Boutique Lobbyists Lure Big Payout
Revenue Per Employee Varies Widely on K Street
At Capitol Tax Partners, a boutique lobbying firm that, as its name suggests, specializes in arcane budgetary issues, it took seven lobbyists to bring in $11.9 million in lobbying revenue last year. Across town at powerhouse firm Patton Boggs, the shop that grossed the most lobbying revenue last year, it took 137 registered lobbyists to pull down $40.7 million.
While both firms are among the largest 25 lobbying firms, Capitol Tax’s seven employees averaged $1.7 million each, and Patton Boggs’ lobbyists averaged $297,080 apiece.
The huge disparity in revenue per lobbyist at the two firms — revealed in a Roll Call analysis of Lobbying Disclosure Act filings with Congress — shows that even among K Street’s biggest 25 lobbying practices, the business models vary widely.
Capitol Tax, which ranked 18th in overall revenue among lobbying firms last year, catapulted ahead of many of the city’s other top firms in revenue per lobbyist because of a small staff that worked exclusively on accounts that included Accenture, Apple and Verizon.
Lindsay Hooper, the firm’s co-founder, said that because of the complexities of tax issues, Capitol Tax Partners does not delegate part-time lobbying work to associates, as some firms do.
“Clients expect a majority of our work will be done by the principals,— Hooper said. “There are a lot of firms that do a lot more leveraging. You can bring in inexpensive help.—
Other lobbying shops with smaller staffs also jumped to the top of the list of revenue per lobbyist.
Ranked second was the Breaux Lott Leadership Group, which generated $1.35 million on average for each of its eight registered lobbyists last year. Breaux Lott, whose principals include former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), ranked at the bottom of the top 25 in overall revenue.
John Breaux Jr., son of the ex-Senator who lobbies with his father, said the bipartisan nature of the firm helped explain the big sums it commands for each of its lobbyists’ efforts.
“You get two firms in one, and the limited number of the lobbyists that we have devote personal attention to the client,— he said.
Breaux Lott’s client list includes some of the nation’s largest companies and trade groups, including Chevron, AT&T, FedEx, General Electric and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
While such smaller specialty firms are at the top when measured by revenue per lobbyist, several large firms, such as Patton Boggs, which traditionally rake in the most lobbying income, ranked lower.
What’s a Lobbyist Worth?
Some of these large firms said they would rather show more modest figures to their clients looking for value.
“What lobbyist in town is worth $1.7 million?— asked Rich Gold, a partner at Holland & Knight.
Holland & Knight, which was seventh in overall revenue, dropped to No. 22 in revenue per lobbyist. The firm’s 73 lobbyists brought in, on average, $297,260 last year.
Gold said the large number of people working part time on lobbying at law firms accounts for much of the differences in lobbying revenue. But he said they do not totally account for why some smaller firms generate such huge sums for each of their lobbyists compared with larger law firms.
“There is really a little bit of a question about value being provided,— he said. “They have very few people seeing a lot of clients paying a lot of money. These people look like they have too much to do.—
Some of the smaller firms clearly are attracting high-paying clientele. Breaux Lott reported payments from at least 31 lobbying clients in the fourth quarter of 2009, with an average payment of about $100,000.
Holland & Knight, on the other hand, received payments from 196 clients with an average of $32,890 per client in the fourth quarter.
Officials with some of the large law firms said their revenue-per-lobbyist figure was lower because they employed large numbers of people, some of whom spent only a fraction of their time on lobbying.
“We don’t do lobbying all the time,— said Jim Christian, who oversees lobbying compliance at Patton Boggs. Only about 10 percent of the firm’s revenue is derived from lobbying, he said.
Christian added that the firm will bring in specialists in certain areas for part-time lobbying work — a move that also pushes the number of registered lobbyists higher. Anyone who spends at least 20 percent of his time on federal lobbying must register as a lobbyist.
“If you have a diversified policy practice, you will draw upon more policy people,— said Smith Davis, a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which was second in overall revenue. The firm ranked 15th in revenue per lobbyist, bringing in $475,000 apiece.
Tim Peckinpaugh, a partner at K&L Gates, which ranked 10th in overall lobbying revenue but 24th in revenue per lobbyist, said he was not surprised that his law firm ranked near the bottom.
Because of the rules mandating who must register as a lobbyist, he said, “you end up including a number of people doing very, very minimal lobbying.—
K&L Gates’ 68 lobbyists generated, on average, $272,059 for the firm.
Peckinpaugh questioned whether looking at the income per lobbyist was a good barometer of a firm’s financial health.
“There are a lot of ways to measure the success of a law firm. But revenue per lobbyist may not be one of them,— he said.
Missi Tessier, a spokeswoman for the Podesta Group, which does public relations and lobbying, said the analysis was skewed because it included anyone who lobbied for any portion of the year as a lobbyist.
All firms were measured by the same standard. To determine the revenue-per-lobbyist rankings, Roll Call divided the total revenue figures of the top 25 firms by the total number of registered lobbyists at each firm for any part of 2009.
While Podesta ranked fourth in overall lobbying revenue, it fell to eighth in revenue per lobbyist. The firm’s 40 registered lobbyists brought in, on average, $640,000 in 2009.
Wayne Berman, the managing director of Ogilvy Government Relations, whose business is 85 percent lobbying, said his firm and others have chosen a different model than the law firms. “You get a high level of personal attention— that focuses largely on lobbying, he said.
“There is no question in my mind that it’s a very appealing model to present to a client,— he said. “You are hiring a firm, not just an individual.—
In 2009, Ogilvy ranked third in revenue per lobbyist, with the firm’s 17 registered lobbyists generating an average of $1.2 million each. In overall revenue, Ogilvy ranked sixth last year.
Berman said that four of Ogilvy’s lobbyists left at the end of last year but that there are plans to replace some of them.
While some firms with a large number of lobbyists flood the legislative zone with employees of varied levels of experience, other firms use only seasoned lobbyists to push the agenda of their clients.
“We don’t have junior lobbyists,— said Loren Monroe, a principal at the BGR Group. “We have 16 lobbyists that are experts in specific fields, and they are the ones that the client meets with, hires and works with.—
BGR ranked fourth in revenue per lobbyist, bringing in $968,750 per lobbyist last year.
Others defended their larger staffs.
Mark Irion, president of Dutko Worldwide, said the revenue-per-lobbyist figure at his firm was lower than others because of the team approach the company takes.
Dutko ranked 19th in revenue per lobbyist with the firm’s 57 lobbyists bringing in, on average, $347,368 last year. In overall revenue, Dutko ranked ninth in 2009.
“We throw a lot of talent at every client,— Irion said.