In a Down Time Everywhere Else, K Street Bustles
Monday, March 30, 2009
Last month, just before Valentine's Day, business at Holland & Knight was so slow that the law firm laid off more than 240 lawyers and staff, victims of the economic downturn that has dented Washington's reputation for being recession-proof.
But one area of the multi-service firm was thriving. Rich Gold, head of the firm's public policy and regulation practice, was hiring more than a dozen lobbyists, bringing his federal lobbying team to about 70, every one of them scrambling to stay on top of provisions and changes in the mammoth economic recovery package that was barreling through Congress. They were handling about 240 clients, including 50 new ones, all eager to win a portion of the stimulus that President Obama wanted passed.
"On the legal side of things, we've done our share of downsizing because of the economy, because of reduced demand," said Gold, the firm's chief lobbyist. "But on the policy side . . . we're picking up a couple clients a week at this point."
Put another way, Main Street's gloom has been K Street's boon.
The $787 billion stimulus package -- along with an ambitious new federal budget, bank bailouts and the beginning of a regulatory overhaul -- has succeeded in stimulating the economy along Washington's avenue of influence. In the months since the November election, more than 2,000 cities, companies and associations have hired lobbyists to help them push their agendas on Capitol Hill and at the White House, easily outpacing such numbers after the previous two elections, according to disclosure records.
Nearly every industry and every corner of the country has an issue, especially with so much money at stake.
"The issues in the stimulus package were enormous for our business," said Carol Grant, senior vice president at First Wind, a small wind-energy firm. The company recently hired its first lobbyist -- as well as a public relations firm -- because, as Grant put it, if ever there were a time to plug into the business of the nation's capital, "this is the year."
Local infrastructure projects?
"We decided we needed eyes and ears in Washington," said Ed Tinker, city manager of Glenpool, Okla., population 10,000. The city hired Capitol Hill Consulting Group, which employs former Oklahoma Rep. Bill Brewster (D), for $10,000 a month to help it win grants for education and infrastructure improvements. "There are dollars up there that could come to our community that we weren't aware of," Tinker said. "It's worked out real fine for us. Having that guy on the ground in Washington is going to keep us in the loop."
Interviews with lobbyists and public relations firms in the capital reveal a cautious optimism. Though as an industry firms are not expecting another record year of fees -- last year, lobbying clients paid K Street an unprecedented $3.2 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics -- some are planning for modest growth. Others are aiming to keep pace with last year.
"Flat is the new up," said Gold, a former senior counselor to Carol Browner, a Clinton administration Environmental Protection Agency administrator.