2020 Top Lobbyists in North Carolina

RALEIGH — The short session at the N.C. General Assembly was relatively short but packed full of policy and budget bills that resulted in battles between ideologies, interest groups and political parties. The men and women hired to navigate the intersection between business, politics and public policy this session totaled over 650. For the first time, the North State Journal has endeavored to figure out the state’s top lobbyists — as objectively as possible.

Lobbying greatness is part perception and part results. But, lobbyists also stand on the importance of their clients and their connections. In an effort to distill lots of qualitative data into usable metrics, the North State Journal staff surveyed legislators, staffers, reporters, business leaders and parsed data on the clients represented by the registered lobbyists this year.

This week, we reveal the top 10 lobbyists in North Carolina along with the honorable mentions, which round out the top 25 lobbyists from our rankings. The lists are in alphabetical order because defining a top 10 and top 25 is difficult enough without trying to figure out a fair way to determine who is number 1. The list is primarily comprised of lobbyists with significant clients — both in number and in quality. We developed a metric for client quality based on many factors, including market capitalization, business trade publication rankings, legislative success, and size. The factors in the rankings were legislator and staffer surveys and client quality scores. Less than 4% of all registered lobbyists made the list. 

The list, in alphabetical order:

Tom Apodaca, Vista Strategies. — The former senator represented powerful interests in the healthcare industry, including Rex Hospital, Blue Cross and Blue Shield N.C., and Cardinal Innovations. Apodaca also represented Altria, parent of Philip Morris, among his stable of 14 clients.

Sarah Bales, Brubaker & Associates. — The top lieutenant of former N.C. Speaker Harold Brubaker, Bales distinguished herself with high scores from legislators and staffers. She represented 27 clients this year, including major corporations, healthcare, and non-profits.

Harold Brubaker, Brubaker & Associates. — The former speaker represented 29 clients from diverse industries this session. His clients including blue chip companies like FedEx, GlaxoSmithKline, Pepsico, SAP, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of N.C. Brubaker also represented powerful groups like the N.C. Beer & Wine Wholesalers, High Point Market Authority, N.C. Cable Telecommunications Association, and N.C. League of Municipalities.

Tom Fetzer, Fetzer Strategic Partners. — The former mayor of Raleigh and state GOP chairman had 19 clients this session. Insurance and healthcare clients like Nationwide, Colonial Life, WakeMed and Blue Cross were paired with major industry clients like Reynolds American, Pepsico, and Martin Marietta. 

John Hardin, Manning Fulton & Skinner. — Hardin, a litigation attorney and lobbyist, represented 29 clients this year. He represented N.C. brands like Food Lion and SAS Institute as well as national brands like Bayer, Allstate, and Expedia.

Jim Harrell, Bode & Harrell. — The former N.C. House member represented 24 clients before the General Assembly this year. His clients included the Motion Picture Association, Accenture, N.C. Retail Merchants, and WakeMed.

Harry Kaplan, McGuireWoods Consulting. — Kaplan’s client list totaled 19 for 2020, including CVS Health and Koch Companies Public Sector. He represented Dare County, the City of Wilmington along with non-profits in the health and education sectors.

Tracy Kimbrell, Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein. — The former top lawyer for Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger represented 17 clients, including Apple, SAS Institute, Duke Energy, State Farm, and Atrium Health.

Ches McDowell, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton. — McDowell represented 45 clients during this session with a diverse portfolio. He led the lobbying corps in athletic representation with the PGA Tour, NBA, Charlotte Hornets, Wake Forest Athletics, and Major League Baseball. He also represented the City of Charlotte, Piedmont Triad Airport Authority, and RDU Airport Authority.

Dana Simpson, Smith Anderson Blount Dorsett Mitchell & Jernigan. — Longtime lobbyist and former legislative staffer for Harold Brubaker, Simpson was nearly a unanimous pick among staffers and legislators. He represented 31 clients, including AT&T, Accenture, Duke Energy, Dell Technologies, and Novartis. Simpson’s portfolio spanned from major healthcare and technology companies to non-profits and trade groups.

Honorable Mentions (Lobbyists in the Top 25)

Matthew Bales (Brooks Pierce), Daniel Baum (Troutman Sanders Strategies), John Cooper (Connect C LLC), Andy Ellen (NCRMA Service Corp.), Chris Evans (Blue Cross and Blue Shield of N.C.), David Ferrell (Nexsen Pruet), Nelson Freeman (Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton), Bryan Holloway (Holloway Group), Philip Isley (Blanchard, Miller, Lewis & Isley), Joe Lanier (Troutman Sanders Strategies), Doug Miskew (Public Sector Group), Thomas Moore (Cardinal Government Affairs), Jackson Stancil (Jones Street Consulting), Susan Fetzer Vick (Fetzer Strategic Partners).

Next week, the North State Journal will delve into the top agency liaisons, lobbying firms and young lobbyists.