Ballard has seemingly always been a man in a hurry. After graduating from the University of Florida and its law school, Ballard became the director of operations to then-Florida Gov. Bob Martinez at the tender age of 26.
Ballard has been a household name in Tallahassee ever since, serving in various roles for a variety of Republican politicians, including former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and current Gov. Rick Scott. He served as the Florida finance chairman for the Republican presidential campaigns of both McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012.
While generally in league with Republicans, Ballard isn’t a conservative caricature. He’s occasionally given Democrats money, touts his environmentalist credentials and has over the years lobbied for hundreds of clients, each of which have their own political agendas. He hires bona fide liberals to work at his firm.
Ballard even married into politics, as his wife, Kathryn, is the daughter of Jim Smith, a one-time Florida gubernatorial candidate who also served last century as Florida secretary of state and attorney general. Ballard and his father-in-law also worked together for many years.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Ballard’s official firm biography boasts that he “is one of the top political insiders in Florida.”
Whether they’re fans or foes of Ballard, Florida politicos tend to agree with this self-assessment.
“One of the three or four hardest working lobbyists in Florida's capitol,” said Peter Schorsch, publisher of FloridaPolitics.com and INFLUENCE Magazine, which tracks the governmental affairs industry in Florida. “Even after building the highest-grossing firm in the state, he still walks the hallways himself. Truly, a general who leads from the front.”
Ballard’s far-flung Florida operation has offices in Tallahassee, Tampa, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Coral Gables and Jacksonville. Tony Boselli, the former all-pro offensive tackle for the Jacksonville Jaguars, is a managing partner based in the Jacksonville office.
Then there’s Ballard’s West Palm Beach office —an eight-minute drive to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club resort, which Trump has dubbed the “winter White House.”
On Ballard’s Florida client list from 2013 to 2016? The Trump Organization.
Yet Ballard didn’t initially throw his support behind Trump’s presidential candidacy. He first supported the presidential bid of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. In late 2015, he abandoned Bush and backed Sen. Marco Rubio.
When Rubio quit the race in early 2016, Ballard backed Trump, whom he first interacted with three decades earlier while working as a young gubernatorial staffer for Martinez.
Trump, of course, won the presidency. And Ballard, who’d help The Donald raise millions of dollars in his quest to best Democrat Hillary Clinton, even cast a vote for Trump as a member of the Electoral College.
All the while, Ballard’s national profile has continued to increase, and he’s “doing it without being a peacock like so many of the other new faces to the city who have ties to Trump,” Schorsch said. “Brian's acting like he's been to the end zone before.”
This year, for example, Ballard joined the Republican National Committee’s national finance leadership team. He also served as vice chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee and as a member of the Trump presidential transition finance committee.
These are credentials many clients find attractive.
For example, Wallace Cheves, managing partner of Sky Boat Gaming and a new client for Ballard, said he signed on because of Ballard’s “class A name on national issues with the Republican party.”
Ballard’s D.C. office is now heavy on Trump campaign and transition veterans such as Susie Wiles and Dan McFaul. While Ballard may downplay his Trump ties, Wiles and McFaul aren’t being as shy about their connections.
McFaul’s Ballard Partners biography advertises his role as a Trump presidential transition team member and notes he was responsible for “recruiting and vetting potential appointees to the upcoming administration, specifically for the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, the Armed Services and the Intelligence community.”
Lobbying disclosure records show McFaul is now lobbying the Department of Veterans Affairs for a Ballard client, Veterans Evaluation Services. The company declined to comment.
Wiles helped lead Trump’s Florida effort during the presidential campaign — a decisive March 2016 victory for Trump over Rubio.
Wiles’ biography describes her as “Florida’s Senior Strategist for the Donald J. Trump Campaign.” The biography further mentions that “Florida, the largest of the swing states in the 2016 cycle, was a winning state for Trump/Pence.”
Wiles’ long history in Florida politics includes a stint as chief of staff for John Delaney, the one-time mayor of Jacksonville who’s now president of the University of North Florida.
Delaney told the Center for Public Integrity that Wiles was poised to take a position in the Trump White House but decided against it.
“She likes to help her friends and she felt she could be more effective from outside the White House,” Delaney said.
Wiles declined to discuss particulars of the prospective Trump administration job beyond saying it related to her prior work both inside and outside government. (Her past clients have ranged from education interests to railroads.)
Does Wiles have qualms about using her ties to Washington political machinery — Trump, especially — to score points for paying clients?
"I wish the system didn't require it, that you could make a change where you wouldn't have to rely on that, but the government is so big and is based on influence by special interests,” Wiles said. “I wish it was different but this is the way it is.”
Trump’s “drain the swamp” mantra and executive order squelching certain lobbying activity doesn’t apply to his presidential campaign officials or transition team members, and several of them now work for lobbying clients — with mixed results.
Take Lewandowski, Trump’s first campaign manager. He launched a lobbying firm with another former Trump staffer. But Lewandowski faced accusations he was selling access to Trump, and he left the firm last month.
For Ballard, though, it’s been full steam ahead —with a stable that includes not just Trump supporters, but also more traditional D.C. power players. For instance, Ballard has also hired former Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., who is quarterbacking the firm’s contract with Turkey.
While in Congress, Wexler served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Former Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., a lobbyist who himself once advocated for Turkey, recalls lobbying Wexler on Turkey’s behalf back in those days.
“He was very effective, bright and articulate” with a “genuine interest in Turkish issues,” Livingston said of Wexler.
Wexler calls lobbying “the same as lawyering, an honorable effort that serves a valid purpose.”
Also on Ballard’s team: Otto Reich, a former ambassador to Venezuela and prominent official in the administrations of presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.
Reich, who at Ballard Partners specializes in international affairs, has been a controversial figure since the 1980s, when the U.S. General Accounting Office found he engaged in “prohibited covert propaganda” in a bid to sway public opinion in support of Nicaraguan contras.