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Lobbyists bring in big bucks in 2011

Historic Capitol
Historic Capitol

By Sascha Cordner


Tallahassee, FL – New totals are out for how much Florida lobbyists earned during the second quarter, at the height of the 2011 Legislative Session. The compensation reports show a slight increase in their income for the first six months of the year. As Sascha Cordner reports, that's up from last year, despite the tough economy.

April through June was the busiest time for the Legislature this year. That means it was also a busy time for Florida lobbyists. In the first six months of the year, legislative lobbyists earned as much as $65 million. That's about two-million dollars more than the previous year.

"For the lobbying business overall, I think you can see that while we have a tough economy, there's still a need and lobbyists are still employed."

Jennifer Green is the Chair of the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists. She says even though the compensation reports lobbyists are required to file appear favorable, they do not show exact numbers. She adds that's because the quarterly reports show the figures in ranges.

"The issue is to get an accurate number, we would have a compensation reporting process that actually reports number-to number dollar amounts. We have a range process. So, if a client pays between $1 and $9,999 dollars in that three-month period, they're in one range. If they pay $10,000 and above, they're in another range."

The top most range is one-million dollars or more and only four lobby firms had those figures in the second quarter. They included "Gray Robinson," "Smith and Ballard," and "Southern Strategy Group." Well-known South Florida lobbyist Ron Book also had the distinction of top earner.

"It's that old cliche that you got to be present to win. You gotta be present to win to avoid losing and I think in this particular case, I think that people recognized, business interest recognized that if they went home just because times were bad, they could well be crying sorrowfully over the Summer months waiting for the next legislative session."

Book says the 2011 legislative session was legendary. He says that's why many lobbyists were engaged in all the major issues, like his firm.

"We were heavily involved in Medicaid reform, heavily involved in pension reform, heavily involved in prison privatization, watching peripherally, because we represent a large huge district, the teacher tenure issue."

There were also nine lobby firms that earned between 500-thousand and one million dollars. A couple of them had ties to Governor Rick Scott and the Legislature.

The president of South Florida's "The Rubin Group" is a long-time friend of Scott. Then, there's the Tampa Based firm "Corcoran and Johnston." Partner Michael Corcoran is the brother of State Representative Richard Corcoran.

Other firms with the same range, like Capital City Consulting firm, had clients who spent a lot of money. Nick Iarossi is a lobbyist with Capital City Consulting, which saw a slight increase in revenue during the second quarter. Iarossi helped lobby for several top spenders on lobbyists during the second quarter including Associated Industries of Florida and Las Vegas Sands.

Las Vegas Sands paid the most out of all his clients at $56,000.

The casino resort company also reported spending at least a quarter-million dollars on different lobby firms this year. Iarossi says they paid so much because they view Florida as one of the prime markets for the "convention business."

"They're very much a convention based hotel casino company and they view Florida, particularly South Florida and Miami, as one of the most un-derserved convention markets in the country because Miami is very much lacking in adequate convention facilities."

Though the destination resorts gaming bill failed to pass this year, Iarossi says the company is not giving up and they're gearing up for the next session.

"We're actively educating legislators right now on the benefits of bringing such a resort to the state of Florida and trying to convince them that it's the right thing to do and it's the one thing that would create a significant amount of jobs and economic activity that the legislature can do to bring us out of the economic rut that the state of Florida is facing now."

So, overall, Florida lobbyists appear to be doing better in 2011. Certainly better than 2010. That year saw a significant income decline in comparison to the previous year.