Major League Baseball just announced that it has opened an office in Washington, D.C. It will basically be for lobbying, and will bring in-house some people that have done the lobbying for them from the outside all along.
The office will be led by Josh Alkin, who has been appointed Vice President, Government Relations. He will report to Dan Halem, MLB’s Chief Legal Officer. Alkin, however, is no newbie at this. At his law firm, Baker Hostetler, he has lobbied on behalf of the Commissioner’s Office for 15 years. He will bring along an attorney named Lucy Calautti, also from of Baker Hostetler. Calautti has done this sort of work on behalf of MLB for equally as long. In addition, MLB has hired the Duberstein Group, which will provide counsel on government-related issues.
This is not some new area into which MLB is moving. Indeed, MLB and the other sports leagues have lobbied all along. MLB, in fact, used to lobby a heck of a lot more than it does now. According to OpenSecrets.org, MLB spent between $1.5-1.6 million on lobbying efforts in 1998-99. That figure has varied quite a bit from year-to-year, but has trended way down since 2007, to where, in 2015, they spent only $320,000. The decline is somewhat understandable given that baseball was often in siege mentality when labor issues were far more contentious and in the pre-drug testing days when league officials were routinely called before Congress. There has been peace and quiet in recent years, relatively speaking, reducing the need for a robust government relations effort.
It’s possible that the expansion and formalization of government relations work now means that MLB is concerned about new issues on the horizon. Cable TV? Labor relations and its treatment of minor leaguers? Something else? It’s also possible, however, that this is simply a function of a lawyer, Rob Manfred, taking over and reorganizing things in a manner which he feels is more efficient. Indeed, he wouldn’t be the first CEO to hire an outside lawyer away from his firm and bring him in-house to do the same job on a non-billable hour basis. It’s a pretty common thing, actually.
I’d normally say “we’ll see” at this point. But when it comes to the work of Washington lobbyists the fact is that we rarely ever see. That’s kind of the whole point.