ricchetti as an adviser], there are lots of lobbyists working for the administration, which is probably going to make it work better in the second term.
Do you think Obama will be re-elected for a second term?
Boggs: I think if [Republican challenger Mitt] Romney keeps talking and if Congressman [Paul] Ryan keeps promoting vouchers for Medicare, yeah they’ll win.
What do you think about Romney’s ‘47 percent’ comments?
Boggs: I’m afraid that’s what he thinks. We have plenty of people here working for Romney, I don’t want to knock my partners’ clients. [Patton Boggs senior partner Benjamin Ginsberg is Mitt Romney’s campaign lawyer.] Ed is a Romney fan.
Newberry: I think its going to be a very, very close election. We have very tough economic problems, and solutions that are in place aren’t working. Romney and Ryan have some ideas. Yeah, some of the rhetoric is new and different, but there’s a stark contrast. I think it’s going to be extraordinarily close.
Boggs: I don’t see any coattails. The only Senate race that’s affected by who wins the presidency is Virginia. Those guys [Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen] are both so well known, and they’re basically tied. Whatever presidential candidate wins Virginia, the Senate will go that way. I can’t think of another Senate race where that’s true.
How will the results of the election affect business for the firm?
Boggs: The historic facts are that when Republicans control the White House, Washington lobbyists make more money. The reason for that is Republicans think they can get something done, and it costs more to get something done than it takes to stop something. The Democrats ... [play] defense more than offense.
Newberry: Divided government creates more business for lobbyists. We’re both a lobbying firm and a law firm. Twenty to 23 percent of our revenue comes from lobbying and related activities, and the other 70-80 percent comes from traditional areas of law ... What happens in Washington matters, but for a firm like ours, it’s not dispositive because there are still corporate transactions that need government approval, there are still small-business issues, environmental issues, transportation issues that are influenced by government, that aren’t partisan.