If there was one clear winner of this year’s legislative session, which was dominated by a sweeping, ambitious Republican agenda that left no issue untouched, it was lobbyists.
In spite of Florida’s economic woes, legislative lobbyists raked in as much as $52 million from April to June, up from as much as $49.3 million spent on lobbyists that same time last year.
Lobbying firms Gray Robinson; Ron Book; Smith & Ballard and Southern Strategy Group earned the most, with each reporting income of greater than $1 million for the quarter.
Those same lobbying firms earned the most during the same quarter last year.
“It is as critical a time to be engaged in the process as it is in good times,” said lobbyist Ron Book, who represents 67 clients at his small firm, which employs just two other lobbyists. “If you are absent from the process, then expect to get what you get and not get what you are not going to get.”
Book said the ambitious legislative agenda meant almost any company or government had a significant stake in the legislative process. From a bill that offered special lawsuit protections to certain hospitals, to Medicaid reform, pension changes, prison privatization and an effort to deregulation certain industries, Book said he kept busy.
Not to mention the slashing of $4 million out of the budget, which Book said all his clients were watching.
“The Legislature and governor tackled what I consider to be more game-changing issues and policy changes…than any Legislature or governor in recent memory,” Book said.
Some lobbying firms did better this year than the year before. Lutz, Fla.-based Corcoran and Johnson, Tallahassee-based Smith, Bryan and Myers, and Fort Lauderdale-based The Rubin Group all appeared on the list of firms that reported income between $500,000 to $999,999 for the quarter, more than they did last year during the same quarter.
Lobbyists are required by law to report how much they earn each quarter from each client. But these amounts are reported in ranges, so determining how much money lobbyists make is not an exact science. And some lobbying firms report income for legislative and executive lobbying differently.
The top spenders this quarter include some of the industries that had the most at stake. No doubt eager to help Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican Legislature enact a decidedly pro-business agenda, firms Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce spent six figures each on lobbyists.
In education, charter school management company Charter Schools USA spent up to $130,000 on lobbyists.
And lawsuit reform foes Florida Justice Association, which represents trial lawyers, and the pro-tort reform Florida Justice Reform Institute, as well as various health care associations also potentially paid over $100,000 for lobbyists, depending on where lobbying fees fall in the reported ranges.
An insurance company that successfully fought off an attempt to collect a multi-million settlement for a car accident victim was also among the top spenders this quarter.
Fairmont Specialty Insurance Company spent at least $117,000 on two lobbying firms in the second quarter to fight a bill that would have given Eric Brody $12 million to help pay for his care. Brody was severely injured after a Broward County Sheriff hit him in a car accident and left him disabled and wheelchair bound.
The Broward County Sheriff’s office also paid up to $60,000 for lobbyists this legislative session, but it wasn’t immediately clear whether it was related to the Brody case.
Attorney and Fairmont lobbyist Pete Antonacci called it a “hard-fought” case. He said the lobbying costs were a result of efforts by Brody’s attorney to reject a settlement and get a bigger payday.
“People fight hard when there is a contingency arrangement,” Antonacci said.
Brody attorney Lance Block rejected this claim as “nonsense,” saying he has worked without compensation for Brody since he was injured in 1998.
Block said the insurance company’s lobbyists have attempted to make this case about him, instead of Brody.
“They have no one else to throw mud at,” Block said.
TOP LOBBYING FIRMS SECOND QUARTER 2011
Gray Robinson: $1,000,000 or more
Ronald Book: $1,000,000 or more
Smith and Ballard: $1,000,000 or more
Southern Strategy Group: $1,000,000 or more
Capital City Consulting: $500,000-$999,999
Colodny Fass Talenfeld Karlinsky & Abate: $500,000-$999,999
Corcoran & Johnston: $500,000-$999,999
Dutko Worldwide: $500,000-$999,999
Floridian Partners: $500,000-$999,999
Foley & Lardner: $500,000-$999,999
Johnson & Blanton: $500,000-$999,999
Smith Bryan & Myers: $500,000-$999,999
The Rubin Group: $500,000-$999,999
TOP LOBBYISTS SECOND QUARTER 2010
Gray Robinson: $1,000,000 – or more
Ronald Book: $1,000,000 – or more
Smith and Ballard: $1,000,000 – or more
Southern Strategy Group: $1,000,000 – more
Capital City Consulting: $500,000 – $999,999
Colodny Fass Talenfeld Karlinsky & Abate: $500,000 – $999,999
Dutko Worldwide: $500,000 – $999,999
Floridian Partners: $500,000 – $999,999
Foley and Lardner: $500,000 – $999,999
Johnson and Blanton: $500,000 – $999,999
–Lilly Rockwell, News Service of Florida