LITTLE ROCK — Although Republicans have seized control of the Arkansas Legislature from the Democrats, at least one thing hasn’t changed: leading lawmakers’ assessments of who are the state’s top two lobbyists.
One is a Republican, former lawmaker Ted Mullenix of Hot Springs, and the other is a Democrat, former lawmaker Bruce Hawkins of Morrilton.

Mullenix is the top lobbyist and Hawkins is No. 2, on the basis of an Arkansas Democratic-Gazette informal survey of 30 legislative leaders, committee chairmen and other key returning lawmakers.

Lawmakers also picked Mullenix followed by Hawkins as the top lobbyists in a 2011 survey, when Democrats dominated the Legislature.

In ranking the two, legislators also often mention the duo’s lobbying partners – Mullenix’s wife, Julie, and Camie Boggess, who works with Hawkins – so they could be considered the state’s top two lobbying teams.

Lawmakers and lobbyists said the more effective lobbyists tend to work in teams. The tag-team approach lets them reach more lawmakers, which is effective because 44 of the Legislature’s 135 members are new and often are looking for guidance on key issues.

Some state lawmakers say Mullenix and Hawkins are the best because of their diverse array of clients, their knowledge of pertinent legislation, their hard work and the fact that they can help lawmakers understand both sides of an issue.

It doesn’t hurt, a few lawmakers said, that Mullenix and Hawkins pick up the tab if their lobbying pitches are delivered at a restaurant table.

In the Legislature’s 2011 regular session, Ted Mullenix’s firm, Mullenix & Associates, and Bruce Hawkins’ firm, DBH Management Consultants, reported outspending the rest of their colleagues.

Mullenix & Associates reported spending $59,510 on lobbying; that works out to $440.81 per legislator.

DBH Management Consultants reported spending $40,312 – an average of $298.61 per lawmaker.

Most of the money was spent on food, lodging, travel and entertainment, according to lobbyist reports filed with the secretary of state’s office.

But, Hawkins and Mullenix downplay the importance of wining and dining lawmakers in their lobbying efforts.

“Our expenses are higher because we are out here working hard and trying to represent our clients and give their side of the issues,” said Mullenix. “What is critical is what my firm has always tried to do [and that’s] to tell the truth and tell both sides of the issue and not misrepresent anything.”

Mullenix & Associates’ lobbyist registration in the secretary of state’s office lists 22 clients that include the Arkansas Judicial Council, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Arkansas Realtors Association, McDonald’s Corp., National Park Community College, Oaklawn Jockey Club, Stephens Group and Stephens Production Co.

Sally Carder, president of National Park Community College in Hot Springs, said the college’s foundation is paying Mullenix $5,000 to lobby on its behalf and is getting “a hometown discount” on the fee.

“I need some help in Little Rock,” she said. “We have got to try everything we can to get what resources we can, and they are the best to keep their eyes on what is going on.”

Legislation that would allow four community colleges originally created as technical schools, including National Park Community College, to hold a millage election for capital improvements already has sailed through the House and Senate.

The result – another happy client.

DBH Management Consultants’ lobbyist registration lists 25 clients, including Arkansans for Lawsuit Reform, Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., lottery vendor Scientific Games International, Southland Park Gaming & Racing, Southwestern Energy Co., and Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

“Despite the public’s outlook on the legislative lobbyists, we are here to protect the interests of those groups that we represent,” said Hawkins.

He said some people think “every lobbyist is bad except my lobbyist.”

One of his clients, Arkansans for Lawsuit Reform, plans to urge lawmakers to refer a proposed constitutional amendment to voters in the 2014 general election that would overhaul the state’s tort laws; Sen. Eddie Joe WIlliams, R-Cabot, has promised to file that legislation soon.

Arkansans for Lawsuit Reform is a nonprofit that registered with the secretary of state’s office in October 2011 and listed lobbyist Marvin Parks as its incorporator and organizer. The group’s attorney, Chris Stewart of Little Rock, said it has applied with the Internal Revenue Service to be classified as a 501 (c) (6) trade association and isn’t required to disclose its contributors and won’t do so.

The third-, fourth- and fifth-ranked lobbyists or lobbying teams, as determined by this newspaper’s survey, are: Paul Berry of Little Rock, Impact Management Group led by former state Republican Party executive director Richard Bearden of Little Rock, and Robert D. Smith III of Little Rock, respectively.

Berry’s clients include Arkansas/Oklahoma Gas Corp., and The Stephens Group, Stephens Production Co.; Smith’s clients include Stephens Investments Holdings and Nucor Steel Co.

Impact Management Group’s lobbyist registration lists 17 clients, including Entergy Arkansas Inc., Southwestern Energy Co., Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Arkansas; and AT&T.

Terry Benham of Benton, president of Impact Management Group and a former executive director of the Louisiana Republican Party, said it’s difficult to say whether the firm has benefited from the Republicans gaining control in the Arkansas Legislature.

“We have picked up business every year, and I like to think it’s because we are effective,” he said. “I think we have grown in our clients because we offer more than just buying dinner.”

The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-rated lobbyists are all former state legislative representatives: Ernest Cunningham, a Democrat from Helena-West Helena and former House speaker; Parks of Sherwood, a Republican; and Marvin Childers, a Little Rock Republican and president of The Poultry Federation.

Cunningham’s clients include the Arkansas Health Care Association, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Arkansans For Better Schools.

Parks’ clients include the Arkansas Medical Society and the Washington, D.C-based American Tort Reform Association. He also partners with contract lobbyist Leo Hauser. Their firm, Bi-Partisan Strategies, has several clients, including the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

Richard Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said his group hired Parks and Hauser to lobby lawmakers for expansion of the Medicaid program as authorized under the federal health-care law enacted in 2010.

“There are a lot of new legislators, many of them Republicans that we don’t know and we don’t have relationships with,” Huddleston said.

He said hiring Parks and Hauser “seemed like a smart thing to do to bring somebody who has connections with those folks.”

Parks said it’s going to be difficult to get legislative approval for the Medicaid expansion because it will require 75 votes in the 100-member House and 27 votes in the 35-member Senate.

He said he’s trying to find some “middle ground” on expanding the Medicaid program, adding “it is my hope there can be some solutions that will be a win for everybody.”

The ninth- and 10th-rated lobbyists are Don Tilton of Little Rock and Bill Phillips of Conway. Phillips’ clients include Arkansas Heart Hospital, the County Judges Association and QualChoice.

Tilton said he is working to educate lawmakers about the proposed Medicaid expansion on behalf of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association, Arkansas Dental Association and Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems.

“I don’t have a fixed agenda other than making sure the members have objective data to work with.”