Is playing fantasy football with revenue numbers the only way to rank lobbying firms?

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If you are not reading Sunshine State News’ Allison Nielsen’s series on Florida’s top governmental relations firms, you should, as her reporting offers considerable insight into the high-stakes world of lobbying.

Unlike rankings made by other media outlets using raw compensation data, SSN attempts to even the playing field by dividing total firm compensation by the number of lobbyists on staff.  On one hand, this helps portray firm activity in a novel way; but on another, it unfairly distorts rankings toward leaner groups or those with only highly tenured partners.

SSN’s series is just the latest entry in an increasing effort by the political media to examine the lucrative lobbying industry. This blog writes often about the life on the Fourth Floor (the fourth floor of the Capitol building, outside the House and Senate chambers, is where state lobbyists gather like gazelles at a watering hole). The Florida Current and the News Service of Florida have quietly doubled-down on their coverage of lobbying issues, as well.

Of course, there is Florida Trend‘s annual list of the top lobbying firms, measured simply by gross revenue, that is the gold standard by which Ballard Partners, Southern Strategy Group, et al are measured. 

And therein lies the problem. It’s not only all about the dollars, its only about the dollars. As one lobbyist asked in an email to me yesterday, “has it ever occurred to any news outlet that ranking the success of lobbying firms by the firm revenue is not the only factor for success?”

It’s almost as if, when measuring the strength of a lobbying firm by its revenue, that the media is playing a form of fantasy football. Only, instead of counting how many yards quarterback Peyton Manning threw for, they are measuring the size of Charlie Dudley’s paycheck.

There has to be a better way of measuring a firm’s influence than simply adding up its invoices, especially when the trend at the national level is boutique firms loosening the grip of the mega-firms on K Street.

In lobbying, as in life, dollars and cents matter, but they’re not the only things that matter.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.