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Venn Strategies Lobby Firm Splits

Venn Strategies, a $4 million-a-year lobbying firm founded nearly a decade ago by Stephanie Silverman, is reorganizing after losing two of its partners, who are departing to start their own consulting outfit.

Republican Sandra Swirski and Democrat Anne Urban are leaving to launch Urban Swirski & Associates. At the same time, Venn Strategies has put in place a new management team, Silverman said.

“We’re poised for active growth and are bringing on new projects right now,” said Silverman, whose firm had its most lucrative year in 2009, bringing in just less than $4 million in lobbying fees, according to Congressional lobbying reports. That was up $1 million from 2008’s nearly $3 million in lobbying receipts.

Silverman said Venn’s portfolio is expanding in the public affairs area and, as a result, has just added Rebecca Dreilinger, a former press secretary for Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), as assistaant vice president.

It was that element of the practice that led to the split, Swirski said. Silverman’s public affairs work was causing competition for “resources” with the lobbying side, Swirski said in an e-mail. So Silverman, Swirski and Urban decided that by splitting Venn, “each business could be more focused and thus stronger,” Swirski added.

Silverman will serve as Venn’s CEO, and Penny Lee, a former top communications and political adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), is becoming Venn’s president. Brian Reardon, who joined Venn from the Bush administration, where he was special assistant to the president for economic policy, will be Venn’s chief operating officer.

Urban Swirski & Associates is opening its doors with two former Venn associates: Michael McHugh, a former policy aide to then-Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), and Amy Takeuchi-Wanlass, a former staffer of Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.). In addition, Urban Swirski is adding William Coughlin, formerly with the office of Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), as a research assistant.

“In my over 25 years in Washington, I’ve rarely come across someone with the intelligence, political smarts and integrity of Sandra,” Urban said of Swirski in a statement. “I’m thrilled by the launch of this new firm.”

Swirski and Urban are taking with them such clients as MetLife, MassMutual, the Association of Small Foundations, the Coalition of Private Investment Companies, the Philanthropy Roundtable and the Reinsurance Group of America.

“I’m excited for them,” Silverman said of her former colleagues’ new enterprise, adding that the one-time partners have parted amicably.

Some of Venn’s biggest moneymakers, according to Lobbying Disclosure Act filings, are expected to remain at the firm. Those clients include the group Employee-Owned S Corporations of America, which last year paid Venn more than $700,000, as well as the Campaign to End Obesity, which paid Venn $230,000 in 2009, according to lobbying records.

“We’re adding new responsibilities and new faces as we gear up for one of our biggest years to date,” Silverman said in a press statement detailing her shop’s management changes.

Those changes also include a promotion for Noelle Lundberg, a one-time aide to former House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Archer (R-Texas) who will manage Venn’s human resources. Melissa Bonicelli, another former Archer staffer, has been upped to oversee Venn’s client relations.

Venn, which launched in 2001, was an all-female lobbying shop until 2004, when it added its first junior-level male staffer.

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