GOP Lobbyists on Rise Again


by Chris Frates

Even before the midterms, things started changing for Republicans on K Street. Returned phone calls. Prospective client meetings. They were becoming something other than a Washington afterthought.

That growing status was cemented when Republicans retook control of the House, going from impotent to important overnight and putting a whole class of GOP operatives, lobbyists and communicators back in business.

“My Republican friends are walking around with big smiles on their faces,” said Democratic operative David DiMartino.

And no wonder: The money’s good.

Steve Clark goes back to Boehner’s Ohio statehouse days. As a state lobbyist for Ohio Bell Telephone Co., Clark met Boehner when he was a freshman state representative.

When Democrats took control of Congress in 2006, their operatives cashed in. For instance, Steve Elmendorf launched his Democratic firm in December 2006 with $170,000 worth of business. Last year, the former aide to then-House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt brought in almost $7.4 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Now, it’s the Republicans’ turn.

After four years in political exile, GOP operatives with ties to presumptive House Speaker John Boehner, soon-to-be Majority Leader Eric Cantor and other top Republicans will help set the agenda on health care, tax cuts and government spending.

Of course, some of the lobbying world’s most recognizable names will very likely see a bump in business. After all, it doesn’t hurt that Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti’s Bruce Mehlman cut his teeth as a general counsel to the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican Conference.

And omnipresent guys like Ron Bonjean, the former communications director to then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), are positioned to cash in on their years of congressional experience now that Republicans are back in control.

But the capital’s new map of influence extends beyond the city’s most recognizable names to a mix of GOP players. There are the Republican-only shops that survived the nuclear winter of Democratic control; former Republican lawmakers poised to cash in on their years of Washington experience, and message makers practiced at getting their voices heard with the conservative class.

Here is POLITICO’s sampling of Republicans and GOP firms poised to take part in the Republican renaissance:

[CGCN Group]

Launched in the Republican dark ages of 2008, this nimble GOP shop — specializing in financial services lobbying — now stands to make big dollars on the depth of their Republican connections. This summer, the firm partnered with former House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce, who has personal connections with many key House Republicans from her eight terms as a lawmaker from Ohio.
Sam Geduldig worked for Republican leadership the last time the GOP ran the House, as Boehner’s political director and a senior adviser to now Missouri Sen.-elect Roy Blunt, who was then No. 3 in House leadership. Michigander Gary Lytle has longtime relationships with Michigan Republican Reps. Dave Camp and Fred Upton, who are in line to chair the House Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees, respectively. And Steve Clark goes back to Boehner’s Ohio statehouse days. As a state lobbyist for Ohio Bell Telephone Co., Clark met Boehner when he was a freshman state representative.

Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock

This all-Republican firm has also made it through the lean years and is poised for a comeback. Ohio native Mark Isakowitz is tight with Boehner and recently defended the presumptive speaker’s close ties to lobbyists in a New York Times article — a quote the Democratic National Committee worked into an attack ad.

The firm also features Kirsten Chadwick, a respected policy wonk particularly well-versed in trade issues. She managed former President George W. Bush’s legislative strategy on No Child Left Behind and was the White House point person for the House Agriculture; Energy and Commerce; and Ways and Means committees.

AB+M Partners

With Cantor calling the elections a mandate to repeal health care reform, Phil Blando’s one-man shop will most likely be a must-stop for clients that need to reach Republican audiences.

Blando is one of the few GOP health care message gurus in town. With almost two decades in Washington, Blando has deep industry ties. And it doesn’t hurt that the “M” in AB+M stands for Murray, as in top Cantor adviser John Murray, who left the firm in November 2008 to sign on as the Virginia Republican’s communications director.

“The House will be basically the centerpiece for testing Republican ideas for the next two years. … That’s where the action is, and that’s where you want to be,” Blando said. “There will be no shortage of work for Republicans with strong House pedigrees.”

Maria Cino

The buzz around this Pfizer lobbyist is that she could run to become the next chairwoman of the Republican National Committee. But if she stays on K Street, Republicans believe she’ll go far.

A former national political director for Bush’s campaign and former RNC deputy chair, she served in Bush’s administration as a deputy secretary of transportation. And she is longtime buddies with Boehner chief of staff Barry Jackson and close to Boehner himself. In fact, some insiders have said Cino has the support of Boehner for the RNC’s top job. But a Boehner spokesman recently knocked the rumor down, saying that Cino is a “good friend” but doesn’t have his “immediate endorsement.”

As one senior House Republican aide put it, “He’s one of the only inside-Cantor guys downtown, so he’s particularly well-positioned. And he’s a top, top PR guy.”

Bill Thomas

A former Republican Ways and Means Committee chairman, Thomas was one of the most respected legislative strategists on Capitol Hill. Now at the lobbying and law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, Thomas is not a registered lobbyist. He calls himself a professional handicapper who explains the process and the players to clients.

And as a former high-ranking Republican, he has ties to many top House Republicans, including Boehner, whom he supported for majority leader in 2006. Thomas’s deep experience means there are likely plenty of folks willing to pay for his insights.

HDMK Media Affairs

Partners Terry Holt and Chad Kolton both worked as spokesmen for Boehner, and Holt was credited with helping to develop the 2006 media and political campaign that made Boehner the House majority leader. Holt was part of a small group of advisers who helped craft Boehner’s message as a more inclusive leader who would refocus the caucus on core GOP principles. “It’s not unusual for former staff to be loyal to their boss. But I think it’s more rare that a boss is so loyal to his former staff,” Holt said.

And it’s not just the political connections that the firm gets props for. “Public affairs shops in D.C. have to be both PR and political strategy in order to be effective. The partners at HDMK are the perfect blend of both,” said Lisa Camooso Miller, a top Republican message maven.

Rob Collins

The maestro of the American Action Network, Collins raised almost $22 million to help defeat House Democrats. In fact, 18 House and three Senate Republican candidates owe their successful elections in part to Collins’s group. And now that campaign season is over, insiders are closely watching the young operative’s next move.

His success running the outside political group has such boldfaced GOP names as Cantor, Karl Rove and Fred Malek saying nice things about him.

“Rob is someone who, when he worked for me, was always about the next step,” Cantor told The Washington Post.

Indeed, it’s Collins’s ties to Cantor (he was his onetime chief of staff) that has K Street interested. But Collins is also a political junkie, and some think he may bide his time before hopping on to a presidential campaign.

As for the man himself, he’s not saying.

“I have been getting calls from people I really respect in both the policy and political worlds asking about my future plans, which has been appreciated,” Collins said.