Friday, February 17, 2017


ST. JOHNS COUNTY has wasted more than one half million dollars on louche lobbyist MARTIN FIORINTINO, who also represents developers, their political whore, Sheriff DAVID SHOAR, and the City of Jacksonville, and falsely claims on his website to represent the City of St. Augustine. No government should hire lobbyists: it smacks of bribery and political influence peddling. The best lobbyists for governments are elected officials, not residents of Gucci Gulch. Last year, I asked County Administrator MICHAEL DAVID WANCHICK for a report of his louche lobbyist's accomplishments: the response was there were no documents responsive to my request. Zilch. Nada.

Speaker puts spotlight on local lobbying contracts

Gray Rohrer
Orlando Sentinel
Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE – Governments in Central Florida are spending at least $1.5 million to lobby the state this year, although the true figure is likely higher because all the numbers aren’t in yet.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has set up a system to track such spending as part of his push to require more reporting by lobbyists. The Land O’Lakes Republican says he doesn’t think local taxpayers should pay for lobbyists because local elected officials should be advocating for their communities themselves.

“A taxpayer-funded entity should not be allowed to use your tax dollars to pay a lobbyist to extract more spending and more taxes from the tax-paying citizens of this state,” Corcoran said. “It is an absurd government feedback loop that eventually eats away at the average taxpayer.”

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, however, said lobbyists are needed to push his city’s interests at the Capitol. Although he was in Tallahassee last week to meet with state officials in person, Tallahassee is remote, and lobbyists are better at bending the ears of lawmakers, he said.

“I had three 20-minute meetings and spent eight hours on the road,” Dyer said.

Orlando pays two firms to lobby on its behalf in Tallahassee. Southern Strategy Group receives $6,500 per month and the Peebles and Smith firm $80,000 per year, plus travel expenses.

Dyer pointed to approval of SunRail and funding for the UCF downtown campus as evidence the city’s lobbying efforts are paying off. A recent Senate bill to ban red-light cameras in Orlando and throughout the state was voted down as well.

But often local governments are outgunned at the Capitol, where special interests armed with a team of lobbyists can push the state to preempt local measures they don’t like. In 2013 lawmakers passed a bill outlawing local measures mandating paid sick leave, just before a scheduled vote in Orange County. In 2011 the Legislature passed a law banning municipalities from making their own gun laws.

The contracts add up, however, especially when all the local boards are tallied, including tax collectors, school boards, cities, counties and taxing districts.

For instance, Orlando is a member of the Florida Municipal Power Agency, a group of cities throughout the state that own utilities. The group pays the Peebles firm $50,000 per year. The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority pays two lobbying firms $13,333 per month to “maximize appropriations” for airport projects at Orlando International Airport.

The Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which oversees the Lynx bus system, paid both Southern Strategy Group $26,000 per year and Peebles and Smith $12,856 for four months of work.

In Osceola County, however, some boards have pooled their resources to pay for lobbyists. Osceola County, the Osceola County School Board, Kissimmee and St. Cloud all pay for the Osceola Legislative Effort, which pays the Ballard Partners firm $40,000 per year. Yet, Osceola County also pays two other firms a combined $164,200.

The lobbying contracts for the cities of Altamonte Springs, Apopka, Casselberry, Maitland, Mount Dora, Ocoee and Winter Park don’t appear on the database yet. House aides said there’s a lag time between when contracts are received and when they show on the database, and they continue to get information, but not all contracts have been submitted. A review of the outstanding contracts will be done in the coming weeks, they said.

Lobbyists say they aren’t fazed by the additional scrutiny.

“These contracts are public records to begin with,” said Nick Iarossi, a partner with the Capitol City Consulting firm, which receives $50,000 to lobby for the Brevard County School Board.

The reporting of the contracts is just one of the new rules imposed by Corcoran; lobbyists also have to report the issues and funding projects they’re working on. The House is also working on a bill to ban lawmakers from lobbying for six years after they leave office.

“Those are the rules we’re dealt, and those who will succeed will adapt,” Iarossi said.

Dyer said retaining funding for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, two economic development groups targeted by Corcoran for elimination, is at the top of Orlando’s priority list.

“We’re supportive of the agencies that bring economic activity to the state and to our region,” Dyer said. “That’s one of the key pieces of our economy.”

Dyer, a former Democratic state senator, said Democratic-leaning Orlando needs reinforcements in the struggle to keep the tourism-reliant region in the discussion during budget negotiations.

“Just about everybody that represents us [in Tallahassee] is in the minority party,” Dyer said. or (850) 222-5564

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