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