Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration signed a $41,667 contract in February with heavy-hitter Republican lobbying firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney to advance the mayor’s interests in Harrisburg. Shortly after, Kenney announced a second contract for yet another state lobbyist.
This one would also “focus on Republican leadership,” according to spokesperson Lauren Hitt.
In other words, the administration will bring on two GOP-friendly firms to navigate the strained relations between the heavily Democratic city and the increasingly Republican-dominated legislature in Harrisburg.
“Republicans are not a monolithic group. Various firms bring stronger relationships with different legislators,” Hitt said. “We’re spending a comparable amount on state lobbying to what the Nutter administration spent, but with a focus on representation that better connects us with some of the changed landscape there.”
The administration also issued a request for proposals this week for a federal lobbyist to rep the city in Washington, D.C. – the contract to currently do so is with the international law firm Holland & Knight.
The full value of the second contract had yet to be determined, although Hitt said expenses for the two lobbyists would not exceed the $180,000 spent annually by former Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration on past state lobbying contracts.
For many years, Nutter retained the Kinser Group and Loeper & Associates, run by well-known lobbyist Holly Kinser.
David Thornburgh, director of the government watchdog group Committee of 70, said a blue city needed to hire lobbyists who can hold the ears of a red Legislature in Harrisburg and DC.
“Having said that, judging the effectiveness of their efforts is not easy – there’s no sound metric you can use, no scorecard, no won/lost record that we can refer to,” Thornburgh wrote in an email.
To justify the expense, Thornburgh added that the Kenney administration will either have to show big victories were had or that bigger crises were averted.
Hitt said simply that “we measure success by whether or not (lobbyists) are able to help us achieve our legislative goals” and that “these vary by session.”
Larry Ceisler, longtime political consultant and president of the Ceisler Media Group, noted that the contract values – though they may seem large – are relatively small sums for big-time lobbyists. Most firms are in it for the prestige of representing a big city like Philadelphia and the networking opportunities that it allows.
“It’s important that the city has a lobbying presence in Harrisburg, and it’s doubly important that Philly, which is a Democratic city, has access to GOP leadership who basically run the show,” Ceisler said.
Kenney is also looking to increase the city’s contract rate with minority-owned businesses through its lobbying contracts.
“We found during the selection process for our first lobbyist that there were a limited number of certified minority firms in our registry, but the Office of Economic Opportunity has been working on outreach to increase the pool,” Hitt wrote in an email.
Buchanan is subcontracting with Commonwealth Strategies, a women-owned firm, the spokesperson added. It remains unclear how many additional minority-owned firms would be able to boast the strong relationships with Harrisburg’s Republican leadership required by the contract language.
The administration said it was still reviewing the Requests for Proposals for the federal lobbyist and the second Harrisburg consulting contract.
Max Marin is a staff writer at Philadelphia Weekly, where this article first appeared.