In a blow to one of K Street’s top lobbying firms, Democratic rainmaker Lanny Davis plans to leave Patton Boggs four years after launching the firm’s highly regarded crisis communications shop.
Davis, who was dubbed the “minister of scandal” for guiding former President Bill Clinton through a string of high-profile scandals with mixed success, will move his growing practice 10 blocks down the street to San Francisco-based Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLC.
Officials at Patton Boggs confirmed the departure but downplayed the significance of the impact on the firm’s business.
The move comes just a month after Patton Boggs surged into the No. 1 ranking among Washington lobbying shops with $14.3 million in revenue during the first six months of 2003.
Davis was an important part of Patton’s growth, luring a number of pricey corporate clients that found themselves in high-profile legal trouble, such as Metabolife Inc., the leading producer of ephedra, and HealthSouth Corp., which is being investigated for insider trading.
Patton Boggs officials, however, stressed Friday that they will not be hurt by the Davis’ exit.
“Lanny is an enormously capable fellow, but I don’t think that his departure will have any material effect on the firm,” said Stuart Pape, the managing partner at Patton Boggs.
Davis, a former special counsel in the Clinton White House, was a lead behind-the-scenes player during several of Clinton’s major scandals, from the inquiry into overnight stays in the Lincoln bedroom to the impeachment drama sparked by Monica Lewinsky.
A graduate of Yale and longtime personal friend of the former president and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Davis earned plaudits for helping the White House manage the scandals.
He became skilled at deflating major stories by either leaking favorable versions to key newspapers or downplaying them as old news.
In today’s scandal-driven media world, Davis’ talent has been sought by embattled politicians on both sides of the aisle, as well as corporations facing a torrent of negative headlines.
When Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) found himself in the middle of a media firestorm last year over racially tinged remarks at the 100th birthday party for then-Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), even the GOP leader turned to the Democratic spin doctor for help.
According to sources close to the situation, former Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) called Davis for advice after speaking with Lott. Davis later advised Lott over the telephone.
Of course, Davis has his enemies. In his early days in the White House, fellow Democrats thought he was a shameless self-promoter and dubbed him “Loose Cannon Lanny.”
He also raised eyebrows when he told reporters before the Senate vote on impeachment that every time he heard Linda Tripp’s name he “wanted to take a shower.”
More recently, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he found Davis “a bit much” when the two clashed at a Senate hearing on Metabolife and the alleged health risks associated with its ephedra products.
Davis left the White House in 1998 to return to Patton Boggs, the firm where he started as an associate in 1975 after graduating from Yale Law School.
Battle-tested in his years with Clinton, Davis cashed in on the experience by starting a practice that specialized in representing corporations that find themselves in legal trouble.
According to sources familiar with the most recent move, Davis plans to bring his five-member staff with him to Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. It is unclear if he will be able to bring his current roster of clients.
Orrick was founded in San Francisco in 1863 and now boasts 675 attorneys in 12 offices around the world.
The Washington, D.C., office has less than 100 employees and a miniscule lobbying contract, according to federal lobbying data.
Orrick was registered to lobby for a single client last year, Broken Hill Propriety Inc., which paid Orrick $15,000 before terminating its contract.
Interestingly, Orrick reported that it paid more to hire its own outside lobbyists than it made from its lobbying clients, according to the reports.
In 2002, the firm paid Clark & Weinstock and lobbyist Vic Fazio — a former Member of Congress — $100,000 to work excise tax matters.