On Wednesday, Hasrtert pleaded guilty in a federal court in Chicago to violating federal banking laws in order to conceal past misdeeds. Hastert admitted in court that he withdrew money from various banks in small enough increments to avoid mandatory reporting requirements. Sentencing guidelines call for the former speaker to serve between zero and six months in jail, but the judge could slap him with up to the maximum five years in prison. It’s unlikely further details about the case will be aired publicly, though they could be revealed at Hastert’s Feb. 29 sentencing.
In the five months since the indictment, the lobbying business at Dickstein has trickled to a fraction of its past earnings. So far in 2015, the firm has earned just 11 percent of the lobbying revenue it earned during the same period in 2014 — $390,000 during the first nine months of 2015, compared to $3.66 million during the same period last year, according to lobbying disclosure reports.
Much of that loss predates Hastert’s resignation, and is due to the 13 lobbyists who left Dickstein for rival firm Greenberg Traurig in the summer of 2014. They took with them the firm’s top-paying lobbying client, tobacco company Lorillard, and a major chunk of Dickstein’s annual lobbying fees. In 2013, the last full calendar year Lorillard was a client, the company paid Dickstein $2.77 million in lobbying fees, about 35 percent of the lobbying group’s revenue that year.
But even aside from the Greenberg departures, there are signs of decline. Lobbying revenue fell 56 percent from the second to the third quarter 2015, from $180,000 to $80,000.
And five lobbying clients have ended their relationship with Dickstein since July — significant, considering the firm had just 10 lobbying clients on record this year. One of those five clients, Fuels America — a coalition advocating for renewable fuel standards — was Hastert’s client.
There has been little personnel movement, either through departures or new hires, in the lobbying group since Hastert’s resignation.
A small team remains, led by Scott Thomas, a well-regarded political law attorney and former FEC chairman. Lobbyist David Thompson, a former Hastert aide, continues to work on client matters that were once at least partially handled by Hastert, such as the Secure ID Coalition, a group of companies that make digital security technology for identification cards.
“We are evaluating the strategic direction of our public policy practice,” Dickstein chairman Jim Kelly said in a statement. “We have a solid group of people upon which to build if we determine additional resources are necessary to serve our clients. Currently, we are happy with our group and the clients we serve.”
Dickstein is a large law firm, bringing in $192 million in revenue in 2014, and even a sharp decline in lobbying business won’t sink the entire firm. Still, rebuilding the lobbying practice was framed as an important component of the firm’s overall restructuring strategy. Hastert’s unexpected exit halted the momentum on that effort.
Last year, after the exits to Greenberg, the firm’s leaders appointed Hastert to revive the lobbying business.
Hastert, who had been at the firm since 2009, was not considered an especially profitable “rainmaker,” but was well-liked by colleagues and clients, and his status as a popular former member of Congress made him a sensible pick.
During an August 2014 interview, Hastert was optimistic about the prospects for growth, saying that Lorillard’s exit meant the firm could start representing companies in the medical and health sector, which previously appeared to conflict with tobacco interests.
“We’re not falling apart,” he said at the time. “We’re building up.”