Former Congressman Bradley Byrne is wading back into government, although not in an elected position. Byrne, an attorney with more than 30 years of experience in private practice, rejoined law firm Adams and Reese in January as special counsel, after representing Alabama’s First Congressional District for four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
According to the firm, Byrne currently “provides government relations services at the state and federal levels, corporate advice and counsel, economic development services, and labor relations counsel for a mix of private businesses, public entities, as well as both state and federal associations.”
At least twice on Nov. 15, Byrne joined Adams and Reese partners Michael Berson and Britton Bonner at public meetings to offer contracts for lobbying services to local municipalities. Both the Baldwin County Commission and the city of Daphne later obliged.
In Bay Minette, the commission had an existing, $72,000 annual contract with Adams and Reese for federal government relations services and economic development representation. But until mid-year, the commission’s lobbyist in Montgomery was Christie Strategy Group, which had its own contract worth $42,000 per year.
After meeting with staff to discuss the commission’s needs, Adams and Reese offered to fill the role in Montgomery for just $27,000 more per year, or a total of $99,000. Commissioner Joe Davis didn’t detail the circumstances leading to Christie’s dismissal, but offered, “I personally feel like we didn’t have and haven’t had the sort of support we need in dealing with Montgomery.”
“We have ground to plow in Montgomery and I’m very much in favor of us bringing on [Adams and Reese],” Davis said, adding the county can use the unspent portion of Christie’s contract to cover the cost increase. “A lot of the federal dollars get sent to Montgomery and if we don’t have our people pointing out the best way to get that money, we just get what’s left over and I’m tired of it.”
Commissioner Billie Joe Underwood expressed some reservations with amending the Adams and Reese contract before the end of the budget year, adding she is often approached by people offering the same services. Later, she clarified she wasn’t wary of Adams and Reese’s proposal in particular, but more frustrated by a lack of communication with the local legislative delegation.
“They should answer the phone when we call them,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to hire a Montgomery lobbyist to talk to our local people.”
In Daphne, the City Council approved an agreement with Adams and Reese worth $6,750 per month, or $81,000 per year. There, a letter sent to Mayor Robin LeJeune in September indicated Bonner, Byrne and Berson would represent the city at the federal level, while special counsels Blake Hardwich and Mark Gaines would coordinate efforts in Montgomery.
“The team members will be available at all times to discuss any issue your or the city may have or to update you on the status of any project or issue we are pursuing on behalf of the city,” Bonner wrote.
Interestingly, it notes “federal rules and regulations prohibit former Congressman Byrne from lobbying members of the House of Representative and members of their staff directly until Jan. 3, 2022. This restriction does not apply to members of the U.S. Senate, members of their staff, any executive department or agency.”
In the meantime, Bonner and Berson will assist to avoid any conflicts with the rules, according to the letter.
LeJeune said he reached out to three different groups and Adams and Reese came back with the lowest price. Daphne’s city attorneys, Jay Ross and Patrick Dungan, are also members of the same law firm.
“We’re very excited about the possibility of some of the grant opportunities, especially now the new [federal] infrastructure bill has been passed,” LeJeune said.
In a contract dating back to April 2015, Adams and Reese also performs government relations and economic development work for the city of Mobile. There, the firm is authorized to receive a monthly retainer of $21,250 — $255,000 per year — “plus reasonable expenses,” according to a letter to Bonner from Mayor Sandy Stimpson.
Reached by email, Bonner was not immediately available to comment this week.
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