ML Strategies breaks lobbying record

Well-connected firm raked in more than $4m in fees in 2016

ML Strategies saw its lobbying fees soar to more than $4 million in 2016, setting what appears to be a single-year record among Massachusetts firms.

Lobbyist fees 2016 (2)

 

ML Strategies, which is wholly owned by the law firm Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo, has seen its business explode in the last three years. The lobbying firm reported fees of just over $4 million in 2016, up 46 percent from the firm’s 2015 haul of $2.8 million. Its income in 2014 was $1.6 million.

The next closest lobbying firms in 2016 were O’Neill & Associates at $2.8 million and Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications at $2.1 million. The state’s other major lobbying firms reported fees between $1 million and $1.9 million.

Several officials at competitors of ML Strategies said privately they were astonished the firm broke the $4 million mark for lobbying fees. Firms first broke the $2 million mark in 2015.

“It’s been crazy,” said Stephen Tocco, the chairman of ML Strategies. “This is a big, big jump.”

He said the firm’s Washington lobbying business, whose fees are reported separately, has also done well, bringing in about $5 million in 2016.

Tocco, as he has in the past, said the firm is attracting clients because of what it knows about government and not who it knows in government. “Most of it is strategic stuff,” he said. “Relationship lobbying is pretty much over.”

Still, ML Strategies is flush with employees who are very well connected on Beacon Hill. They include former Massachusetts governor William Weld; former state senator Steven Baddour; Tocco, a former official in the Weld administration; and a host of other former government officials with connections inside federal, state, and local government.

Mo Cowan, a one-time US senator, former chief of staff to governor Deval Patrick, and the firm’s president and CEO, announced this week that he is leaving the company to take the job of vice president of legal policy and litigation at General Electric, which paid ML Strategies $240,000 in lobbying fees last year. Tocco said he will be assuming most of Cowan’s responsibilities, although he said he would offload some of the work to others at the firm.

Lobbying fees in general have been rising in Massachusetts, but it’s unclear why. Some lobbyists say part of the explanation may be that they are now reporting nearly all income they receive as lobbying fees. Previously, many firms had drawn a distinction between direct lobbying of state officials and strategic work on behalf of a client.

The client list of ML Strategies centers around energy, transportation, health care, development, and telecommunications, but the firm has broadened its focus considerably in the last few years. Tocco said Weld, following his run for vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket, has taken a strong interest in Boston’s waterfront development, talking extensively with philanthropist Amos Hostetter, who has supported groups seeking to preserve public access to the sea.

ML Strategies represents Hostetter’s Pilot House Properties ($112,500 in fees last year), the New England Aquarium ($120,000), and the Davis Cos. ($80,142), which is seeking to build a mega-hotel in the Seaport District near the state convention center. Two more clients signed on this year with interests in the hotel and ties to Davis – New Boston Hospitality and DIV Black Fallon LLC.

The top six clients of ML Strategies in 2016, accounting for nearly $1.2 million in billings, were Wynn Resorts ($276,579 in fees last year), Spectra Energy ($260,309), General Electric ($240,000), Centene Corp. ($145,669), Advanced Power Services/Brockton Power Co. ($125,000), and Nalcor Energy ($121,655).

Wynn is building a casino in Everett, Spectra wants to build a new natural gas pipeline into the region, and Nalcor wants to build a transmission line into New England for hydroelectricity from Newfoundland and Labrador. Centene is a health care company based out of St. Louis and Brockton Power is seeking to build a power generation facility.

ML Strategies also represents an eclectic group of other clients, including Boston University, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Massachusetts Health and Hospitals Association, Accenture, Pricewaterhouse Cooper, Veolia Energy, Bloom Energy, and the Boston 4 Celebration Fund, the organization taking over the handling of the Fourth of July event at the Hatch Shell.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Disclosure:  Ann-Ellen Hornidge, the chair of MassINC, the parent of CommonWealth, is a member at Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo.