After protests broke out in cities across the country in reaction to the election of Donald Trump as president, there’s a different type of energy bubbling up among lobbyists.
“There’s an enormous excitement in the business community to get some things done and move from gridlock to the goal line on tax reform, infrastructure and health care,” said Hunter Bates, a senior policy adviser at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.
The nation woke up to a very different set of circumstances last Wednesday morning, said Bates, a former aide to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). He predicted lobbying activity will swell as fears of regulation are replaced by client wish lists.
“We’ve had a lot of debate and discussion over the last eight years, but not a lot of legislative accomplishment,” said Bates. “That scenario will change quickly.”
But even as most lobbyists are anticipating an end to congressional gridlock and a corresponding uptick in business, they differ on just how much change can be expected and even what to expect.
“Companies are anxious to know what will happen with the new administration,” said Darrell Conner, policy practice co-chair, K&L Gates LLP.
Conner said that business tends to slow in an election year as companies and interest groups pull back and wait to see what happens.
“After the election, people start to re-calibrate and we anticipate it being busy from here until the end of the year and into the 2017 legislative session, which will require a new education campaign on the new priorities, new agendas and new bills,” said Conner.
Connor’s policy practice co-chair, Michael Scanlon, said that many people underestimated Trump and had ignored his proposals. That’s changing now.
“We have learned to take President-elect Trump seriously if not literally,” said Scanlon.
“There is a presumption,” said Licy Do Canto, president of The Do Canto Group, “based on the campaign rhetoric of ‘draining the swamp,’ that Trump won’t be working with lobbyists in Washington D.C., but we already know that lobbyists are helping fill positions in the new administration.”
Campaign claims aside, Do Canto said trade associations, advocacy groups and other clients will need help navigating what he termed “a new world order” and the uncertainty associated with a freshly minted government.
“The swamp will still be filled with individuals that are helpful to this administration,” said Do Canto.
Said Bob Stevenson, principal of lobbying firm, OB-C Group LLC, “Any time there is a transition from one administration to the next, it’s a change and means uncertainty. Even more so when you switch from one party to another.”
OB-C Group, he said, is looking back on the campaign to draft a road map for going forward. If past is prologue, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and issues related to business with China are items he sees getting an early push in 2017.
“After the election, the first thing clients want to know is who’s going to be in those executive offices, who is controlling those agencies with influence over them and what they plan to do,” said Stevenson.
Regulations, across the board, will come in for revisions including Dodd-Frank, the Volcker Rule, Department of Labor overtime provisions and Internet neutrality. Tax reform and infrastructure will also be areas of focus, according to Stevenson.
Which firms are best situated to take advantage of the altered lobbying landscape is not so easy to ascertain, according to Stevenson. “It depends upon the entity,” he said, “but Trump put forth a broad agenda that will touch every aspect of American life.”
Sam Geduldig, senior partner of CGCN Group, said firms like his own that stuck with Trump when other Republicans were abandoning ship will be first in line when it comes to accessing administration officials.
Geduldig, who launched his Republican-leaning firm in 2006, when Democrats swept to power in the House and Senate, characterized the milieu around Breitbart.com and the populist-right as the “beating heart” of the present-day conservative movement.
He said that firms with their finger on that pulse are best situated to do business in the new environment.
“We are going to see a historic shift in the lobbying status quo,” said Geduldig. “The way business in D.C. is done is going to change forever.”
Dan Auble, senior research specializing in lobbying, Center for Responsive Politics, said that lobbying has been down due to party differences between the White House and Congress. He said it’s too early for any data on a post-Trump bump in business to be available, but does anticipate an increase in lobbying activity now that the House, Senate, and White House are under control of the same party.