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On the morning of Jan. 7, former House Ways and Means chairman Bill Thomas marched into the office of Ronald Platt, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s federal government relations director, and yelled, “I’m free!” It was classic Bill Thomas. The one-year cooling-off period preventing the retired California congressman from talking shop with his former colleagues had just expired, making him significantly more valuable to the firm. It wasn’t the only reason business was already looking up for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s lobbying practice, either. In 2007, the government relations group posted a 30 percent revenue increase, moving the firm up to 20th place on the Influence 50 list, with $18.8 million of business. The gains came in spite of a significant, self-imposed handicap: After losing two established lobbyists in late 2006, Buchanan Ingersoll looked to Capitol Hill and federal agency staffers who not only lacked experience, but were barred by law from lobbying their colleagues for a full year. In the first half of the year, the firm picked up Thomas, his former Ways and Means policy chief Alex Brill, the committee’s chief tax counsel Bob Winters, and Martin Corry, a former special assistant to the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. For a midsize, rapidly growing shop adjusting to a newly Democratic Congress, the addition of four Republicans lacking clients and K Street experience appears to be something of a risk. Plus, Thomas has a reputation for partisanship — the former chairman once called upon Capitol Hill police to disperse Democrats after they attempted to stall a hearing. But the tax expertise of Thomas and his staffers made them “targets of opportunity,” according to Ivan Adler, the McCormick Group headhunter who pitched the three to the firm. While the market for Democrats coming off the Hill is more robust, Adler says, Republican lobbyists can’t be excluded from the political process. “Somebody’s going to have to play defense, and Republicans know how to play defense,” he says. Platt never had any illusions of matching Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s 99 percent jump in lobbying revenue for 2006, when the firm had just finished a hiring spree following its first full year of operation. “We accepted the fact that they were going to lose money,” Platt says of the new arrivals. But it was unclear how much money, and whether the other members of the government relations team could pick up the slack. “Toward the middle of the year, I was saying, �This is going to be depressing,’” Platt recalls of the firm’s early 2007 revenue numbers. $1.7 MILLION PAYS OFF All told, the four new hires, plus lobbyist Bethany Noble, who joined Buchanan Ingersoll from Greenberg Traurig, cost Buchanan Ingersoll around $1.7 million for the year, Platt estimates, and brought in about $1.5 million. That’s far from tragic. And despite the fact that four members of the firm’s 20-person government affairs team were forbidden from contacting their former government colleagues, the firm saw a healthy 18 percent bump in Lobbying Disclosure Act revenue. Other sectors of Buchanan Ingersoll’s government affairs work not under Platt’s jurisdiction also helped fill in the gaps. The firm benefited from its Pennsylvania roots last year, with the overwhelming majority of its $5.6 million in state lobbying revenue coming from its operations in Harrisburg, Pa. In Washington, the firm’s gains came from safety policy concerns that boosted its Food and Drug Administration work, and a more than $3 million boost from policy work performed by the firm’s tax law practice, the core of which was inherited from Silverstein and Mullins when Buchanan Ingersoll merged its way into the D.C. market. In some cases, the practice looked for ways to deploy its new talent to other venues. Banned from lobbying Medicare and Medicaid officials, Corry worked the Hill on health care issues for clients like Ceridian Benefits Services and HighMark Inc. Meanwhile, Thomas was free to contact members of the Senate while coaching other Buchanan Ingersoll lobbyists in their dealings with his old committee. FOR THE TEAM Although Thomas can now contact his former colleagues at Ways and Means, under his contract with Buchanan Ingersoll, he isn’t required to lobby directly. Instead, he serves as a strategist on tax and finance matters, working with Brill and Winters much in the same way they worked together on the Hill, he says. “If only one of us had been taken, we wouldn’t have been as effective as we were working as a team,” says Thomas, who says his role is primarily charting legislative strategy for clients and long-term policy planning. “One of the things that is so often conceived of in lobbying is that you hire a lobbyist to get someone to kill something,” Thomas says. “One of the things that I thought was neglected is that if you understand how the place works, it’s entirely possible to get things done.” After 30 years on the Hill, adjusting to life downtown has sometimes been tricky, Thomas concedes. “I think it’s safe to say that the first year was a learning year,” Thomas says. “I’ve obviously had to learn how the outside world operates. It’s a different world when you have to screen it for dollars and cents.” To speed the new arrivals’ integration into the firm, Platt arranged for the D.C. hires to give seminars at Buchanan Ingersoll offices around the country, frequently pairing himself with Thomas as a bipartisan tax team. The outreach established trust for the new arrivals in the firm, he believes, but came at the cost of “higher than normal practice development costs,” Platt says. “The guts of this office is the tax group,” Platt says, and a big part of his plan is to build the lobbying practice to match. Given the political affiliation of last year’s hires, he adds, it doesn’t hurt that major tax and health-care initiatives traditionally require bipartisan support. Adler, the recruiter who helped bring most of the 2007 hires to the firm, seconds that view. “Folks that have a [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid] background are walking gold,” he says, referring to Corry. That may be so, but it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. For the time being, Platt says, any new job candidates had better come with a book of business. “Growth is going to be coming from who’s here now,” Platt says, chuckling. “I’ve told recruiters that I don’t want to talk to another person off the Hill.”
Jeff Horwitz can be contacted at [email protected].

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