ML STRATEGIES REPORTED nearly $5.2 million in lobbying fees last year, breaking the previous record of just over $4 million that the company set in 2016.
The company, the lobbying arm of the Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo law firm, listed nearly 70 clients in its 2018 report. The four biggest clients in terms of revenue were the New England Aquarium ($420,000), which is locked in a battle with developer Don Chiofaro over his proposed waterfront tower; Wynn Resorts ($242,382), which is seeking to retain its Massachusetts casino license in the wake of Steve Wynn’s sexual misconduct; NextEra Energy ($240,000); and the Trustees of Reservations ($210,000).
Not all lobbying firms have submitted their 2018 reports yet, but it’s unlikely anyone will come close to the revenue level set by ML Strategies. O’Neill & Associates, which typically ranks second in overall lobbying billings, reported fees of $2.7 million in 2018, down slightly from the year before. Its biggest client ($159,000) was the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, which owns the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. The Mohegan Sun casino lost out to Wynn Resorts for the Greater Boston casino license and is fighting in court to overturn the license award.
ML Strategies may not be able to sustain the level of business it reached in 2018. Brian Dempsey, a powerful former state legislator from Haverhill, left the Legislature in 2017 to join ML Strategies and then left the company in November 2018 to form his own firm, Dempsey, Lucey & Associates. Dempsey took with him a number of clients – including Beacon Communities, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Equinor Wind US LLC, Lahey Health, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center – that had combined billings of more than $700,000 last year. The two hospital systems, along with several other hospitals, have since combined to form Beth Israel Lahey Health, and Dempsey said the new entity is retaining his firm as its lobbyist.
Dempsey has also taken business away from other lobbying firms. His firm picked up Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the PGA Tour Inc. – all clients wanting to protect their interests as Massachusetts moves toward legalized sports betting – from Smith, Costello & Crawford.
ML Strategies is losing some clients with Dempsey’s departure, but it is also starting to add new clients brought in by former Suffolk County district attorney Dan Conley, who joined the firm last September. Conley reportedly convinced the State Police Association of Massachusetts to hire ML Strategies in December.
Stephen Tocco, the chairman and CEO of ML Strategies, said the company’s business focus extends beyond Beacon Hill. He estimated close to half of the company’s business is project related, helping firms launch a development project and then push through the permitting and approval process. Tocco also said the firm’s customer base is broad, spread across many industry categories.
“We have a lot of diversity in clients and that’s allowed us to maintain a robust business,” Tocco said. “But there’s always ebbs and flows.”