Don't Cry for Republican Lobbyists

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Monday, November 13, 2006

Democrats took control of Congress in part by bashing Republicans for their coziness with "special interests." You'd think, then, that lobbyists would have a hard time finding employment when the new Congress convenes next year.

Think again.

Lobbying firms all over town have posted "Help Wanted" signs, anticipating more business than ever. The prime candidates for these jobs are Democratic staffers, who might be lured to the private sector by bigger salaries just as their bosses come into power. But Republicans might also be in demand.

Turns out that divided government is good for the lobbying game. Change, in general, creates more need for expert advice. And when that change is a move from one-party control to two-party competition, the market for translators and guides from both sides of the aisle expands a lot.

"I tell my Republican friends, 'Despair not,' " said Joel Johnson, a partner at Glover Park Group, an all-Democratic lobbying and public affairs firm. "There's plenty of work to do."

"The election will bring a brighter set of days for Democratic lobbyists," said Dirk Van Dongen, a prominent Republican lobbyist and president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors. "Republican lobbyists will be very, very busy as well."

It's inevitable that GOP firms and GOP lobbyists, who have dominated the downtown scene for years, will no longer be as sought-after as they once were. When all the chairmen on Capitol Hill have (D)'s after their names, being an (R) lobbyist can't serve as much of a come-on for new clients.

"Politics in Washington matters," said Ed Rogers, chairman of the all-GOP lobbying firm Barbour, Griffith & Rogers. "Your political affiliation can give you a tail wind or a head wind." A head wind is clearly what his company is dealing with now.

At the same time, Republicans will not be irrelevant. The executive branch is still in Republican hands. What's more, the Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate are narrow; GOP votes will be needed for almost anything to get done.

That is especially true in the Senate, where 60 votes are required to move major pieces of legislation and many minor ones, too. Democrats can count only 51 votes on their side.

So Republican lobbyists will still be important for anyone who wants to make things happen. Republican lobbyists will be needed even more, in fact, to prevent things from happening. With Democrats setting the legislative agenda, industries of all sorts will have to play defense in ways that they have not had to for years. The assistance of Republicans lobbyists will be key to blocking anti-industry bills, particularly in the Senate.

"The core constituencies of the Democratic Party have pent-up wish lists -- you can start with the AFL-CIO and move on to the trial lawyers," Van Dongen said. "A lot of work will have to be done to stop that stuff."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company