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Lobbyists to sue to block new disclosure demands

Associated Press
Published February 17, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - Lobbyists plan to sue presiding officers of the Florida Legislature today to block enforcement of a new law that prohibits them from giving lawmakers gifts, including food and drink.

The lawsuit to be filed by the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists and lobbyists Ron Book and Guy Spearman names House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, Senate President Tom Lee, R-Valrico, and the Florida Commission on Ethics as defendants. It will ask the Leon Circuit Court to block the law's enforcement pending a ruling on its validity.

A draft of the planned suit, released Thursday, claims the law violates various rights of lobbyists, including privacy and free speech, and that the Legislature violated procedural requirements in the Florida Constitution when passing it in a December special session.

The law, which took effect Jan. 1, is one of the toughest in the nation. It requires lobbyists to report how much they are paid and provides for random audits of lobbying firms.

The law "will cripple their ability to engage in lobbying" and allow public and press access to detailed information about their compensation, which could lobbyists targets for economic crimes, the draft says. It adds that such disclosures also will subject lobbyists "to ridicule, scorn or shame from those who regard the compensation that they earn as unwarranted."

The planned suit does not challenge the Legislature's right to ban free meals and drinks or gifts for lawmakers and their staffs.

"The Legislature simply went far beyond this prohibition, though, cutting deeply into our ability to communicate for our clients and invading the privacy of people who simply want their representatives to listen to them," said association spokesman Ken Plante, a former state senator.

Plante said lobbyists should not have to disclose client fees, calling the provision "a repulsive intrusion on our constitutionally guaranteed right of privacy."

Lee, who led the charge for more restrictions on lobbyists, and Bense said they would not comment on the suit until seeing it.

[Last modified February 17, 2006, 02:15:35]

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