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Politics

Price of sway in capital: $200M

That's how much state lobbyists took in last year - the first time they had to report it.

By LUCY MORGAN and CONNIE HUMBURG
Published February 25, 2007


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The $2-million club
In 2006, 18 lobbying firms reported incomes that topped $2-million.
Firms
Average
Southern Strategy Group
$9,456,700*
Smith & Ballard
$8,393,276*
Johnson & Blanton
$5,999,996*
Ronald L. Book, PA
$5,271,160
GrayRobinson, PA
$5,248,997
Dutko Poole McKinley
$5,236,361*
Akerman Senterfitt
$3,941,878
The Advocacy Group at Tew Cardenas
$3,746,999
Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky & Abate, PA
$3,722,499*
Smith Bryan and Myers Inc.
$3,047,499
Spearman Management
$2,996,000
Fowler, White, Boggs, & Banker
$2,946,999
Pennington, Moore, Wilkinson, Bell & Dunbar, PA
$2,771,500
Barreto, Cunningham, May, Dudley, et al
$2,571,500
Capitol Resources LLC
$2,222,500
Greenberg Traurig, PA
$2,196,000
Capital City Consulting LLC
$2,096,500
Governmental Solutions LLC
$2,046,500
Total for 486 firms:
$201,156,510
Lobbying fees were reported within high and low ranges. The numbers in this chart are averages. Because the top range reported is "$1-million or more," to determine a more specific high range, we added together what they reported their clients paid them.

TALLAHASSEE - How much money do Florida lobbyists collect from businesses seeking political influence in the state capital?

Thanks to new disclosure requirements, that question can be answered for the first time:

Last year, lobbyists collected at least $200-million.

Reports were posted last week to complete the first year of the state's attempt to get a handle on how much businesses are paying lobbyists.

The fees are reported in ranges, for example, $30,000 to $39,000. Combining all fees reported for those who lobby the Legislature with those who lobby the governor and state agencies, the final 2006 figures show lobbyists reported receiving between $106-million and $287-million. The average worked out to about $200-million.

In all, 486 lobbying firms disclosed fees. Two firms were the runaway leaders in the fee sweepstakes, each taking in more than $8-million last year: Southern Strategy Group and Smith & Ballard.

Four other firms took in more than $5-million each; 38 others averaged more than $1-million each; and 40 averaged $500,000 to $1-million.

Among the businesses trying to influence legislation, no one spent more than BellSouth: $1.6-million. The giant telephone company spent twice as much as the second-highest business.

BellSouth recently merged with AT&T, which spent an additional $601,000 on outside lobbyists. The two companies hired 56 lobbyists last year as they pushed for a law that makes it easier to compete with cable television companies.

Spending the second most on lobbyists last year was the Florida Hospital Association, at $807,981. That was spent on 12 outside lobbyists; the association has seven additional full-time employee-lobbyists, who under the disclosure law do not have to report what they earn.

Ralph Glatfelter, senior vice president for the hospital group, said the lobbyists are fighting to save as much as $500-million that hospitals get from no-fault auto insurance policies and seeking ways to resolve nursing and doctor shortages around the state.

Another 20 businesses each spent more than $500,000 trying to influence laws relating to health care, parimutuel gambling, utility regulation, the state lottery, local government, private universities, cruise lines and tobacco.

The millions of dollars businesses spent hiring lobbyists does not include the millions that lobbyists and their clients spent in 2006 on campaign contributions for lawmakers and other state officials.

The firms

The top grossing firm was Southern Strategy Group. It reported fees between $7.5-million and $11.4-million, for an average of $9.4-million.

With close ties to former Gov. Jeb Bush, the firm had 123 clients and eight lobbyists, including former House Speaker John Thrasher, Paul Bradshaw, David Rancourt, James T. "Tim" Moore and former House Rules Chairman Dudley Goodlette.

"People hire a lobbyist for the same reason people hire an accountant," said Southern Strategy president Paul Bradshaw. "When you deal with a monolithic government applying complex rules, it can be daunting, and people sometimes want expert help."

Smith & Ballard - a firm with deep Republican roots - reported fees between $6-million and $10.7-million, for an average of $8.3-million.

The firm had 77 clients and seven lobbyists, including former Secretary of State Jim Smith; Brian Ballard, former chief of staff for Gov. Bob Martinez; and Greg Turbeville, a former Bush staffer.

Four other firms reported fees that averaged more than $5-million: Johnson & Blanton; Ronald L. Book; the GrayRobinson law firm; and Dutko Poole McKinley.

Another 38 firms averaged more than $1-million; 40 reported fees between $500,000 and $999,999; and 63 reported fees between $250,000 and $499,999.

The greatest number of firms - 210 - reported annual income between $100,000 and $249,000; another 56 reported total income between $50,000 and $99,999; another 30 reported income of less than $49,999. And 43 reported zero.

Contending the new disclosure law violates their privacy, lobbyists filed lawsuits in federal and state court. They lost in federal court; the state case is pending.

Do citizens count?

Ben Wilcox, executive director of Common Cause, the citizens lobby, said the $200-million figure didn't surprise him.

"It shows you what a big business influencing government is," said Wilcox, whose Common Cause has a budget of $115,000 and two lobbyists. "It's a daunting thing for people who are trying to represent the public interests rather than the special interests."

House Speaker Marco Rubio, speaking at Capital Tiger Bay last week, was asked why the average citizen has to hire a lobbyist to gain attention from lawmakers.

"You shouldn't," Rubio said. "They can be a part of the process, but they just can't become the process."

Lobbyists become more important when the average person isn't paying attention, Rubio suggested.

He noted that lawmakers ignored lobbyists and listened to citizens who stormed the Capitol in January seeking a solution to the insurance crisis.

"The less people are involved, the more lobbyists matter," Rubio said. "People have to engage back in the political process. The less attention people are paying to what happens, the more influence lobbyists have."

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

[Last modified February 25, 2007, 05:39:27]


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