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    November 3, 2008  


With the election just hours away, we thought we should check out K Street before it vanishes. (Well, at least based on presidential campaign promises.)


Randy Teague and Brett Kappel of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease tell us they’re expecting the smoothest Presidential transition in years. Conveniently arranged by political persuasion, Brett (campaign finance specialist who leans left) and Randy (former chief of staff to Jack Kemp, right) tell us  President Bush acted unusually early in issuing an October 9 executive order establishing a council to aid the transition. If Obama takes the prize (term used liberally), Randy expects a particularly smooth hand-off since he won’t be importing a huge network from his home state, as was the case with Clinton and Bush 43. Instead, Brett says, it’s likelier to be academics and Beltway types filling 3,850 Presidential appointments. Regardless of the victor, look for Cabinet posts to be named early, he says, to signal a grip on the economy.


A full-tilt lobbying effort will begin with requested changes in the FY ’10 President’s budget submitted in February and  groups pressing for shout-outs in his inaugural address. The tough choices start immediately, Randy says: For example, you’ll please environmentalists by promoting wind power, but windmill foe Audobon Society will fight against it. They tell us that many lobbying firms and trade associations have been shuffling Dems to the top of org charts for access to expected November winners.


The 400-lawyer Ohio-born firm has 30 lawyers in DC and will celebrate 100 years in March. On the campaign finance side, Brett notes a shift away from advocacy groups organizing as 527s due to at least seven enforcement actions from the FEC questioning whether the groups had violated their eligibility for unlimited donations by organizing with the “primary purpose” to elect a candidate. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth paid the largest of multiple $100K-plus fines handed down. In ’08, many organized as grassroots lobbying 501(c)(4)s, which have fewer disclosure obligations. But ’08 is so over—when we stopped by, Brett had just finished setting up 2010-looking PACs for a conservative group and a Midwestern architectural firm.

Q3 Lobbying Winners

As we parsed the Q3 earnings reports from DC’s lobby shops filed last week (’07 amendments to the Lobbying Disclosure Act now require quarterly rather than semi-annual reports), we noted that one firm scaling the rankings is Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. The DC office of the Denver-based law firm has 23 professionals (8 J.D.s) devoted almost exclusively to lobbying, so managing partner Al Mottur (above) has a big draw for attorney recruits—no billable hours. Brownstein’s Q3 take of $4.025M is a 13% jump from Q2 earnings, bucking a downward revenue trend among some top-20 lobbying firms and putting it 10th on the revenue list according to OpenSecrets.org. (It was 15th at year-end ’07.) No surprise to anyone, Akin Gump and Patton Boggs sit one-two in ‘08.


The bi-partisan DC outpost was founded in ‘95 by partner Michael Levy, an Assistant Treasury Secretary under Clinton. Al helped implement the ‘96 Telecom Act while counsel to the Senate Communications Committee under Fritz Hollings (D-SC), explaining clients like J2 Communications, which sends voicemails and faxes over email. We caught Al preparing for a Nov. 4th vote at the FCC on how the Universal Service Fund for phone carriers will apply to J2. Other clients with timely issues include Inco-Check, offering an automated service through which lenders can verify incomes stated on loan applications. Um, yeah, we’d say that’s timely.

Abernathy Goes Boutique-ing

Former FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy has left Akin Gump after three years to join communications boutique Wilkinson Barker Knauer, the 35-lawyer shop in the West End headed by managing partner Andrew Tollin. The two know each other from Kathleen’s ’99-’00 stint as a Wilkerson partner, although she did need tips from Andrew on finding the soda machine during our visit. Hot topics at the FCC, according to Kathleen: the regulatory process for getting broadband access to rural parts of the country, the February ’09 switch to digital TV, and the upcoming Supreme Court argument on FCC sanctions for "fleeting expletives".


Kathleen brought two other FCC vets from Akin Gump, Natalie Roisman and Barry Ohlson (both join as partners). Wilkinson adds these three to other recent lateral hires: former FCC’ers Bryan Tramont and David Solomon, and Holland & Knight’s David O’Connor. What’s the appeal? Kathleen and Andrew say the boutique model works particularly well for communications practices, which aren’t highly leveraged, and where lower rates allow clients to get day-to-day advice directly from relationship partners. Kathleen’s group often advises on business strategy, but she’s got experience with indecency cases as a Commissioner during Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. At home, her philosophy on regulating radio is simple: when the DJs get too graphic for her twelve-year-old daughter’s ears, she just switches it off.

John Ford is Bisnow’s Legal Editor. Send your scoops to john@bisnow.com.

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