President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans’ inability to shepherd major legislation through Congress doesn’t seem to be hurting the swamp.
Most of Washington’s top lobbying firms saw their revenue rise in the second quarter, after fears among some corporations and lobbyists — and hopes among some Trump supporters — that the president’s election in 2016 would curb Washington’s influence industry.
“Despite the difficulty of getting major legislation done, this is probably one of the most active periods in recent years that I’ve seen,” said Darrell Conner, a lobbyist at K&L Gates, which saw its lobbying revenue rise to $4.6 million in the second quarter from $4.3 million in the first quarter and $4.4 in the second quarter of 2016.
Akin Gump, the top-grossing firm in D.C., raked in $9.7 million in the second quarter, according to newly filed disclosures. That’s up from $9.4 million in the first quarter, and it matches the amount Akin Gump’s revenue in the second quarter of 2016. Brownstein Hyatt, the second-place firm, brought in $6.9 million in revenue, up from $6.7 million in the first quarter and in the same period last year.
Corporate America is still anxious that an errant presidential tweet could batter their businesses, though that feeling has calmed down in recent months. And companies still don’t know what Trump’s administration will do on health care, taxes, trade and a host of other issues — but they are spending heavily to influence the outcome in the meantime.
“There’s still a high level of uncertainty,” said Elizabeth Gore, the chairwoman of Brownstein Hyatt’s government relations practice.
So companies continue to shell out on lobbyists to make sure they have a voice in Trump’s Washington.
With Congress largely gridlocked on big-ticket issues, much of the action is taking place in the executive branch.
“We are still doing a lot of work on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue,” Gore said, as Trump’s cabinet agencies reshape regulations and the White House continues to issue executive orders coming.
John Raffaelli, the founding partner of Capitol Counsel, which represents blue-chip clients including AT&T, ExxonMobil and JPMorgan Chase, said he expected lobbying firms would see larger bumps in business later this year. “The appropriations process is going to be going full speed, taxes are going to be going full speed,” he said.
Some firms — including those with former Trump campaign staffers on board — have already seen big leaps in business.
BGR Group, a leading Republican-leaning firm co-founded by former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, brought in $5.7 million in the second quarter up from compared to $5 million in the first quarter and $4.5 million in the second quarter of 2016.
Dave Urban, an early Trump supporter who helped him carry Pennsylvania, is a top lobbyist at American Continental Group. The firm raked in $3.3 million in the second quarter — up nearly 40 percent since the first quarter, and close to twice as much as it brought in during the second quarter of 2016. Urban has signed clients including Comcast, Raytheon and the National Retail Federation this year amid persistent rumors that he’ll join the White House, potentially as chief of staff if Reince Priebus leaves.
The most successful former Trump campaign hand on K Street may be Brian Ballard. A longtime Florida lobbyist, Ballard served as a top fundraiser for Trump during the campaign and opened a Washington office after he won. The firm, Ballard Partners, took in $2.3 million, outdoing many more established lobbying powerhouses as its brought on clients like Amazon, Uber and American Airlines.
Even Avenue Strategies, the firm started after the election by Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s controversy-prone former campaign manager, and another Trump campaign hand, Barry Bennett, has defied skeptics by posting solid numbers. The firm took in $450,000 in lobbying revenue in the second quarter.
Not every firm is enjoying a surge in business.
The Podesta Group, which had been seen as close to President Barack Obama’s administration, saw its revenue drop to $5.2 million in the second quarter compared to $5.5 million in the first quarter and $5.9 million in the second quarter of 2016, although the firm’s revenue remains one of the highest in town.
David Marin, the managing principal of Podesta’s public relations practice, said any declining in lobbying revenue was made up for by an increase in the firm’s communications work. “We’re much more than a quote-unquote lobbying firm,” Marin said. “We’re a strategic communications firm.”
Subject Matter, a well-known Democratic-leaning firm, has also taken a hit. The firm brought in $2.1 million last quarter, down from $2.5 million in the second quarter of 2016.
“In 2016, we were an all-Democratic firm in an environment in which I think people were expecting Democrats to win the presidency, if not the Senate as well,” said Steve Elmendorf, the plugged-in lobbyist who’s one of Subject Matter’s co-founders.
Since the election, the firm has brought on three Republicans and is looking to hire more. “Our goal is to be fully bipartisan,” Elmendorf said.
Still, he doesn’t expect the firm’s revenue to return to its previous level until next year — although anything could happen.
“There’s never been an environment quite like this, because there’s never been a president quite like this,” Elmendorf said.