Jan 26, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Blue-chip clients dump Trumpworld lobbying shops

Former President Trump is seen waving goodbye before boarding Air Force One.

Former President Trump. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Some blue-chip corporate clients have cut the cord with lobbying firms that monetized their close relationships with Donald Trump and his administration, new disclosure filings show.

Why it matters: Every change in administration shuffles the groups that can influence decision-makers — and who have the ability to market that access to high-paying clients. A raft of lobbying agreement terminations since Trump lost reelection in November indicates segments of corporate America are tweaking their advocacy strategies accordingly.

What’s happening: Firms run by Trump advisers, fundraisers and former aides have posted some significant lobbying termination notices this month. Conversely, firms with an in to President Biden are seeing growth.

  • Cove Strategies, run by informal Trump adviser Matt Schlapp, ended its relationships with Walmart, Samsung and health insurance marketplace eHealth.
  • Ballard Partners, the firm headed by Trump fundraiser Brian Ballard, has dropped seven clients since Election Day, most notably ridesharing giant Uber.
  • Miller Strategies, whose principal Jeff Miller was the top lobbyist bundler for Trump’s ground-game operation, dropped the Nuclear Energy Institute, defense contractor Draken and software firm SAS.
  • Black Diamond Strategies, which employs former Trump campaign advisors Doug Davenport and Rick Wiley, lost the Recovery Centers of America and a subcontract for event services company PRO EM.
  • Sexton’s Creek, run by Mike Pence’s former gubernatorial chief of staff Bill Smith, ended a subcontract for insurer Aflac.

The trend is more pronounced for smaller firms such as Sexton’s Creek and Black Diamond. Neither has reported signing a new client since Election Day.

  • Schlapp’s Cove Strategies picked up one new account, but that one was entwined with his Trump administration influence: Cove was paid $750,000 to lobby for a presidential pardon.
  • It's not all bad news for the larger firms: Ballard and Miller have both picked up new business since the election, even as some previous clients head for the exits.

On the other side of the ledger, lobbyists and firms with ties to Biden and senior members of his administration have picked up significant business since the election.

  • Jeff Ricchetti, the brother of White House counselor Steve Ricchetti, began lobbying for Amazon last month.
  • Sudafi Henry, who was Biden's legislative director while he served as vice president, has signed on to lobby for ride-sharing company Lyft, COVID-19 test manufacturer Abbott Labs and a prominent nursing home trade group.
  • Lobbyists are required to disclose new clients within 45 days, meaning more registrations from people in Biden's orbit will likely emerge in the coming weeks.

Between the lines: This K Street shift is taking place as dozens of large companies also rethink their political engagement following the attempted insurrection at the Capitol this month.

And the shift mirrors that which followed Trump's deplatforming from many social media channels. That change affected a cottage industry of lobbyists and consultants who monetized their ability to get clients into his Twitterverse.

  • "It is not so surprising to see [these firms] now losing clients," said Dan Auble, a senior researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics, "whether it is because of the loss of those connections or because corporate behemoths are now unwilling to accept the current risks of being tied to the Trump brand."
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