FEBRUARY 26, 2007
Thanks to a new law the once secretive multi million-dollar world of lobbyist finances is publicly available in one major state where legislators are well known for accepting lucrative gifts from those trying to influence them.
The historic first set of disclosures in Florida reveal that corporations, special-interest groups, cities and counties paid lobbyists nearly $60 million last year to influence the state legislature.
Many lobbyists unsuccessfully fought the disclosure law, passed in late 2005, in federal court in an effort to continue the tradition of secrecy as well as showering lawmakers with gifts. Besides reporting lobbyist earnings and the source of the money, the law bans gifts and freebies that have been a staple in Florida politics for decades.
All the compensation reports ending for the quarter in December 2006 are available from the Florida Legislature. They reveal that cities and counties spent more than $6.3 million – not including salaried employees that also lobby the legislature–on professional lobbyists in an effort to get state funds for roads, sewers and parks.
Another big spender was Florida’s thriving gambling industry, which paid lobbyists $2 million and the state’s largest phone company, BellSouth, which dished out $1.1 million to lobby lawmakers regarding a cable issue.
One newspaper reports that the investment paid off for many big corporations that got the legislation they wanted. An example is a West Palm Beach real estate firm that spent $110,000 to lobby the legislature for a lucrative contract to build homes on property that was yet to be owned by the state. Lawmakers ended up approving a deal to spend $310 million on thousands of acres in southwest Florida and indeed let the real estate company build homes on the land.
Other examples include a company that spent thousands on lobbying and got the state to purchase $46 million worth of land from it for future road projects and a marketing company that also spent thousands on lobbyists and got legislators to approve a measure that exempts it from sales tax and will cost the state about $700,000.
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