Top lobbying firms recorded banner year in 2010

By Amanda Becker
Monday, January 31, 2011

The receipts are in, and for much of K Street 2010 ended just as strongly as it began.

The 10 most profitable shops -- Patton Boggs, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the Podesta Group, Van Scoyoc Associates, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Holland & Knight, Cassidy & Associates, K&L Gates, Ogilvy Government Relations and Williams & Jensen -- brought in more than $260 million from federal lobbying work during 2010, in part due to massive legislative efforts that included the health care overhaul, the Wall Street reform package and a now-stalled climate change proposal.

"There was an unbelievable array of initiatives in Congress and the executive branch in major areas that were in and of themselves major pieces of legislation," said Alfred E. Mottur, managing partner of Brownstein Hyatt's District office. "It was about the business community recognizing that this was going to be an unusually high period of activity in Washington that could affect their bottom line, and we, along with many other firms, were the beneficiary of that."

K Street behemoth Patton Boggs once again posted revenue higher than did any other firm, bringing in roughly $51.4 million in 2010, according to Capital Business estimates. The analysis is based on Lobbying Disclosure Act forms filed with the U.S. Senate by both Patton Boggs and the Breaux-Lott Leadership Group, which it acquired in July. The Podesta Group, meanwhile, increased the amount of revenue brought in by federal lobbying work by about 15 percent to $29.4 million in 2010, even coming off a banner year in 2009. In addition to individuals added to the health care, financial services and regulatory teams, the firm plans to announce that national security expert Stephen Rademaker is joining on Feb. 1, said spokeswoman Michelle C. Tessier. Podesta has also been expanding a group that serves foreign clients and its public relations practice, neither of which is included in the federal lobbying figures.

"Those are actually two areas of the firm that have grown even more than the [disclosure forms] would lead you to believe," Tessier said.

Of course fluctuations in head counts can go both ways. At the beginning of the year, a half-dozen lobbyists left Oglivy to form the government affairs group Thorn Run Partners and the lobbying firm Crossroads Strategies, which affected the firm's bottom line. Ogilvy brought in about $4 million less from federal lobbying work in 2010 than it did in 2009, reflecting its diminished workforce. In recent weeks Ogilvy bolstered its staff by bringing in several health care specialists in anticipation of challenges to the health care law. A spokesman said there would be more hires in 2011 as the firm repositions.

Though health care, climate change and financial services were the big issues this year, they weren't the only areas keeping lobbyists busy. Intellectual property, tax work, congressional investigations and issues affecting Native American interests were all cited as fruitful areas by local shops. Firm leaders say they expect some of these issues will carry over into 2011, while the new divided Congress is sure to generate interest in others.

"It's difficult in January to see all the areas that are going to be strong," said Akin Gump's Smith Davis, who co-manages the firm's public policy group. "We may revisit some of the areas that were strong last year but I'm always surprised."

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