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C2 Gets a ‘B’

The lobbying outfit C2 Group has combined forces with Bates Capitol Group, the Kentucky firm of Hunter Bates. And both sides of the joined firm say future mergers could be coming.

Bates, a former chief of staff to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), started his shop in 2003 and last year reported revenue of more than $1.5 million for his firm of two. He and associate Lesley Elliott, another former McConnell aide, have set up in C2’s offices at 101 Constitution Ave. NW and are taking the C2 name.

“A year ago I began exploring a way to team up, so I started looking at different firms,” Bates said. [IMGCAP(1)]

The deal worked with C2, he said, because C2’s clients — including PepsiCo, Home Depot and Porsche — presented just one conflict: Bates said he had to give up AT&T because C2 already had cable company Comcast on board. Bates is bringing with him clients UPS, Amgen, the American Beverage Association, Auto Alliance and the Institute for Legal Reform.

Bates said he also was drawn to the shop’s bipartisan staff, including Jeff Murray, who is close with the Democratic, business-oriented Blue Dog Coalition. “With Jeff’s strong ties with House Democrats, I saw this as a good opportunity,” he said.

Added Murray: “We feel like we can guard the goal posts on each side.”

Last year C2 collected more than $5.4 million in lobbying fees, according to lobbying disclosures filed with the House and Senate. C2 co-founder Tom Crawford said he expects the combined shop to pull in $8 million for 2007.

Crawford added that the addition of Bates will help position C2 with Senate Republicans, a key pressure point to getting legislation passed or stopped even in the Democratic-controlled Congress. C2 is looking at bringing on other partners, including one with ties to Senate Democrats.

“This is part of an aggressive approach to grow the firm,” Bates said.

It also is part of an effort to make the firm attractive to potential suitors looking to acquire a lobbying shop. “We want to position ourselves so that if somebody wants to make an acquisition, they will consider us,” Crawford said, adding that getting bought isn’t the main goal. “We wake up every day saying we’re going to take care of the clients we have first.” So loyal to clients, in fact, that one C2 partner drives a Porsche. Bates, showing his loyalty to UPS, said, “I drive a brown truck.”

Wooing With Wine and Cheese. With agriculture subsidies on the carving block, organic foods might not be lawmakers’ top priority. But don’t tell that to the Organic Trade Association.

The group, headed by Caren Wilcox, has been upping its Capitol Hill presence — its members contacted more than 300 Members of Congress — in anticipation of the 2007 farm bill. So far, Wilcox has been successful in raising lawmakers’ awareness of organics.

“It’s not a big slice,” Wilcox said of the $3 million the House bill directs to organic research. But, she said, it’s a start. On July 25, the group, along with the Wine Institute, feted some of its biggest Congressional supporters, the Congressional Wine Caucus and Congressional Organic Caucus, with organic wines and cheeses on the eve of the House farm bill debate.

“Congress is saying we like organics,” Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), co-chairman of the wine caucus, said about the money directed to organics. Thompson knows a thing or two about organic farming — he owns a small California vineyard that is completely organic.

“This is just the beginning,” he said of future funding opportunities. That’s what Wilcox is hoping. With the House passing its version of the farm bill on Friday, the group will turn its attention to the Senate after the August recess, leaning on organic-friendly lawmakers such as Democratic Sens. Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Patrick Leahy (Vt.) to try to ensure the funding allowances remain intact and lobbying for better access for organic farmers to government programs.

Old Friends, New Business. Ex-Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas), who lost his seat in November to Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D), is still getting some love from his former San Antonio district. An immigration group there, Mexicans & Americans Thinking Together, has become Bonilla’s first registered lobbying client.

After losing the election, Bonilla joined the Normandy Group, and that’s where MATT retained Bonilla as well as a team of lobbyists that includes Louis Dupart and Christine Pellerin.

“They’re interested long-term in keeping immigration reform alive,” Bonilla explained.

The former Member currently is restricted from lobbying anyone in the House and Senate, including Members or staff. So for now, he is focused on introducing the advocacy group to like-minded organizations around town including the Associated Builders and Contractors and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (His co-lobbyists at the firm are under no such restrictions.)

“We’ve been working with groups that have a common interest of moving the ball down the field,” Bonilla said. “I’m trying to do long-term strategy, so that when it does come up again, they’re ready to move forward.”

Bonilla said the group’s executive director is an old friend. “It was happenstance that they were interested in having someone help them with the coalition,” he said.

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