The nation’s 10 biggest spenders on K Street opened their wallets wider during the first half of the year, as the midterm election campaigns cast a shadow on Congress’ agenda and lobbyists prepare for a possible divided government.
The biggest players in federal lobbying — including Facebook’s parent company Meta, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the drug industry’s main group — reported shelling out $143.2 million, an increase from the $126.2 million in the first six months of last year, according to recently filed disclosures.
Debate over Democrats’ sweeping, but stalled, reconciliation bill fueled the work, along with government spending measures and bipartisan deals on legislation aimed at spurring innovation, lobbyists said. Even as they juggle current legislative wrangling, many on K Street already are turning their attention to what may come after the fall elections, preparing for divided government with Republicans favored to win control of the House.
“We have a two-track strategy for the rest of this year,” said Monument Advocacy CEO Stewart Verdery whose clients include Amazon, one of the nation’s biggest spenders on lobbying. His firm said its lobbying work was up 35 percent when compared with the same period last year.
Appropriations bills and other legislation will remain a focus, he said. “Then, at the same time, the Republicans on our team, and other teams, are really trying to get geared up for next year.”
“It’s easier to develop relationships now and get your chits in with the members and staff than come January when it’s busy and the agenda is already set,” Verdery added. “So if you wait until election night to figure out who you need to talk to next year, you’ve missed the boat.”
Washington’s biggest lobbying practice posted steady gains, even when compensating for high inflation.
Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck said its lobbying fees, as reported to Congress, totaled $30.4 million in the first half of the year, up from last year’s $26.4 million.
“We continue to focus on the reconciliation process, taxes and health care,” said Marc Lampkin, who chairs Brownstein’s government relations department. For the next quarter, he said, the firm is turning its attention to end-of-year spending measures, the annual defense authorization measure and “preparing for a possible transition in Congress.”
Another top firm, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, reported a decline in its federal lobbying revenue to $25.8 million, from last year’s $26.3 million.
“We had another very busy quarter driven by a variety of issues – tax, climate, and healthcare policy issues being negotiated as part of the Build Back Better (BBB) Act; the FDA user fee authorizations; and the constellation of international trade and other issues involved in the negotiations over the Bipartisan Innovation Act, among other matters,” said Akin Gump’s Brian Pomper in a news release. “We expect to remain quite active on a variety of these same issues even as we head toward the election this fall.”
Some smaller K Street shops reported upticks in business.
The all-GOP CGCN Group said its revenue subject to the Lobbying Disclosure Act was up almost 40 percent from last year. “The future outlook is continued growth built on the people and team that is the backbone of our firm,” said the firm’s chief advocacy officer, John Stipicevic, a former deputy chief of staff for floor and member services to Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.
Verdery said the predictions for a change in Senate control appeared less certain than for the House, and noted that the ultimate majority party’s margins were likely to remain slim in the next Congress, which would require bipartisanship on most items, either way.
“Good firms also are spending a lot of time in the regulatory process,” he said, referring to regulations controlled by the Biden administration. “Especially if the Congress becomes divided, that’s where a lot of the Democratic energy is going to go.”
K&L Gates said its federal lobbying revenue went up slightly in the first half of this year to $10.6 million, from last year’s $10 million.
In addition to the meat of legislative work, elections were also top of mind, said the co-leader of the firm’s lobbying practice, Paul Stimers. He noted that a shift to Republican control would affect more than legislation, as committee gavels would change hands and new chairs would have new priorities.
“Increasingly, we are working with clients to prepare for the risks and opportunities surrounding the coming elections and possible majority changes, including the potential shift in focus on oversight,” he said.