Politics | WCTV Eyewitness News: Tallahassee, Thomasville, Valdosta

Lobbying Firms Get Big Paydays

By: Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
By: Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, May 16, 2012

Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida

With an early legislative session speeding up action in the Capitol, at least three lobbying firms collected more than $1 million in fees during the first three months of the year, according to new reports.

The reports also show that an additional eight firms raked in between $500,000 and $999,999 for their work in the Legislature. Those totals could grow, as lobbyists faced an 11:59 p.m. deadline Tuesday for filing quarterly compensation reports.

The three firms that topped $1 million were Ballard Partners, Ronald L. Book PA and Southern Strategy Group. The reports don't give the exact totals collected by the firms, but they detail some of the largest payments made by clients.

Ballard Partners, for example, collected $77,000 from Automated HealthCare Solutions Inc., a technology company that opposed bills aimed at limiting how much doctors can charge for dispensing drugs to workers-compensation insurance patients. The bills ultimately died.

Book, meanwhile, collected $50,000 or more from five clients, including $50,000 from Florida Power & Light and $50,000 from West Flagler Kennel Club, a pari-mutuel that was involved in a fierce debate about whether lawmakers should allow up to three resort casinos in the state. The casino proposals failed to pass the House or Senate.

With reports still being filed Tuesday, it is too early to compare lobbyist compensation during the first quarter with the same period in previous years. But a once-a-decade redistricting process caused the 2012 session to begin in January and end in March, squeezing it all into the year's first quarter --- unlike typical years when the session starts in March and ends in early May.

The reports list the clients represented by lobbying firms and give broad ranges of the total amounts of money that firms collect. The eight firms that reported receiving between $500,000 and $999,999 were Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky & Abate: Dutko Worldwide; Johnson & Blanton; Foley & Lardner; Fowler White Boggs; Smith, Bryan & Myers; The Rubin Group; and Tsamoutales Strategies.

Among the biggest corporate spenders this year appears to be AT&T, which successfully backed a bill that made changes in the state's communications-services tax. The reports show AT&T paid $50,000 or more to at least seven lobbying firms; paid between $40,000 and $49,999 to seven other firms; and paid $30,000 to $39,999 to five firms.

The reports only show exact dollar amounts for payments of $50,000 or more. Smaller amounts are shown in ranges.

Another large spender during the quarter appears to be a firm related to Genting, the Malaysian conglomerate that is seeking to build a Miami resort casino. Foley & Lardner and Western Hemisphere Strategies --- which is run by former Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart --- each reported receiving $75,000 in fees from the Genting-related firm, Bayfront 2011 Development LLC.

A wide range of other companies and organizations also shelled out large amounts of money for lobbyists. Among them: the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which reportedly paid $150,000 to Ericks Consultants; the Harris Corp., which paid $139,000 to Tsamoutales Strategies; and U.S. Sugar Corp., which paid $90,000 to Fowler White Boggs.


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