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Gary LaPaille is consumed with being a different sort of presence on K Street. And this obsession has nothing to do with his thick Chic-gah-goh accent. LaPaille is president of mCapitol Management Inc. And his seven-year-old shop doesn’t follow the lobby world’s handbook. For one thing, it’s a lobbying firm owned by an engineering firm, the environmental-engineering giant MWH Global Inc. “You won’t find Gary LaPaille recommending to someone how to run a water plant, but I do have engineers telling me how to run politics,” he jokes. But more important, while other shops in Washington court big spenders such as Microsoft or Wal-Mart, mCapitol has not a single million-dollar client to crow about. Nor are efforts being made to acquire any. And don’t start looking for a roster of marquee lobbyists on retainer, either. LaPaille would rather have on hand senior Hill staffers. If they are hunting for a new job, Tom Boggs and Bob Livingston should send their resumes elsewhere. “We don’t have drivers waiting on G Street [where the office is located] to drive our clients around,” says LaPaille. “When you hire us, you are getting the real McCoy. You’re not getting shuffled off to an intern. Some of the bigger shops have a former congressman there for the pitch. But upon hire, that client will deal with their assistant.” Ron Phillips, a senior vice president at mCapitol, says, tongue-in-cheek: “Yeah, I want to meet the Senate staffer that gets to meet with Bob Dole.” (The 1996 presidential candidate currently is a senior counselor at APCO Worldwide Inc.) VOLUME, VOLUME, VOLUME The days of slapping the back of a lawmaker and seeing that something gets done are long gone, says LaPaille. And mCapitol’s president should know: He hails from the cozy world of Chicago politics, where he was once a state senator and was chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois for eight years in the 1990s. Also gone, according to LaPaille and other players at his firm, are the days of the million-dollar client. LaPaille believes that today’s client has wised up since the free-spending ways of fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff were exposed. Now, he says, people expect more for less. And tapping into this sentiment by racking up a bevy of small clients is exactly how mCapitol seeks to make its mark. According to Senate disclosure records, mCapitol charged $580,000 in lobby fees in 2005, though LaPaille says the firm will likely do about $3.2 million this year, with the bulk of that figure coming from business development in the state and local sector as well as with the federal government. The bipartisan firm specializes in engineering, insurance, energy, homeland security, and telecommunications. “It’s the rise of small firms,” says Phillips, a former lobbyist at Cassidy & Associates and former senior policy adviser to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. That may be, but there is still something to be said for the million-dollar client. With 2006 midyear figures for lobby shops emerging, lobbyists are not sitting curbside on K Street waving a tin cup. Heavy hitters are doing well — Barbour Griffith & Rogers reported $11.3 million and DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary reported $8.5 million in lobbying in the first half of 2006 alone. These are figures that represent anything but a retreat from business as usual. But with the number of lobbyists having doubled in recent years, the growth of small, boutique firms is a natural trend for an industry experiencing an increase in business, says Charlie Black, chairman of BKSH & Associates. “As the numbers of lobbyists double, they won’t all be in big firms,” says Black. “It’s hard for a generalist to open up a shop, but the small shops that do well offer substantive expertise in a given area, like health care or telecom, to a client.” It’s not unusual for lobby firms such as mCapitol to be owned by larger corporations. Last year, the Federalist Group was acquired by global public relations giant Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. And Dittus Communications was snatched by another PR entity, Financial Dynamics. But an engineering firm acquiring a lobby shop? From a cultural and personality perspective, the two worlds have little in common. “Engineers are introverted, solution-oriented, and see relationships as an evil necessity,” says MWH President and Chief Executive Officer Robert Uhler. “I don’t think there’s a conflict, but at times engineers don’t value mCapitol because they can’t pull off a transaction. My response is, they aren’t there to pull off transactions. They are there to represent us in the long term and give us feedback on how our strategies would work and where government is going.” MWH acquired Capitol Management Group Inc. (mCapitol’s original name) in 1999. LaPaille says that his book of business at the time was roughly $600,000 a year. And before the acquisition, MWH didn’t have enough business in the legislative process to justify a very large or important operation in Washington on its own, says Uhler. MWH provides construction, procurement, and program management in energy and power markets in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, India, Asia, and the Pacific Rim. Uhler says the firm does about $1.1 billion of gross revenue a year. Recently it was awarded a contract by the City of Pasadena Water & Power Department to serve as program manager for the $5.5 million, 21-month Geographic Information System program that’s designed to provide the California town with insight into better management of its water and power supplies. Uhler says that there is no oversight by MWH when mCapitol selects a client. The burden is on LaPaille and other lobbyists to determine if a prospective client is a direct competitor or poses an ethical issue to MWH. “One hundred percent of the time, Bob finds out about a new client after we’ve retained them,” says LaPaille. It is this cultural autonomy that has been a draw for many new hires, including Patrick Murphy, a senior vice president who was hired in July along with Philip Maggi, a former staffer for Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). “The parent company understands what we do and understands that . . . we are experts in this field like they are experts in engineering and water resources,” says Murphy. The firm has grown over the years. In 2002 its reported lobby revenues were $340,000. That number dipped in 2003, when it disclosed $280,000, but climbed in 2004 with $290,000. And LaPaille has targeted a bevy of low-profile clients to build his practice, the most recognizable ones being Eastman Kodak, Motorola Inc., the National Farmer’s Union, and Edison Electric Institute Inc. Additionally, mCapitol touts that it manages one of the largest private political action committees in town, the MWH Americas Inc. Employee PAC. According to Federal Election Commission reports for the 2005-2006 cycle, the PAC began the cycle with $377,508 and, as of June 30, currently has $265,012 on hand. It has made sizable contributions to other PACs, including ones for Illinois Reps. Melissa Bean (D), Lane Evans (D), Dennis Hastert (R), and Gerald Weller (R). The PAC has also donated sizably to Friends of Hillary, the PAC created to re-elect Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.); the National Republican Senatorial Committee; and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. THAT TODDLIN’ TOWN If there’s any directive from MWH, it’s for LaPaille to “go out and find other Gary LaPailles,” he says. And searching for the next LaPaille might not be that difficult. Despite LaPaille’s distinctive, outsider approach to his business, he’s a highly connected man, a natural fit for brokering deals on K Street. His political career crystallized during the 1990s, a time of rebirth for Democrats in Illinois, particularly in Cook County. With LaPaille’s help, in 1992 the state leaned to Bill Clinton, the first time the state favored a Democrat for president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. LaPaille also helped ensure Clinton’s second presidential victory, having been host-state chairman for the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. During his tenure working for powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D), LaPaille was largely perceived as Madigan’s right-hand man, faithfully and consistently carrying out his political mentor’s wishes, says former Democratic Illinois state Sen. Dawn Clark Netsch. “He was a very focused, tough-minded guy,” says Netsch. “He was very devoted to Mike.” LaPaille’s family is no stranger to the world of influence. His wife Christine LaPaille, a Republican, was named vice president for university relations at George Mason University last year after five years as director of communications at the National Governors Association.
Joe Crea can be contacted at [email protected].

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