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.”
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.
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.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.