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Buh Bye He’s gone. Matthew LaRocco, the general manager at the struggling Fleishman-Hillard Government Relations, has left and taken a job at Arnold & Porter, leaving only one senior lobbyist at a firm that has been hemorrhaging talent for close to a year. His departure came as a surprise to some former FHGR employees, as LaRocco was the main figure championing the takeover in January by New York-based Mercury Public Affairs. “He really carried the banner for Mercury,” says one former employee. “Now there’s nothing left of the organization.” Still, to hear FHGR tell it, all is well. “I think we are doing gangbusters,” says Vice President Paul Sweet, who is the only remaining figure from the original FHGR team. “We are about to start hiring and expanding, and as far as I know, we are doing better than we ever have.” Sweet’s point of view may need some updating. According to Senate records, the firm has not registered to lobby for any new clients this year. LaRocco’s pop, former Rep. Larry LaRocco (D-Idaho), bolted in April. Jerome Hauer, who chaired the firm’s homeland security practice, checked out in March, just after the departure of FHGR’s Senior Vice President A. Bailey Wood Jr., who was shown the door in February after five months on the job. Additionally, John McCamman left in January. The former employee, who asked not to be named, says that things at FHGR tumbled after an aggressive takeover by Mercury, but Sweet instead labels it a merger and says both entities are working as equal partners. Mercury, which is part of Omnicom Group Inc., is a heavily Republican firm with significant ties to New York Gov. George Pataki (R). If the House or Senate goes Democrat, the Mercury-FHGR alliance will be hurt, says another former employee. — Joe Crea
On Message Energy companies, financial-services firms, and drug companies are among the perennially deep-pocketed spenders on lobbying services, but a slew of media and communications issues last year thrust broadcasters into their ranks for 2005. Year-end lobby reports released by the Senate last month tally up spending in the last half of 2005, and broadcasting interests are among the biggest moneybags, with their hands in all sorts of legislation. The National Association of Broadcasters shelled out $3.9 million on its in-house operation, weighing in on the regulation of so-called 527 groups (whose controversial political ads pump millions into broadcasters’ coffers), decency legislation, and the use of U.S. government video news releases — government-produced video segments designed to look like news segments and often aired on news programs without a disclosure about who produced the segment. Radio and outdoor advertising giant Clear Channel Communications Inc. dropped an even $1 million on its in-house operation, lobbying on issues as varied as the reporters’ shield law, digital-TV legislation, media-ownership limits, broadcast-flag legislation, and post-Hurricane Katrina radio-communications systems. Nielsen Media Research wasn’t far behind, putting down $900,000 on its lobby operation, which targeted TV-ratings issues and sought congressional and Federal Communications Commission support for the introduction of its new People Meter television-ratings monitoring system. And Qualcomm Inc. may not be a broadcaster, but radio signals were nonetheless an important part of its $1.5 million in-house lobby spending. The cell phone chip manufacturer’s lobbying targeted the FCC as the agency hammers out rules to allow cell phone use on planes. Other big spenders whose year-end reports were released by the Senate last month include Genworth Financial Inc. ($2.7 million); U.S. Steel Corp. ($2.5 million); the Corrections Corporation of America ($2.2 million); Reed Elsevier PLC, parent company of LexisNexis ($1.5 million); Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, a coalition of coal interests ($1.5 million); BP America ($1.3 million); and Xcel Energy Inc. ($1.3 million). — Andy Metzger

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