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To mark our 30th anniversary, we’ve reached into our archives to highlight key events and players who made a difference since we made our debut. A version of the following article appeared in the Dec. 13, 2000 edition of Influence , a Legal Times publication.
Jack Abramoff has always been an anomaly at Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds. A politically active conservative and a hard-edged lobbyist, Abramoff had been an improbable fixture for five years at a firm whose Seattle roots provide a relatively easygoing atmosphere. Now that Abramoff is leaving, there’s a sense that he won’t be terribly missed. “We would have been happy if he’d stayed; we’re not devastated if he goes,” remarked one senior partner dryly, seeming more relieved about the departure of Abramoff’s controversial clients and the attendant press scrutiny than the roughly $2 million to $4 million book of business he most likely will take with him. Added the partner: “Shall we say, we’re not as comfortable in the spotlight as he was.” And Abramoff attracted plenty of spotlights, from his representation of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands — where low-paid, mostly foreign workers in often unsavory conditions make garments stamped with the “Made in the U.S.A.” label — to his success in killing congressional efforts to tax Indian gaming receipts, an account that earned Preston Gates at least $3.32 million in 1999. Most members of the firm learned about Abramoff’s imminent departure from a Nov. 30 Washington Post article — promptly denounced by Abramoff in a firmwide e-mail. Eight days later, he formally resigned. The next week, on Dec. 13, he accepted an offer from Miami-based Greenberg Traurig. Firm founder Emanuel Rouvelas says Abramoff’s exit will trim about 10 to 15 percent from the D.C. office’s $20 million in annual revenue. But with Abramoff’s departure, expenses will decrease as well. Abramoff, who couldn’t be reached for comment, earned at least $1.4 million in salary and bonus in 1999, according to one well-placed source. He also had two assistants, a driver, and a car provided by the firm. Besides his four principal clients — Channel One, the Choctaw Indians, the Future of Puerto Rico, and the Northern Mariana Islands — Abramoff “didn’t do a lot of servicing of other clients,” Rouvelas says. Revenue from those four clients also fell precipitously in 2000. Lobbying Disclosure Act records show these clients paid the firm $1.76 million in fees for the first six months of 2000, compared with $3.86 million in the first half of 1999. Preston Gates is no stranger to bipartisanship or conservative Republicans. Steven “Rick” Valentine, former legislative director to Sen. Robert Smith (R-N.H.), is of counsel, and Dennis Stephens, the former LD to Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), is a government affairs analyst. Abramoff, 41, was different. He had never worked on the Hill. He was ideological, a committed conservative. Of course, after the 1994 GOP congressional takeover, Republicans were white-hot commodities. “People were pulling out the usual names,” says Preston Gates D.C. office managing partner Jonathan Blank, who knew Abramoff because both attended the same Silver Spring, Md., synagogue. “I said, �We need a movement Republican.’ “ They got one, a true “contact” lobbyist with close ties to the office of House Majority Whip Thomas DeLay and certain members of Congress closely allied with him. “It’s a different kind of lobbying,” says a chief lobbyist at a rival law firm. “People, particularly those who aren’t too Washington sophisticated, will come, and if you pick them up in a limo and get them in front of three or four senators and a member of the leadership, you’ve just earned your three months’ keep.”
Update: Preston Gates — now part of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis — may have suffered a short-term financial blow after Abramoff’s exit. But it rebounded nicely. In 2000, the year Abramoff left for Greenberg Traurig, Preston Gates booked $13.2 million in lobbying revenue. Last year, it pulled in $42.3 million — good enough for number 6 on the Influence 50, our ranking of the nation’s top-grossing lobbying practices. The firm was also spared much of the fallout from the ensuing scandals surrounding Abramoff. The former lobbyist continues to serve out a six-year sentence in a Maryland federal prison, after pleading guilty in 2006 to fraud and tax-evasion charges. Abramoff, and many of his former lobbying colleagues, are cooperating with an ongoing bribery investigation that continues to reverberate.

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