Sunday, February 18, 2001

Demand increasing supply of lobbyists

More players in game as more companies seek representation

By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Lobbying, once the preserve of the rich and powerful, has gone retail. Mega-corporations such as Procter & Gamble Co. and Ashland Inc. retain their stable of blue suits to influence lawmakers. But the vast array of smaller companies also are finding that they need that influence with state officials in either Columbus or Frankfort.

        “A good lobbyist is worth his weight in gold,” said Jerry Carroll, chairman of the new Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, which has pushed for laws to allow alcohol sales and for road improvements. “A bad lobbyist can be a very expensive proposition.”

        Lobbying in Greater Cincinnati has been controlled for years by a few veterans, and many companies have looked to powerhouse firms in either Columbus or Frankfort to influence state legislation or regulation.

        But that could change soon with several new players on the scene.

        And with more independent lobbyists for hire, more money is likely to be spent to cajole legislators and state agencies to bring projects and money to Greater Cincinnati.

        “As a community, we don't pay enough attention to state government issues,” said Chip Gerhardt, head of the Government Affairs Solutions Group at Cincinnati's KMK Consulting. “Many times, we don't recognize the value of what goes on in Columbus.”

        A creation of the powerhouse Keating, Muething & Klekamp law firm, KMK Consulting is one of the new kids on the block. Mr. Gerhardt, executive director of the Hamilton County Republican Party, has registered with the Ohio Legislative Ethics Commission, and KMK is aggressively looking for clients in both lobbying and strategic planning.

        Other new competitors in Ohio include Scott Borgemenke, the former top policy adviser to Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, who is registering now to represent clients including P&G and the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.

        South of the Ohio River, both Republicans and Democrats are coming on board. New players include:

        • Mark Guilfoyle: the former aide to Democratic Gov. Brereton Jones, who has formed a lobbying firm with London lawyer Tom Jensen — former chairman of the state Republican Party — called Bluegrass Government Consultants. He has represented Kentucky Speedway, Argosy Casino and other local companies.

        • Marc Wilson: the GOP consultant for locals including State Sen. Jack Westwood, who hopes to move his business into lobbying this year.

        • John Cooper: the Frankfort-based lobbyist who long has been one of the state's powerhouses. He has joined the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and is scouting for business in this area.

"Much greater demand'

               “There's a much greater demand for lobbyists, since there's just a lot more stuff going on in Frankfort,” said Mr. Guilfoyle, who also has been prominently mentioned as a potential Democratic candidate for a number of offices. “I think we're at a point where the need is there.”

        The impact of new home-grown firms could be huge on Greater Cincinnati. In Ohio, Senate President Richard Finan of Evendale will leave after the current term because of term limits, taking considerable influence for this area with him.

        And in Kentucky, the northern part of the state has grown so fast that its influence in Frankfort needs to catch up, local lobbyists said.

        Lobbyists nationally long have resisted efforts to document every contact with government officials or limit the money they can spend wining and dining political leaders.

        But in both Ohio and Kentucky, they now must register each session, identifying all of their clients and the money spent to advance that client's cause.

        But the public images of hordes of lobbyists working a room of politicians or high-priced dinners to argue on a particular bill still can apply.

Game has changed

               Several of the lobbyists who have been working in Greater Cincinnati for years acknowledge that the game has changed, mostly because power is spread among more people.

        “I think more people are realizing that when they have an issue, they need somebody to talk to,” said Dick Weiland, whose Mount Adams firm represents several dozen local clients in Columbus.

        Mr. Weiland's clients include Children's Hospital Medical Center, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and TechSolve.

        Gordon Scherer, whose west-side firm represents the Cincinnati Bengals, Hamilton County and Paramount's Kings Island, said the need for a professional lobbyist is greater than ever.

        “When I was in the legislature, I resented the hired gun who was hired on a particular issue because of perceived influence or friendship with me,” Mr. Scherer said. “He'd get his fee and go home.”

Politics the attraction

               The business can be lucrative, but most lobbyists said being involved in politics is the main attraction.

        Kentucky's top lobbyists were paid as much as $250,000 during one 16-month period, according to figures published last summer by the political newsletter Kentucky Gazette.

        Mr. Guilfoyle and Mr. Jensen each earned $44,000 from Kentucky Speedway during the period, the report said. Combined, the two lawyers earned about $160,000 overall, it said.

        Several factors are driving the increased need for lobbyists. Term limits mean there are more legislators to influence, including many who are not experts in any issue.

        “You used to be able to talk to a handful of people — the speaker, the president of the Senate — and get things done,” Mr. Borgemenke said. “Not anymore.”

        And legislative sessions now run much longer. In Ohio, they are virtually full time, while Kentucky voters just approved annual General Assembly sessions last year.

        With the federal government allocating more decisions and dollars to the states, more of the important decisions are made in statehouses.

Staying abreast

               For a business that has to answer to state regulators, a lobbyist must keep clients informed 12 months a year, Mr. Carroll, of Kentucky Speedway, said.

        “When you're a regulated business, you don't have much choice,” he said. “The last thing you want to hear is something is happening, and you didn't know what was going on.”

        At the same time, the local business community has grown to a point where more lobbyists are needed, KMK's Mr. Gephardt said.

        For example, many companies don't take advantage of many of the state dollars that are available to them through job-creation credits or other programs, he said.

        “I just think the combination we've put together is the right one for the future, where you can offer a broader range of services than just lobbying.”


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