At the Tower of Barbour, Adjusting That Rightward Tilt

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The granddaddy of Republican lobbying shops, Barbour Griffith & Rogers, has decided to go bipartisan.

Starting next year, the capital's largest and longest-lived all-GOP firm will hire Democrats.

The surprise move, announced exclusively in this column, is the most substantial evidence to date that the city's political professionals are expecting Democrats to remain in important positions of power in Washington for a long time to come.

"I'm not going to deny the obvious," said BGR's chairman, Ed Rogers. "The expectations of our clients are such that we have to have a full range of political, policy and business expertise, and in today's world that includes Democrats."

BGR, the capital's sixth-largest firm, with lobbying revenue of $11.5 million in the first half of 2007, was founded 16 years ago by former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour (now the governor of Mississippi) and two of his longtime associates, Lanny Griffith and Rogers. Barbour is no longer involved with the firm; Griffith is the firm's chief executive.

Since the company's inception, everyone who has worked there, including the secretaries (as Barbour was once proud to say), has been a Republican.

But in recent months that has increasingly become just window dressing. When Democrats took control of Congress after last year's elections, BGR began to subcontract with Democratic-leaning firms more than ever to ensure that its clients could communicate easily with the Democrats in charge. BGR has worked with Elmendorf Strategies, the Ickes and Enright Group, and the Podesta Group, for example.

That was not the cheapest way to maintain such contacts, so BGR has decided to drop the pretense and hire -- and maybe also form a partnership with -- its own set of Democratic lobbyists. Its first, big-name Democratic hire, will be announced early next month.

BGR is also changing in other ways. It's taking a new name -- BGR Holdings LLC -- and plans to expand its services to include public relations, crisis management and various support services for corporate transactions, adding about 10 professionals to its current roster of 17. It will also increase the amount of commercial, non-government-related advice it gives. The company has already made a bundle connecting one business to another in such areas as oil and shipping, and it hopes to do even more of that.

"Our firm is big and multifaceted, and we have to change with the town, not just in terms of politics but also with our business offerings," Rogers said. "A lot of what we do is business-to-business relationships and international policy disputes."

The firm is not restructuring because it has fallen on hard times. Quite the opposite. BGR said its revenue this year will exceed $24 million, a record. Its clients include such blue-chip corporations as Citigroup, IBM, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, as well as major foreign entities, among them the Kurds of northern Iraq and the government of India.

This is not the firm's first major rebranding. In 1999, it was purchased by Interpublic Group of Companies, the international advertising and communication company that also owns Cassidy & Associates. But its executives bought the firm back four years later.

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