For all the anguish impeachment caused on K Street last year, it was a banner year for Washington lobbyists. That's the surprising conclusion of the Center for Responsive Politics' second annual report on the city's influence industry.

"Washington's lobbying industry thrived amid the partisanship and inaction," says the study, titled "Influence Inc." While Congress turned its back on legislation addressing major issues such as Social Security, banking, health care and tobacco, lobbyists were setting records of their own despite the indecision on Capitol Hill, the study says.

Impeachment and elections may have dominated the second half of 1998, but lobbying expenditures--fees for hired guns and expenses for companies and special interest groups--actually increased slightly to $713 million from $710 million in the first half of the year, the center said.

Reported lobbying expenditures for the year jumped nearly 13 percent to $1.42 billion from $1.26 billion in 1997 and the number of lobbying clients soared by 21 percent to 15,705 from 12,960 in 1997, the center said. "More dramatically," the center said, the number of registered lobbyists had grown to 20,512 by June 15, up 37 percent from the 14,946 who had registed as of Sept. 30, 1997.

Equally remarkable, 261 organizations reported spending more than $1 million each in 1998, an increase of 43 groups from 1997. There were few changes among the big players, although the center calculated that the insurance industry's $77.2 million lobbying total pushed it ahead of the pharmaceutical industry, which had topped the 1997 list. Drug company spending totaled $73.8 million in 1998, down from $74.8 million in 1997.

The center based its study on disclosure reports that lobbyists, companies and other special interests filed with Congress.

Allan D. Shuldiner, the researcher who compiled the report, said he believes the boom has continued into the current year.

"The lobbying industry seems to have increased pretty rapidly . . . [and] I would expect a similar increase for 1999," he said yesterday.

Cassidy & Associates regained its No. 1 ranking as the biggest lobby shop in 1998 with billings of $19.9 million, pushing aside the law firm of Verner, Liipfert, Bernard, McPherson and Hand, whose big tobacco lobbying fees helped it top the 1997 list. Verner, Liipfert, the firm that includes former Senate majority leaders Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) and George J. Mitchell (D-Maine), had billings of $18.8 million in 1998.

Beset with antismoking legislation, the tobacco industry dramatically increased its lobbying last year, spending $67.4 million, up from $38.2 million, the center reported. No firm spent more--or at least disclosed spending more--than British American Tobacco, the parent of Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., which reported $25.2 million in 1998. That surpassed the $23 million the center calculated that Philip Morris, the big tobacco and consumer products conglomerate, spent defending its cigarette brands.

The center said its numbers may seem conservative because it based its study on the reported spending. Many expenditures may have gone unreported because some of the city's biggest names, such as Dole, say they only offer "strategic advice" to clients and don't engage in lobbying as defined by the reporting laws. Other aspects of state and local lobbying, which are often directed from K Street, are also omitted from the totals.

A footnote: The center also identified 138 former lawmakers who had registered to lobby last year, including 22 who last served in Congress in 1997.

Now Hiring, Arent Fox

The D.C. law firm of Arent Fox Kinter Plotkin & Kahn has hired six people for its government relations group headed by former senator John C. Culver (D-Iowa). Many of the new hires have a background in health issues and the firm is listing three new health clients: the American Association of Physician Specialists, the Arthritis Foundation and the Epilepsy Foundation. The new hires: Bill Applegate, formerly a director in Smith, Bucklin & Associates; Kristin Bodenstedt, former aide to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.); Robert Gustafson, former aide to Rep. John E. Porter (R-Ill.) and most recently a vice president for government relations at Fleishman-Hillard; Stacy Harbison, former aide to Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.); Douglas McCormack, former vice president of Sagamore Associates; and Jackie Watts, former aide to Rep. Floyd Spence (R-S.C.).

Symms and Johnston, Birds of a Feather

Former senator Steven D. Symms (R-Idaho) is not the only former lawmaker defending the cockfighting industry. Johnston & Associates says that former senator J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.) is representing the United Gamefowl Breeders Association in their fight against legislation that would ban shipments of the fighting birds from the 47 states where cockfighting is illegal to the three states that permit the bloody sport. Louisiana is one of the three states that permit the fights; Oklahoma and New Mexico are the others.

More Civil

Brian T. Pallasch has moved from the American Subcontractors Association to the 123,000-member American Society of Civil Engineers, where he is government relations director.

McAllister's e-mail address is mcallisteb@washpost.com