Beacon Hill lobbying hierarchy changing a bit

Offshore wind, pot propelling Smith Costello & Crawford

THE PECKING ORDER of lobbying firms on Beacon Hill appears to be changing.

ML Strategies set a record in 2018 for lobbying fees, raking in $5.1 million and retaining its hold on the top spot. But another firm, Smith Costello & Crawford, vaulted from fifth to second place in the rankings on the strength of a 65 percent increase in fees. The firm’s billings have soared over the last three years, rising from just over $1 million in 2016 to $1.95 million in 2017 and $3.2 million in 2018.

Jim Smith, a partner at Smith Costello & Crawford, attributed the company’s rapid growth to success in helping get the offshore wind business off the ground in Massachusetts and an early embrace of the cannabis industry.

“We took an industry that was all but unknown in Massachusetts, and now it’s a multibillion-dollar industry,” Smith said of offshore wind. “That kind of put us on the map. That gave us a lot of credibility.”

Smith Costello & Crawford represented an offshore wind industry trade group that pushed successfully for a law mandating an offshore wind procurement. Once the law passed and the trade group was dissolved, the firm picked up Deepwater Wind, an offshore wind firm that was subsequently acquired by Denmark-based Ørsted late last year. The lobbying firm represents a number of other energy clients as well.

The other key contributor to Smith Costello & Crawford’s billings was marijuana business. Smith said a company called Good Chemistry knocked on the firm’s door more than six years ago, helping the lobby group get in early to an industry that is now starting to take off. The firm’s other cannabis clients in 2018 included Garden Remedies, Green Soul Organics, Happy Valley Ventures, and Weston Roots Assets.

Smith said his firm relinquished several clients (Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the PGA Tour) to Dempsey, Lucey and Associates to avoid ethical conflicts when the company was retained by another client interested in professional sports betting.

The rise of Smith Costello & Crawford has forced a shakeup in the rankings of the top lobbying firms on Beacon Hill. O’Neill & Associates, which has seen its lobbying revenues dip slightly over the last three years, fell from second to third place in 2018. Rasky Partners fell to fifth place, while Kearney Donovan & McGee rose to fourth place.

Secretary of State William Galvin’s online lobbying database doesn’t rank lobbying firms by revenue or lobbying clients by expenditures, so the rankings produced by CommonWealth are based largely on past trends and may exclude firms that boost receipts or spending dramatically in a single year.

The Massachusetts Health and Hospitals Association and the Massachusetts Nurses Association, who battled each other last year in a hard-fought referendum campaign over mandatory nurse-staffing ratios, both spent heavily on lobbying in 2018.

The health and hospitals association reported spending $928,855 on lobbying, with the expenditures spread among five lobbying firms and a number of association officials with lobbying responsibilities. The Massachusetts Nurses Association spent $535,412, most of it going for lobbying handled by association employees.

Partners HealthCare, which year after year is one of the most active lobbyists on Beacon Hill, reported spending $877,502 last year. Partners retained John Sasso’s Advanced Strategies ($204,000) and three other firms (Raushenbach Associates, Dennis Smith Associates, and Alviani Associates) at $150,000 apiece.

The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council spent $516,085 on lobbying last year, with $120,000 apiece going to Smith Costello & Crawford; McDermott Quilty & Miller; and John Heffernan’s Park Street Strategies.

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.

Massachusetts Gaming and Entertainment, which is pushing for a casino license for southeastern Massachusetts, spent $430,000 last year on lobbying. The fees were split among Keswick Consulting ($130,000); Smith, Costello & Crawford ($240,000); and Rasky Partners ($60,000).

The New England Aquarium paid ML Strategies $420,000 last year to represent its interests as the state reviewed Boston’s municipal harbor plan and plans for redevelopment of a parking garage owned by developer Don Chiofaro next to the Aquarium. An Aquarium spokesman said the waterfront venue wanted to make sure its interests and public access to the shore front were well represented during the deliberative process.