Just in time for this year’s legislative session, veteran lobbyists Amy Odom and Chuck McMullen have opened a Georgia government relations shop for Charlotte-based Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein, which entered the Atlanta market two years ago.
“Amy and I have worked together on issues—on the same side or against one another—for over 25 years,” McMullen said.
When the two met in 1998, McMullen was the PAC director for Medical Association of Georgia, advocating for doctors and medical associations, while Odom was on the health insurance side at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia, which was then acquired by Wellpoint, now Anthem.
Odom spent almost 18 years at Anthem. As vice president for state affairs, she oversaw the health insurer’s advocacy efforts in the 14 states where it operates. She also worked in Washington, D.C., as vice president of federal affairs during the run-up to the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
Odom joined Dentons in October 2015 from Anthem to start a 50-state lobbying network for the megafirm. Dentons has lobbying operations in six states, and Odom led the effort to identify and partner with shops in the other 44 states.
At the Medical Association of Georgia, McMullen got to know Dr. Tom Price, Trump’s former secretary of Health and Human Services, and became his chief of staff in 2002 when the Republicans took over the Georgia Senate. When Price was elected to Congress in 2004, McMullen started his own lobbying practice.
The Georgia Academy of Physicians was his first client, McMullen said, and then United Health Group. “And so then Amy and I were on the same side.”
He joined Dentons’ predecessor firm, McKenna Long & Aldridge, in 2011 to head their Georgia government affairs practice but left for Greenberg Traurig in July 2015, right before McKenna’s merger with Dentons took effect—and just before Odom joined the firm.
McMullen and Odom said they started talking last summer about working together. They had considered starting their own shop but liked having the infrastructure of a law firm.
“That intersection between law and government—having the support and legal capabilities,” McMullen explained.
“The Big Law model was not necessarily the best option for us,” he added. “We started talking to regional firms with government affairs arms—and Parker Poe rose to the top as a premier regional firm.”
With 200 lawyers in seven offices, he said, Parker Poe “is the right size”—large enough to provide that infrastructure while remaining somewhat nimble.
The separate government affairs arm was also a draw, Odom said. By starting Parker Poe’s Georgia operation instead of joining another firm’s existing lobbying practice, they get to, in effect, run their own shop.
“Chuck and I wanted to be able to create our own business plan and implement it,” Odom said. “We have our own P&L responsibility, while we can leverage their capabilities and expertise.”
Parker Poe created the separate consulting subsidiary when it launched its South Carolina operation, made up of lobbyists, at the Statehouse in Columbia, McMullen said. Its North Carolina government affairs practitioners are lawyers, so part of the firm.
Odom and McMullen also have affiliated with BGR Group, a well-known Washington lobbying firm founded by former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who’d worked in the Reagan White House, with Ed Rogers and Lanny Griffith, both veterans of the George H.W. Bush administration.
Odom said she’d worked with Barbour before. “I’ve been active in the RGA [Republican Governor’s Association] and the DGA [Democratic Governors Association]—the RGA more of late, given the number of Republican governors in the states,” she said.
“That shows the flexibility that Parker Poe offered,” McMullen said. “We can partner with our colleagues at BGR in Washington and leverage the relationships that Amy had with Gov. Barbour.
“It’s not either-or; it’s both-and. Those situations are rare,” he added.
Odom’s Georgia clients are Trident USA Health Services and Wynn Resorts Development, according to filings with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.
McMullen’s clients include several in health care: United Healthcare, Optum (a United Health Group subsidiary that provides health care through urgent care centers, ambulatory surgical centers and medical clinics), the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians, HN1 Therapy Networks of Georgia and Pulselight, a health care analytics company.
Other clients are Anheuser-Busch, Microsoft, Honda, Wynn Resort Development and Sabal Trail Transmission, a subsidiary of Spectra Energy Corp.