Fastest-Growing DC Lobbying Firms Benefit From Trump Ties and Revolving Door Hires
Lobbying firms in Washington D.C. saw revenue more than double in the Trump era.
(By Yue Stella Yu, The Center for Responsive Politics) For many well-connected Washington lobbying firms, business is booming after President Donald Trump’s 2016 election.
At least 22 lobbying firms saw revenue more than double in the Trump era compared to the previous three years, with many signing high-dollar contracts with big-name clients, an OpenSecrets analysis found.
The reasons for the revenue spikes vary. Some lobbying firms simply received a bigger check from existing clients or took on new ones as businesses were eager to influence the new administration. Others grew their team, recruiting well-connected lobbyists who brought their existing clients to their new firms. Some firms touted connections to the Trump orbit, luring clients who wished to have the president’s ear.
Tapping Into the Trump Network
Cove Strategies, a Virginia-based lobbying firm founded in 2009 by conservative lobbyist Matt Schlapp, has been thriving since Trump took office. Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union since 2014, is a vocal Trump defender on cable networks and regularly lobbies the president’s office. Trump frequently appears at the organization’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference. Schlapp’s wife, Mercedes Schlapp, served as Trump’s strategic communications director for two years and has now joined Trump’s reelection campaign.
The couple enjoy close access to the president, which in turn helped boost Matt Schlapp’s lobbying business. Cove Strategies’ revenue surged to $1 million in 2017 and has reached $1.3 million so far this year. The company is representing Verizon Communications on telecom and tax issues, and is lobbying on behalf of Walmart and several pharmaceutical companies. Ligado Networks, which filed a petition to urge the Federal Communications Commission to modify the company’s license so it could support 5G services for certain users, hired Cove Strategies to lobby the president’s office on mid-band spectrum and 5G issues.
The revenue hike came after Terry Allen, the company’s only lobbyist, partnered with Bill Smith, congressional chief-of-staff to now-Vice President Mike Pence for 12 years. Smith, who told Politico in 2016 that he offered Pence informal advice on his transition to VP, has been actively lobbying the vice president’s office on behalf of a handful of clients.
Baker and Hostetler, which already employed several “revolving door” lobbyists who previously held government positions, saw record-high revenue in 2017 after Jim Murphy, former political director of Trump’s presidential campaign, joined as a senior advisor. The same year, the company also represented social media giant Facebook and the powerful trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America with six-figure contracts.
Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, the decades-old law firm of Trump’s longtime personal attorney Marc Kasowitz, also witnessed substantial business growth in recent years. The company hired former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who served as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, to represent Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE Corp on national security-related issues last year.
The hire came after U.S. intelligence suspected that the Chinese-government-tied company posed a cybersecurity threat. The company told OpenSecrets earlier this year that Lieberman was not advocating for ZTE but was merely making recommendations for the tech company.
Hopping on the wagon of firms selling Trump connections, Federal Advocates, which only had a bare bone team of lobbyists in 2016, gained huge profits in the Trump era. Michael Esposito, president of the firm, has more than two dozen clients. The formerly self-proclaimed “Democratic lobbyist,” who pitched himself to then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, is now touting his connections with the Trump administration and the Republican National Committee leadership despite lack of evidence, The Washington Post reported.
The company saw its business quadruple since 2016, bringing in $3.2 million worth of contracts in 2017 from 33 clients including retail giant PetSmart Inc and the National Cannabis Industry Association. That is more than three times the $907,000 it earned in 2016. It picked up multiple revolving door lobbyists, including former Rep. Christopher Carney (D-Pa.) as the firm’s vice president. Carney left the company in October to join national law firm Nossaman.
Revolving Door Hires Benefit Some Firms
It’s not only the Trump-tied lobbying firms that saw a boost in their revenue. Some firms also brought on board lobbyists with rich experience working for the government.
Clark Hill PLC, an international law firm, was hired by nine clients for a total amount of $618,000 in 2016. The following year, the firm saw a sevenfold increase in revenue, taking on 41 clients for $4.4 million. The company is now representing KBR Inc., a construction company that expressed interest in helping Trump build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In 2017, the firm hired Kevin Kelly, former staffer for then Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Ma.) and staff director of the Senate Appropriations Committee for almost a decade. Kelly immediately started to represent 34 clients, some of whom were clients when he worked for Washington lobbying firm Van Scoyoc Associates. Since joining Clark Hill, Kelly has lobbied on behalf of a variety of interest groups, ranging from higher education institutions to the public sector of Koch Industries.
Lauren Lipin, Kelly’s former colleague at Van Scoyoc Associates, joined Clark Hill PLC the same year, bringing several clients from her old job. Also a “revolver,” Lipin served as legislative assistant to Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Ma.) between 2009 and 2013.
The company recently recruited Anthony Campau, a former member of Trump’s transition team and chief-of-staff at the White House’s regulatory review office, to oversee its government regulation unit. Campau’s knowledge in policy making, Kelly said in a statement, would “enable us to help the firm’s clients in a way that few firms at the Federal level can offer.”
Also taking on big-name clients in recent years is Hance Scarborough LLP, a Texas-based lobbying firm with only $70,000 worth of contracts from four clients in 2016. The firm saw an exponential revenue increase over the past three years, bringing in $710,000 in 2017 and $1.6 million in 2018.
Former Rep. Kent Hance (D-Texas), who switched to be a Republican after stepping down, formed the firm in 1994. The former Texas congressman served as the chancellor of the Texas Tech University System and returned to lobbying after his retirement from the position in 2014.
Former Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas) joined the firm in 2017, immediately bringing in his former Texas-based clients as well as national and international organizations. Turner’s former legislative director, David Pore, rejoined the company with Turner in 2017 after five years as the firm’s attorney, lobbying on behalf of several groups including Pore’s previous employer, the Association of Texas Professional Educators.
Jay Stewart, the firm’s managing partner, said clients that Turner and Pore brought with them helped with the firm’s business. “More clients is better for any firm, because … that’s where you find future businesses with existing businesses,” Stewart said. “But we did not merge with (them) … for the purpose of gaining access to their clients.”
Hance Scarborough expanded its businesses in recent years. In 2018, the firm deployed multiple lobbyists to influence Congress on behalf of General Motors on automobile-related issues, including manufacturing, tax credits and trade deals.
Skadden Arps, an influential law firm that settled with the Department of Justice earlier this year over its work with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in Ukraine, is back on the rise, reviving its influence and building a team of revolving door lobbyists. After dropping to $100,000 in 2016, the company’s lobbying revenue bounced back to $1.4 million in 2017 and $1.5 million in 2018.
Hall Render, a national law firm with an expertise in health law, expanded its lobbying operation in 2017. John F. Williams, former press secretary of the House Government Reform Committee and the company’s only registered lobbyist at the time, was joined by Andrew Coats, who had served as the legislative assistant to former Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) and the company’s counsel. The increased business that year also allowed the firm to bring on board another lobbyist, Williams said.
Williams said the business growth in 2017 reflected the acknowledgment of the firm’s expertise among its clients. “That just seemed to be the year everything clicked,” he said.