Cost to lobby Florida lawmakers: $116.5 million

TALLAHASSEE – Lobbying firms hired to bend the ears of Florida lawmakers came at the seemingly recession-proof price-tag of $116.5 million last year, according to state compensation reports that were due this week.

Roughly 1,500 lobbyists are registered with the state to ply their trade with state lawmakers, representing some 2,300 clients, from mega-corporations like Wal-Mart Stores and Ford Motor Co., to local governments like Osceola County. In 2008, the total tab they were paid was estimated to be $116.4 million. And in 2009, it inched up to $116.5 million. Lobbyists had to begin reporting pay-ranges in 2006 thanks to an ethics reform that also banned lobbyist gifts to lawmakers, and the total tallies are an estimate calculated from the pay ranges lobbying firms file quarterly. The figure also doesn’t include what principles paid to lobby the governor and state agencies.

The top companies and interests paying to lobby lawmakers last year were AT&T ($1.8 million); U.S. Sugar ($1.15 million); Hospital giant HCA ($800,000) and Florida Power & Light ($846,000).

Discount cigarette maker Dosal in Miami paid $720,000 to its lobbying team to help thwart a push by larger tobacco giants to force it to pay into the state’s tobacco settlement account for treating sick smokers. On the other side of the cigarette wars last year were Altria and R.J. Reynolds, which spent a combined $895,000. Big Tobacco was interested in fighting a $1 per-pack cigarette tax increase but also limiting its exposure in future lawsuits from sick smokers.

Associated Industries of Florida, which has fought to expand oil drilling and fight auto emission standards, dumped $670,000 into its lobbying contracts. And the secretive shell company called Florida Energy Associates, which was set up by oil companies to push for lifting Florida’s near-shore oil drilling ban, spent another $550,000 to lobby lawmakers.

Utility companies clearly spent big: in addition to to FPL’s $846,000, TECO Energy spent $655,000 and Progress Energy spent another $265,000. The companies have been fighting with the Public Service Commission to raise energy rates, but also seeking to influence energy legislation.

Gambling was also front-and-center: The Seminole Tribe of Florida spent $395,000 to make its case for lawmakers to ratify a gaming compact that would legalize the slots and card games they’ve installed in tribal casinos. The Miccosukee Tribe spent another $280,000. But track owner Hartman & Tyner led the pack of non-tribal casino interests lobbying to get better terms for pari-mutuels by spending $600,000 to influence lawmakers. Pompano Park Racing spent $350,000.

Hospitals fighting to preserve their reimbursement-rates for treating the poor were big-time financiers of the lobbying corps. Shands, the University of Florida-affiliated hospital headquartered in Gainesville, spent $480,000 on lobbyists. The Safety Net Hospital Alliance spent $575,000. The Broward Hospital District spent $230,000, and Orlando-based Florida Hospital spent $337,000. The Florida Hospital Association also devoted $505,000 to legislative lobbying.

Lastly, the property insurance industry continued to sink money into trying to weaken the reforms Gov. Charlie Crist pushed through the Legislature in 2007. State Farm spent $390,000, and the Florida Insurance Council spent $305,000.

Here’s the full report.

Orlando Sentinel

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Tom Tillison

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