Lobbying compensation: The Southern Group threepeats as No. 1, Ballard Partners reclaims No. 2


The Southern Group continued its streak as Florida’s top-earning lobbying firm last quarter, according to new compensation reports covering July through September.

The firm had been a contender for years, and even snagged the No. 1 spot in a few quarters, but hadn’t been able to hold on to the title.

That changed this year. The Southern Group bested Ballard Partners in the first quarter, posting a $5.1 million haul. Revenues grew to $5.4 million in Q2 and the climb continued in Q3, when the firm raked in nearly $5.6 million.

The Southern Group has a lengthy roster of lobbyists, but it has the client sheet to match. All told, the 32-member team represented 292 clients in the Legislature, the executive branch, or both.

The threepeat as comes after the firm earned a Golden Rotunda for “Lobbying Firm of the Year” in the latest issue of INFLUENCE Magazine — their selection was based on a vote among their industry peers.

“I know at this point I’m supposed to say something high-minded and stilted about professionalism and teamwork that sounds like it was written by a PR professional, but really the reason we’re on top is because we’ve been busting our asses since the pandemic began and now you’re seeing the results,” said Paul Bradshaw, chairman of The Southern Group.

TSG’s $3.2 million legislative and $2.4 million executive reports were stocked with some of the world’s largest and most recognizable corporations, including Apple, Disney and FedEx.

Florida Politics estimates lobbying pay based on the middle number of the per-client ranges firms list on their compensation reports. Contracts are reported in $10,000 increments up to $50,000. Firms are also required to report overall earnings ranges, but most of the top-10 earning firms easily clear that hurdle.

The Southern Group could have earned as much as $8 million in the third quarter, about $200,000 more than their max estimate for Q2.

Though Ballard Partners is no longer the firm to beat, it has shown considerable quarter-over-quarter growth. The firm founded by Brian Ballard tallied $5.1 million in receipts last quarter — $1 million more than it reported in Q1 and a $700,000 improvement over Q2, when it slipped to No. 3 behind Capital City Consulting.

The firm also posted the top legislative compensation report in Q3, with $3.24 million in earnings. However, putting Ballard Partners top-end estimate next to The Southern Group’s triples the gap from $400,000 to $1.2 million.

In all, the 22 lobbyists at Ballard Partners represented 222 clients, several of which busted through the $50,000 cap on range reporting. The Council of Florida Medical School Deans topped the list with $208,000. Automated Healthcare Solutions was a distant second with $96,000 in payments between the two reports.

Capital City Consulting ranked third for the quarter with $4.1 million, and the firm’s legislative and executive reports showed more parity than most of the other firms in the top-10.

CCC 210 clients paid an estimated $2.2 million for legislative lobbying services, and executive branch lobbying accounted for another $1.9 million. The estimates match the firm’s earnings for Q1, though they represent a slight dip from Q2, when the firm crested at $4.6 million.

The Q2 bump is partially attributed to the Special Session on gaming. Few other lobbyists match CCC co-founder Nick Iarossi’s in the gaming silo, and he likely would have won another “Gaming Lobbyist of the Year” Golden Rotunda had he not secured the overall “Lobbyist of the Year” award.

“Capital City Consulting has shown strong continuous growth over the last 10 years, but more recently our team members are in high demand as companies navigated COVID, an influx of federal dollars to the state, and other unique opportunities,” CCC co-founder Nick Iarossi said. “These new opportunities led to accelerated growth over the last several quarters and is a testament to the strong team of professionals co-founder Ron LaFace and I assembled.”

The firm’s max earnings registered at $5.7 million. Comparisons to TSG and Ballard become more favorable if team size is factored in — CCC has 13 lobbyists on payroll. If that were a factor, however, Ron Book would be the king of the hill.

The veteran lobbyist and longtime partners Rana Brown and Kelly Mallette typically make the bulk of their earnings lobbying the Legislature. That trend continued in Q3. Their 101 legislative contracts resulted in a $1.9 million haul. Executive lobbying netted them another $605,000, bringing their overall total to $2.5 million.

The trio’s top four clients each cracked the $50,000 mark. The top client in Q3 was Title Clerk Consulting Company at $175,000. Performance Title Services followed at $125,000 and KAS & Associates showed up with $100,000. All three contracts were listed on the legislative report.

The executive report had a six-figure contract, too: MedPro Healthcare Staffing paid exactly $100,000. Other executive highlights include  Ashbritt and Turnberry Solutions, both at the $50,000 level.

The Q3 reports represent a slight improvement over their results in the first two reporting periods, when the firm pulled down $2.6 million.

“In this process, being successful is about respecting the process, respecting the people and finding a way — through hard work and long hours — to be successful on behalf of our clients,” Book said. “This often means very long nights and very early mornings, but in the end we are not measured by how hard we work but by what we are able to achieve. That is why, Session after Session and year after year, we continue to grow and succeed.”

GrayRobinson ranked No. 5 for the quarter with a $2.2 million haul, split evenly between the two branches.

The new compensation reports make for two quarters in a row where GrayRobinson was indisputably among the top-5 earning firms in the state. It had been a contender for several quarters in a row, but it jockeyed back and forth with Greenberg Traurig. In Q3, however, there was a $300,000 cushion between them.

Firm president Dean Cannon and the lobbying team represented 192 last quarter. The list included several Fortune 500 companies, such as JPMorgan Chase, PepsiCo, Aramark, Sodexo and Deloitte. Per-client ranges show GrayRobinson could have earned as much as $3.7 million.

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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