Lobbying Is Lucrative for Some Who Were on Inside; Money Spent Lobbying State Governments Is on Rise, and Lawmakers Have Noticed

By Dixon, Matt | The Florida Times Union, November 4, 2013 | Go to article overview

Lobbying Is Lucrative for Some Who Were on Inside; Money Spent Lobbying State Governments Is on Rise, and Lawmakers Have Noticed


Dixon, Matt, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Matt Dixon

TALLAHASSEE | When vying for a piece of the roughly $120 million spent annually on state lobbying, firms are eager to tout high-level former government officials now on their payrolls.

Florida's lobbying corps is littered with former governors, agency heads, House and Senate leaders, and a myriad of former lawmakers and agency officials.

Some of the state's largest firms, with rosters full of high-profile former insiders, charge annual fees that range from $50,000 to well over $100,000.

Opponents say the practice amounts to elected officials and agency staff using taxpayer-funded jobs to later cash in on high-paying lobbying gigs - often to be paid again by taxpayers through clients like cities, counties and public utilities, which collectively spent an estimated $6 million on state lobbying between April and June alone, state records show.

Lobbying firms, however, say former insiders are needed to help clients navigate a complex state government.

With the growth in campaign spending and a spike in the number of outside fundraising committees, lobbyists also are increasingly involved in campaign contribution strategies for larger clients. It's important, they say, to make sure a client is giving to the right candidate or committee.

As the amount spent lobbying state government continues to grow, Florida lawmakers are applying more scrutiny.

During last spring's legislative session, they voted to tighten the limits on legislators-turned-lobbyists.

Lawmakers prohibited ex-lawmakers from lobbying the governor's office and executive agencies for two years. Previous law prohibited former lawmakers only from lobbying the Legislature for two years.

State Sen. Jeff Clemons, D-Coconut Creek, speaking for many, said such reforms were needed to avoid the perception that lawmakers "are not here to get a good job afterwards."

Now, the fruits of those good jobs - lobbying fees - are the focus of lawmakers considering legislation to audit lobbyists. There is concern that some firms are trying to attract clients by exaggerating how much they have earned and, by extension, their significance.

Because firms are only required to report a range of compensation, exact revenue figures usually are unavailable.

But proposals by lobbying firms become public record when submitted to any public entity seeking a lobbyist. The Times-Union reviewed a sample of these filed between 2011 and 2013.

They offer a rare glimpse inside an industry often shrouded in secrecy.

Most lobbying firms believe they have a better chance to deliver what clients want if the firms have big-name former lawmakers and government officials.

In their pitches to potential clients, lobbying firms often make the case that legislation will die or funding will dry up without the powerful support they can offer.

"The experience and expertise former Speakers [of the House] Cannon and Cretul possess in crafting and passing a complex Florida budget is unsurpassed," reads a proposal submitted by Capitol Insights, a Tallahassee lobbying firm currently bidding on a contract to represent the city of Deltona.

The firm was started by former House Speaker Dean Cannon, whose term ended in 2012.

The speaker is the House's top official. The speaker is in charge of setting the chamber's priorities and which bills get momentum, and plays a large role in shaping the state's $70 billion budget. Capitol Insight's six-person lobbying team also includes Larry Cretul, who was speaker prior to Cannon.

Though a freshman lobbying firm, Capitol Insights has had rapid success.

Shortly after its creation in October 2012, the firm had a roster of 25 clients. …

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