THE HILL HAS just unveiled it’s annual “Top Lobbyists” list, and LobbyBlog seized the opportunity, as it did last year, to speak with its wearied compiler-in-chief, Business & Lobbying Editor Dustin Weaver. It did not go unnoticed that the short time Weaver spared for these questions came at the expense of an impending print deadline, so many thanks are owed. Any typographical errors in the latest print edition of The Hill can be blamed squarely on LobbyBlog.
LobbyBlog: Only two people are new to the list of top corporate lobbyists. Does this reflect the difficulty of breaking into corporate lobbying in Washington?
Dustin Weaver: It reflects the fact that corporations don’t like to talk about their lobbying. The people who work for them usually operate behind the scenes and aren’t seeking to publicize their work.
LB: The premise to last year’s list read that 2012 “hasn’t been the best year for K Street…” How has 2013 been?
DW: It’s shaping up as another down year. Most firms are treading water when it comes to revenue, and there’s not much hope of things getting better before the midterm elections. Gridlock in Congress is the new normal, and it’s making it harder for lobbyists to drum up business.
LB: What key characteristics distinguish the lobbyists who make the list from those who don’t? What is it that makes them so influential?
DW: Influence, like charisma, is one of those things that can’t be quantified; you know it when you see it. Some of the Top Lobbyists are masters of policy, others are great at building relationships. Some have great access, while others shape the debate using grassroots organizing. People rise to the top in different ways.
DW: Tech is the new boom industry, and their growing lobbying presence reflects that. The bigger companies like Google and Facebook get, the more lobbying help they need in Washington.
LB: Here’s an excerpt from Mark Leibovich’s This Town, which received a lot of buzz this year: “In 1974, 3 percent of retiring members of Congress became lobbyists. Now, 50 percent of senators and 42 percent of congressmen do. No one goes home anymore.” Can you expand on this?
DW: Law and lobby firms definitely place a high value on the insider knowledge that only lawmakers can provide. Why more lawmakers are choosing to make the jump to K Street, I can’t say. But as a career move, it seems to be more acceptable now than it used to be.