Trump Rhetoric Fails to Damp K-Street Hopes of Renaissance

  • Lobbyists contributed just $74,000 to billionaire’s campaign
  • They see windfall with six-year gridlock poised to end

Lobbyists have their sights on big paychecks after Donald Trump won the White House and Republicans took both chambers of Congress, a sweeping victory that raised the prospect that six years of gridlock may come to an end.

Republicans have already laid out a long list of legislation they’d like to push through, ranging from replacing President Barack Obama’s signature health care law to overhauling the tax code.

“Every company will be scrambling to know what’s going on,” said Thomas Scully, a former lobbyist and now a partner at private equity firm Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe. “There’s going to be a lot more business for everybody.”

During Obama’s first two years in office, a Democratic Congress passed the $787 billion stimulus bill, the Dodd-Frank financial oversight law, and the Affordable Care Act. That led to a surge in lobbying revenues, which peaked in 2010 at $3.5 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But later that year, Republicans retook the House and major legislative activity ground to a halt. In 2011, lobbying fees started to fall, and the number of registered lobbyists declined.

“The thing you’re likely to see is a boom of people from all over Washington saying they were for Trump all along,” said Kenneth Kies, managing director of the tax-policy lobby Federal Policy Group. In all, Trump received just $74,000 from lobbyists, including Kies, far less than the $1.9 million his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, pulled in.

In part, that’s because Trump discouraged contributions from K Street. "Look, I know the people that want something," he said in an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation in August 2015, citing his own experience as a donor to political candidates. Trump said he would only accept contributions if there were no strings attached. "I don’t want lobbyists. I don’t want special interests," he said.

Yet, now Trump is relying on some registered lobbyists to help pick his new administration. Politico reported that Michael McKenna of MWR Strategies serves on the Department of Energy transition team while David Bernhardt of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck is on the Interior team. And while Trump himself doesn’t bring the kind of relationships a long political career typically provides, those he’s considering for his administration do.

"A lot of these folks have been in this town a long, long time," said Paul Miller, a registered lobbyist and president of the National Institute of Lobbying and Ethics, a trade association for government relations. "Some of them have been in this profession," he added.

In the final weeks of his campaign, Trump outlined a series of reforms to change the "rigged system" in Washington and “drain the swamp” of special interests.

"That whole drain the swamp piece, that’s not new, everyone does it," Miller said.

Representative Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, used the same phrase when campaigning in 2006. Obama campaigned against special interests and insiders in 2008 and refused to take campaign contributions from registered lobbyists or to hire them for his administration.

Miller’s group is developing its own proposals to reform lobbying, an endeavor he’d be happy to share with Trump’s administration, he said. “If you want loopholes closed, call people like me who know how to close them.”

Though Trump was light on details when running for the White House, the spending priorities he outlined would provide opportunities for a range of government contractors. Modernizing the military, reforming health care, upgrading veterans’ benefits and rebuilding transportation and infrastructure would help defense, health information technology and construction firms.

"In my business, it’s policy and procurement and what is the government going to buy," said Brian Sailer of Flywheel Government Solutions, which represents companies at both the state and federal level.

After years of government spending carried out through continuing resolutions, omnibus spending bills and sliced by the automatic cuts of the sequester, Congress and a Trump administration could return to the more deliberative appropriations process to direct government spending.

"This is kind of a euphoric situation,” Sailer said.