Dem Lobbyists Eye Benefits from Obama


Erika Lovley, Politico

K Street’s lobbying approach will change in Barack Obama’s administration, in part because he’ll be the first president with congressional roots since George H.W. Bush.

Democratic lobbyists are eyeing ways to take advantage of Obama’s ties with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other congressional powerhouses, hoping legislation will move faster because Obama won’t have the congressional learning curve that confronted Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

“When you come out of Congress, you tend to look to Congress for help because you have an easier, more pervasive working relationship with the people there,” said David Hoppe, president of Quinn Gillespie & Associates. “The legislative branch will be more of a partner in the executive-legislative decision-making process. It would be wise for [lobbyists] to look at that relationship.”

The new Obama administration will also create other shifts on K Street.

The White House change of guard will produce a more significant lobbying focus for foreign governments, foreign companies and large numbers of corporations that do significant business with the administration but not with Congress. The reasons are twofold: Obama’s policies and the worldwide economic slump.

On the campaign trail, the Democratic senator from Illinois pledged to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, but he never offered many details about how he’d do it. So those who want big changes as well as those willing to live with a few tweaks will be pressing their cases.

The global economic recovery efforts also will require the Obama White House to work closely with foreign governments to coordinate responses. And lobbyists with ties to the White House and foreign capitals will be monitoring those negotiations carefully for clients in the financial world and elsewhere.

Rising deficits — and changing politics — are also expected to squeeze the amount of money available on Capitol Hill for pork barrel spending. And that’s prompting a fresh set of clients — from businesses to state and local governments — to look for representation on K Street to fight for a piece of the shrinking pie.

Bipartisan lobby shops say they are especially struggling to keep up with new client requests.

“We’ve had substantial interest in new client development. I haven’t had a vacation in months,” said Steven Kreseski, Livingston Group chief operating officer. “And we are planning to see another wave of activity in January as the Obama administration ramps up.”

Finally, the growing number of the House’s conservative and moderate Blue Dog Democrats is expected to encourage coalition building where supportive Republican and conservative voices could be useful.

“While [Republicans] will probably lose virtually every vote in the House … the way issues are raised and argued in the House will have an impact on how the Senate votes on them,” Hoppe said. “To that degree, Republicans will be part of this process.”

Some medium-sized lobby shops, including The Podesta Group, have been scooping up the early-moving Republicans to accommodate growing clienteles.

“Most of our recent additions have been Republicans,” said Tony Podesta, a Democrat who founded the firm that bears his name. “We look for the best talent, and these are people who are very effective strategists who don’t come along every day.”

Podesta’s shop has been bipartisan since the Clinton administration, but many others have just begun to branch out. “Most lobbying shops have tried to get away from a majority-based approach. That transition is already under way,” said defense lobbyist Jeff Green, founder of J.A. Green & Co. and a former aide to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.). “Even traditional Republican-based firms have had to go out and take a bipartisan approach.”

Some smaller firms are hoping that the tough economic times and partisan shifts on Capitol Hill will give them an edge in negotiations with clients looking to cut their lobbying costs.

Corporate budgets are shrinking, though American Continental Group lobbyist David Urban said a number of businesses have delayed completing their budgets and cutting staff until they knew the outcome of the election and Wall Street bailout.

“Companies are going to be asked to do more with less, and in terms of lobbying, that means people will be asked to cover more issues and more turf,” he said.