K Street lobbying firms, which were hoping for a little more client spending in the first three months of 2014, came away disappointed.
In fact, K Street earnings had the worst first quarter in four years, according to Russ Choma of OpenSecrets.org.
Disclosure reports show federal lobbyists netted $811.8 million in first quarter 2014, down 2 percent from the same three months in 2013, when spending reached $827.6 million.
Compared to the $866.3 million spent at the same period in 2012, it is an even more striking decline of 6.7 percent. This downward trend reaches as far back as 2010, when the first-quarter spending reached a high of $955.6 million.
Additionally, the $811.8 million spent in 1Q 2014 is down from the $826.9 million spent on federal lobbying in the fourth quarter of 2013.
The high point in lobbying came in 2010, when annual federal lobbying costs reached $3.55 billion, a figure that has dropped ever since.
Only $3.21 billion was spent in 2013, a three-year low; 2014 appears to continue that trend, based on several data points.
Another metric measuring K Street’s overall health are registered lobbyists. As with spending, the number of active lobbyists declined, down from a peak of 14,836 registered lobbyists in 2007, down to 12,341 last year.
In the first quarter of 2014, the number of active lobbyists was at 9,927, a four-year low. In 2013, it was 10,748, compared to 11,494 lobbyists active during the same time in 2010, Choma notes.
Five top lobbying firms from the end of 2013 remained on top in 2014 — Brownstein Hyatt; Patton Boggs LLP; Akin Gump; Van Scoyoc and Podesta Group; only Brownstein Hyatt reported higher earnings in the first three months of this year than 4Q 2013.
At the top is Patton Boggs, where a rumored merger resulted in the firm struggling with financial instability. Patton Boggs reported earning $9.3 million in the first 1Q 2014,while in first quarter of last year, they reported $10.1 million.
For the two 1Q periods before that, it was more than $12 million.
This seems to be the case across the board. There were 3,021 firms reporting payments for lobbying so far this year, but only 562 reported making more this year than the same time last year.
The biggest revenue increase was at FTI Government Affairs, now handling the former C2 Group lobbying operations. FTI had $1.7 million in lobbying fees for 1Q 2014 – a massive jump from $250,000 reported in the first quarter of 2013, but less than the $2 million C2 reported in 1Q 2012.
“I still don’t think the economy has turned around enough for people, we’re still affected by that,” said Monte Ward, president of the Association of Government Relations Professionals.
Ward points out the dwindling number of lobbyists — as well as the money spent hiring them — could be a result of reporting requirements in the Lobbying Disclosure Act , as well as the evolution of the actual job of lobbying.
Ward’s group — once known as the American League of Lobbyists – hopes to see reform of LDA rules.
“The LDA is not really measuring who is lobbying anymore,” he told OpenSecrets. “If we had a true representation of lobbying, whether it was grassroots work or whatever it may be, we might be seeing a little bit better numbers.”
As a candidate, President Obama refused contributions from lobbyists, and his administration has a policy of not hiring lobbyists to serve in the White House or other government slots (with few exceptions).
Ward credits that for dissuading people from registering, especially if they do not have to.
However, he remains optimistic that the trend will reverse.
“This is probably the floor of the decline,” Ward said hopefully.