First-quarter lobbying compensation reports hit new highs, though recession looms

Firms were riding high to start the year.

Ballard Partners remains the top-earning lobbying firm in the state with median earnings of $4.7 million for the first three months of the year.

Florida lobbyists report their earnings from each of their principals in ranges. Florida Politics uses an estimation of those ranges to determine lobbying compensation.

Ballard Partners’ compensation reports show the firm received between $1.63 million and $3.48 million for lobbying the Legislature in the first quarter, with another $1.26 million to $3.04 million banked lobbying the executive branch.

The firm, founded by Brian Ballard, has held the top spot in quarterly earnings lists for years, and its Q1 2020 reports keep pace with the earnings it posted in the first quarter of the prior year.

As the new compensation reports cover Jan. 1 through March 31, they do not provide a complete picture of how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the state-level lobbying industry.

At the end of the reporting period, the virus had shown up in the Sunshine State, though the Governor had not yet issued a stay-at-home order.

As such, most firms reported earnings increases for the first three months of the year. If the recession were to hit the state lobbying corps, the results would show in the second quarter.

Still, the top-5 list remained mostly the same, with The Southern Group following at No. 2.

Founder Paul Bradshaw, Rachel Cone, Kelly CohenNelson Diaz, Seth McKeel, and the rest of the team collected an estimated $4 million in the opening quarter.

On its own, that’s a healthy increase from the firm’s average quarterly rake last year, when they earned an estimated $15.4 million, or $3.85 million a quarter. Range reporting shows TSG earned no less than $1.9 million and no more than $6.5 million for the quarter.

Coming in third was Capital City Consulting, which posted median earnings of $3.6 million — $2.1 million through legislative lobbying and $1.5 million through executive lobbying.

The No. 3 firm provides a third example of year-over-year growth at the top end of the Tallahassee lobbying world. In 2019, CCC earned about $3.12 million a quarter. The Q1 estimate beats last year’s average by more than 15%.

Nick Iarossi, Ron LaFace and the rest of the CCC team may have earned as much as $5.1 million last quarter if their clients trended toward the high end of their reported ranges. At minimum, the firm collected $2.1 million from its clients during the Legislative Session.

Ron Book again held steady with the big firms, collecting an estimated $2.55 million in fees last quarter. As usual, the bulk of his income — $2.1 million — was marked down on his legislative lobbying report, which the executive report showed an estimated $435,000 in pay.

At the high end, Book and lobbying partners Rana Brown and Kelly Mallette could have earned $3.42 million last quarter. The earnings floor was a still-impressive $1.7 million.

GrayRobinson rounds out the top-5 with median earnings of $2.1 million, including $1.15 million in legislative lobbying pay and $955,000 in executive branch earnings.

The performance shows continued growth. Led by lawyer-lobbyist and former House Speaker Dean Cannon, GrayRobinson narrowly missed the top-5 last year with overall earnings of $7.68 million.

Though it’s unclear how and to what extent the pandemic will impact the lobbying industry, GR’s first-quarter reports put them on track for another year of increased earnings.

GrayRobinson may have earned as much as $3.43 million last quarter — a higher peak than the No. 4 firm. At a minimum, Cannon and the lobbying team netted $770,000.

Greenberg Traurig followed with $2.03 million earned, including $1.29 million in legislative lobbying fees and $740,000 in executive branch pay.

The firm’s total also improves upon their quarterly average for last year, which rang in at $1.96 million. If contracts topped out, the firm may have earned as much as $3 million, $1.75 million through the Legislature and $1.25 million lobbying the Governor and Cabinet.

Joining the top-tier in the first quarter was Rubin, Turnbull & Associates. The firm, along with those preceding it, was one of only seven operations to crack the $1 million mark in legislative lobbying fees.

The firm reported 75 paid legislative contracts, which earned them an estimated $1.04 million. Executive branch work netted Bill Rubin, Heather Turnbull and the rest of the team another $891,000 in pay for a total of $1.9 million overall.

At the high end, Rubin Turnbull could have earned as much as $2.5 million last quarter — $1.4 million in the Legislature and $1.1 million in the executive. The low-end estimate is $1.5 million.

Several firms qualified for the mid-majors in the first quarter, reporting earnings between $500,000 and $1 million on the bottom line of their legislative lobbying reports.

Among that crowd, Johnson & Blanton took the top spot by a hair.

The team led by Jon Johnson and Travis Blanton had nearly 80 paid legislative contracts, netting them an estimated $870,000 in pay. Executive lobbying brought them another $480,000, for a total of $1.35 million in Q1.

A cluster of firms were just behind, Corcoran Partners and Smith Bryan & Myers among them. Both firms reported earning $1.33 million in their quarterlies.

Michael Corcoran’s recently rebranded venture reported median earnings of $878,000 in the Legislature, with one client, Fontainebleau Development, breaking through the $50,000 cap on range reporting with $68,000 in fees paid for the quarter.

The four-person team, which also includes Matt Blair, Jacqueline Corcoran and Andrea Tovar, reeled in another $458,000 in executive lobbying pay.

SBM reported a similar earnings split.

The lobbying team of Matt Bryan, Daniel Daniel, Thomas Griffin, Jeff Hartley, Lisa Hurley, Jim Naff, and Teye Reeves represented 73 legislative clients in the opening quarter, resulting in an estimated $805,000 in earnings. The executive report showed another 43 paid contracts, which boosted the firm’s bottom line by $525,000.

The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners showed $1.31 million in its reports. Unlike most firms, TAG’s executive compensation report was the larger of the two.

Al Cardenas and lobbyists Slater Bayliss, Chris Chaney, Steve Schale, Stephen Shiver, Sarah Busk Suskey and Jeffrey Woodburn handled the needs of 68 executive clients, netting them an estimated $670,000. The legislative report showed another 55 paid contracts combining to $640,000 in median earnings.

At least three more firms broke the $1 million mark with their legislative and executive efforts combined: Floridian Partners, Metz Husband & Daughton and PooleMcKinley

PooleMcKinley’s total was the most concrete of the three — it reported earning no less than $500,000 on each of its reports. There wasn’t a large gap between the minimum and maximum earnings for the firm, however. 

If all the contracts were for top dollar, Will McKinley and Co. would have earned $1.08 million.

MHD’s quarter was weighted heavily toward the Legislature, with $911,000 of their estimated $1.16 million in pay marked down on that report.

Warren Husband, James Daughton and the rest of the lobbying team showed 65 clients on their executive branch report, though overall exec compensation fell between $100,000 to $250,000. The firm earned no less than $700,000 and may have earned as much as $1.25 million. 

Floridian Partners tally included 46 legislative lobbying contracts that combined to produce an estimated $650,000 in earnings. Jorge Chamizo, Charles Dudley, George Feijoo, Nichole Geary, Cory Guzzo, Gary Guzzo and Melissa Ramba received another $425,000 across 33 executive branch contracts for an overall haul of $1.08 million.

Floridian Partners’ top-end estimate registers at $1.37 million. The firm earned no less than $760,000.

Florida lobbyists and lobbying firms faced a May 15 deadline to file compensation reports for the period covering Jan. 1 through Mar. 31. Compensation reports for the second quarter of 2020 are due to the state in mid-August.

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.


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