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Politics

Lobbying fees run in millions

Firms with GOP roots dominate the highest paid.

By LUCY MORGAN
Published February 20, 2007


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TALLAHASSEE - Lobbyists with Republican roots topped the charts Monday with multimillion-dollar fees collected in 2006, the first year legislative lobbyists had to report the fees Florida businesses pay them to influence lawmakers.

Reports for the final quarter of 2006 indicate that the biggest fees went to Southern Strategy Group, Smith & Ballard and Ronald L. Book. The three firms each reported more than $4-million in fees for long lists of clients.

Although dozens of lobbyists reported earning fees that totaled more than $1-million last year, the big money went, as expected, to those who have cultivated GOP members in both houses.

Although lobbyists have filed two lawsuits challenging the new disclosure law, the 2,800 lobbyists who work the legislative hallways apparently have reported as required. Opponents contend the disclosure law is a violation of privacy and could place lobbyists in harm's way if criminals see how much money they make.

U.S. District Judge Stephan P. Mickle has ruled that lobbying firms have no right of privacy and could not reasonably argue that those who attempt to influence legislation should be given protection from such laws.

Florida's law is similar to those enacted by Congress and many other states.

Southern Strategy, a firm with close ties to former Gov. Jeb Bush, has a lobbying crew that includes former Republican House Speaker John Thrasher and Paul Bradshaw, husband of Sally Bradshaw, former chief of staff for Bush. The firm represents Corrections Corporation of America, Embraer Aircraft Holding and 71 other clients.

* * *

Smith & Ballard, headed by former Secretary of State Jim Smith and his son-in-law Brian Ballard, also have strong GOP ties and likely will benefit from a close relationship to newly elected Gov. Charlie Crist. The firm represents Florida Power & Light; GTech, the state lottery vendor; Honda North America; and 74 other clients.

Ronald L. Book, once a staffer for Democratic Gov. Bob Graham, has worked both sides of the aisle and consistently has more clients than most. He represents BellSouth, AutoNation, Miami-Dade County and 74 other clients.

Other lobbying firms reporting less than $1-million in quarterly fees are allowed to report their totals in ranges, which makes it impossible to tell exactly what they were paid.

Dutko Poole McKinley, headed by former GOP chairman Van Poole, reported fees ranging from $2.4-million to $5.1-million. The firm has 46 clients, including Accenture, Comcast and General Motors.

Akerman Senterfitt, one of the state's biggest law firms, reports income ranging from $2-million to $3.8-million from 89 clients, including the Florida Homebuilders Association, Honeywell International and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Lobbyists include former Republican Sen. Fred Dudley, former state Rep. Joe Arnall and others.

* * *

Johnson & Blanton, led by former GOP staffer Jon E. Johnson and his lobbying partner, Travis Blanton, reports fees ranging from $1.6-million to $3-million. The firm has 46 clients, including Bank of America, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Pfizer Inc.

Gray Robinson, a law firm headed by former statewide prosecutor Peter Antonacci, reported fees between $1.5-million and $2.9-million. The firm has 64 clients, including the city of Orlando, U.S. Sugar and Wachovia Bank. Other lobbyists include Republicans George Meros Jr. and Jason Unger.

The Advocacy Group at Tew Cardenas, headed by former GOP chairman Al Cardenas, reports fees ranging from $1-million to $1.9-million. The firm has 41 clients, including BellSouth, Coca-Cola Enterprises and the Orlando Magic.

The reports released Monday do not include additional fees the firms earned from lobbying the governor and state agencies. Those reports were not immediately available.

Lucy Morgan can be reached at 850 224-7263 or lmorgan@sptimes.com.

Note: Numbers are reported as ranges on disclosure forms.

Here are the lobbying firms that reported taking in the most fees in 2006.

Fast Facts:

 

The big 8

Ronald L. Book $4,000,000+

Smith & Ballard $4,000,000+

Southern Strategy Group $4,000,000+

 

Dutko Poole McKinley

$2,450,100 to $5,138,769

Akerman Senterfitt $2,065,071 to $3,871,862

Johnson & Blanton $1,672,042 to $3,070,948 Gray Robinson $1,542,060 to $2,989,860

The Advocacy Group at Tew Cardenas $1,080,030 to $1,979,919

[Last modified February 20, 2007, 05:29:16]


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