Monday, March 14, 2016

Editorial: Lobbyist equations just don't add up

A lot of money goes into a job paying below the median yearly wage so you know there are major kickbacks being passed along.

Editorial: Lobbyist equations just don't add up
Posted: February 25, 2016 - 8:57pm  |  Updated: February 26, 2016 - 1:04am

The tattered performance and arrogant self-interest of Florida’s uber-partisan legislature this year seems to prove that, at least in state politics, you do get what you pay for.

Ask the lobbyists.

Lobbying firms working in the state are required to file compensation reports each quarter. Exact amounts are not known because they’re not available, because the law does not require them to do so ... possibly because our lawmakers make the law.

Lobbying firms, instead, report a compensation “range” of sorts. A couple of the bigger firms, for instance, reported getting paid between $500,000 and $999,000 in the fourth quarter of 2015. And that’s as much as we know. But the state’s top four lobbying firms — Ballard Partners, Capital City Consulting, Ronald L. Book PA and Southern Strategy Group — each reported making at least $1 million for work done in that quarter, the last report released earlier this month.

Ballard Partners is the big dog, headed by Republican fundraiser Brian Ballard. He started his firm in 1998 with his father-in-law, Jim Smith, who was a former attorney general as a Democrat and secretary of state as a Republican. The Palm Beach Post reports that Ballard’s sister, former Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty, spent two years in prison on corruption charges. Coming in second is Southern Strategy, the former lobbying firm of former Sen. John Thrasher, now the president of Florida State University.

Ronald Book’s clients, The Post reports, include Ashbritt, a rapid-response recovery firm from Book’s South Florida stomping ground. It was awarded a no-bid contract by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for cleanup efforts following Hurricane Sandy. Book was paid $204,000 for his efforts.

Among the big spenders in Florida are FPL, U.S. Sugar and the Seminole Tribe, which has a $3 billion deal with Florida currently on the table.

(Nationally, the top five spenders annually are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at $85 million; the National Association of Realtors, $38 million; the American Medical Association, $29 million; Blue Cross/Blue Shield, $23 million; and Boeing, $22 million.)

In all, Florida lobbyists were paid $30 million in the last quarter of 2015. The cumulative total in 2105 was $131.5 million — up $12 million over 2014. (But they earned that, having to work through the regular session, plus the three special sessions.)

One might wonder how to put this all in perspective. Certainly there are more ways than one. But, if we agree that all the money spent by lobbyists is intended to directly influence votes of our lawmakers, here are a couple of equations to ponder:

■ 40 senators plus 120 representatives = 160 Florida lawmakers.

■ 131.5 million divided by 160 = $821,875 spent on each lawmaker.

State senators and representatives are paid $29,687 annually, plus per diem. Do the math. If you can make the rest of that equation add up, send that answer to the Florida Commission on Ethics: P.O. Drawer 15709, Tallahassee, FL 32317.

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