RALEIGH — The long session at the North Carolina General Assembly lived up to its name, with Gov. Roy Cooper signing his first budget as governor after three years of gridlock from the last enacted spending plan from the legislature.
The session also included massive redistricting efforts for state legislative and U.S. House districts, a landmark energy bill, a comprehensive Farm Act, education reform and several economic development projects.
Navigating the philosophical, ideological and political currents to promote and prevent bills during this session were over 750 registered lobbyists. They were all considered as the North State Journal sought to determine the top lobbyists in North Carolina for a second year.
The top lobbyists list this year also includes the top legislative liaisons, a group of legislative influencers who advocate for the policies of state institutions, cabinet agencies and council of state offices. The North State Journal staff surveyed legislators, staffers, reporters and business leaders and parsed data on the clients represented by the registered lobbyists this year.
The list, like last year’s, is 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 No. 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.
Top Agency Liaisons
Laura Kilian — N.C. Department of Agriculture
Deans Eatman — N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
Sam Watts — Office of the Treasurer
Betty Doster — UNC Charlotte
Jamey Falkenbury — N.C. Department of Public Instruction
Sarah Bales, Brubaker & Associates — Bales represented 31 clients this year, including major corporations, sports-betting interests, healthcare companies and non-profits.
Harold Brubaker, Brubaker & Associates — The former speaker of the House represented 32 clients, including blue-chip companies like Amazon, BlueCross and Blue Shield of NC, FedEx, GlaxoSmithKline, PepsiCo and SAP. In the trade association and non-profit areas, Brubaker represented the N.C. League of Municipalities, NC Beer & Wine Wholesalers and the High Point Market Authority.
Tom Fetzer, Fetzer Strategic Partners — The former mayor of Raleigh and state GOP chairman had 20 clients in 2021. Fetzer, who lives in Wilmington, carried the flag for his hometown representing New Hanover County, New Hanover Regional Medical Center and the Wilmington Regional Film Commission. His stable of top industry clients included Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC, Reynolds American, PepsiCo and Martin Marietta.
John Hardin, Manning Fulton & Skinner — Hardin, an attorney and lobbyist, represented 50 clients this year. He represented national brands like Food Lion, SAS, Charter Communications and the Clorox Company. He also represented important state groups, including Durham Performing Arts, the N.C. Railroad Company and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Jim Harrell, Bode & Harrell — The former N.C. House member represented 34 clients this session. His clients included the Motion Picture Association, Accenture, N.C. Retail Merchants and WakeMed.
Tracy Kimbrell, Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein — The former top lawyer for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger represented 18 clients, including Apple, SAS Institute, Duke Energy, State Farm, LabCorp and Atrium Health.
Ches McDowell, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton — McDowell represented 56 clients this session with principals across an array of industries. He represented the PGA Tour, NBA, Charlotte Hornets, Churchill Downs and Major League Baseball. He also represented the City of Charlotte, City of Fayetteville, Piedmont Triad Airport Authority and RDU Airport Authority.
Ryan Minto, Duke Energy — Minto, who brings experience in the U.S. Congress and state government, managed lobbying efforts for Duke Energy this session. The highlight of Duke’s agenda was passage of the state energy bill, House Bill 951, with bipartisan support in the House and Senate.
David Powers, Powers Strategies — Powerbroker and member of the UNC Board of Governors, Powers represented 17 clients this session, including sports-betting interests FanDuel and DraftKings. He also represented Anthem and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC.
Dana Simpson, Smith Anderson Blount Dorsett Mitchell & Jernigan — Simpson has long been considered one of the top lobbyists and this year he represented 41 clients. His stable of interests included Accenture, Duke Energy, Gilead Sciences and Novartis. Simpson’s portfolio included several healthcare and technology companies, non-profits and telecommunications firms.
Daniel Baum (Navigator), John Cooper (Connect C LLC), David Ferrell (Nexsen Pruet), Nelson Freeman (Kilpatrick Townsend), Bryan Holloway (Holloway Group), Philip Isley (Blanchard, Miller, Lewis & Isley), Harry Kaplan (McGuireWoods Consulting), Doug Miskew (Public Sector Group), Will Morgan (Manning Fulton & Skinner), Andy Munn (EQV Strategic), Ashley Perkinson (Perkinson Law Firm), Jackson Stancil (Jones Street Consulting), Zane Stilwell (Stilwell Group), Susan Fetzer Vick (Fetzer Strategic Partners) and Kevin Wilkinson (EQV Strategic).