THE HILL RECENTLY released its annual list of top lobbyists, which comes at an interesting time considering a pre-election want of congressional activity. (The Senate is holding daily pro forma sessions; the House doesn’t reconvene until the 12th). I spoke briefly with the list’s compiler-in-chief, Business and Lobbying Editor Dustin Weaver, to review his findings.
“It’s more of an art than a craft,” said Weaver, describing the criteria used to select the lobbyists. “As an editorial team, we’re simply looking for people who shape the debate – people at the forefront.”
People at the forefront indeed. The “Hired Guns” section not only contains K St. all-stars – Tony Podesta, for instance, founder and chairman of the prominent Podesta Group – but it also includes household names: Chris Dodd, Trent Lott, Haley Barbour, among others. “Barbour’s new to the list,” said Weaver, “but that’s only because he just returned to lobbying – otherwise he’s a no-brainer.”
But not everyone who was selected is an established veteran. Colin Crowell, new to the list this year, is Weaver. “Tech is the fastest growing industry in America, and it’s definitely rubbing off on K St.”
But besides attracting more techies, how else is K St. changing? Weaver indicated two trends:
For the short term, it’s losing revenue. The August and September recesses have depleted the coffers even of giants like Patton Boggs, which recently reported a 4% earnings drop from this time last year. “But recess doesn’t mean lobbyists are twiddling their thumbs,” said Weaver. “There are a lot of big-ticket issues to prepare for when Congress reconvenes.”
For the long term, it’s fundamentally reshaping itself. Trends show an increasing preference for small, independent lobby shops over the larger, staid firms. “A lot of lobbyists don’t feel the need to work for big shops anymore,” said Weaver. “Many of them have been wildly successful on their own.”
It’s doubtful any of these patterns will bring about radical changes in the lobbying world. It’s safer to assume the Barbours and Podestas of the industry will remain fixtures for years to come. The Hill’s annual list will be a reliable test for this assessment.