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    February 27, 2008  

Senator & Son
Move to Steptoe

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We know some impressive father-and-son acts—our plumbers, for instance—but Sen. Bennett Johnston and Hunter Johnston take things to another level. After a 24-year Senate run, Bennett teamed up with his Georgetown law grad son to create the lobbying firm Johnston & Associates in 1997. Now, after 10 years representing energy and related interests as a twosome, they've taken the family operation to Steptoe and Johnson's Government Affairs and Public Policy group.


We sat down with—okay, stood up with—the former Louisiana Senator, who spent eight years chairing the Senate Energy Committee, at his new (and very patriotic) office in Steptoe's Connecticut Ave. space. Bennett started his own legal career working with his father in their Shreveport firm of Johnston & Johnston, so it's fitting he went into business with his son after leaving public office. The duo considered offers from DC firms (Hunter was then with the Louisiana firm of Jones Walker), but decided on the "riskier but more rewarding" course of setting up their own shop, says Hunter.


In his 1990 re-election, the Senator beat out ex-Klansman David Duke. He says he isn't the "back-slapping type" of lobbyist, and couldn't even remember the last time he'd taken a member of Congress to dinner.


They borrowed starting funds to cover a lease and payroll for two former Congressional staffers, Proctor Jones and Eric Tober, who were with Johnston & Associates from the get-go and have become legislative colleagues at Steptoe. Initial business came over the transom, Bennett says, and naturally drew on his energy expertise. Work for clients like Southern California Edison and the American Petroleum Institute has expanded into the transportation and flood control fields. Hunter, the detail man of the father-son team, also has forged some novel "development partnerships" under which successful advocacy is compensated with equity in a client's operation. (We're calling it a contingency fee for lobbyists.)  One current partner is a coal-to-gas plant in Indiana.


Hunter spent part of his youth in DC, attending Langley High School in McLean. The Senator says Hunter was a "mischievous" kid, but despite our best urging wouldn't dish further. It couldn't have been too bad—besides working together, they take trips (recently, fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and attending LSU football's national championship game with the school's Chancellor), and both live with their families in McLean.   


Why Steptoe? Bennett and Hunter knew partner Tom Collier from his days as Bruce Babbitt's Chief of Staff at the Interior Department, where Tom once interviewed Hunter for a job. They decided to sign on, Bennett says, because of the "access to talent" at a firm without a "dog-eat-dog" atmosphere.  While both have moved in to Steptoe's offices and Hunter has become a partner, Bennett is keeping his title as principal of Johnston & Associates and calling his relationship with Steptoe a strategic alliance (to avoid possible conflicts from board memberships or other business interests). In any case, this father and son team don't seem like it'll be broken up any time soon. 

Special Counsel
Gilbert Randolph
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