House Speaker Richard Corcoran began his two-year speakership in November by promising a “transformational leap” in government accountability and transparency.
“The Florida House will set the standard for others to emulate,” he declared.
Such pronouncements are often uttered by politicians, especially those who may aspire to higher office. But one week into Florida’s annual legislative session the hard-charging Republican reformer from Land O’Lakes has a lot to show for his audacious accountability talk.
While the final outcome is far from certain, under Corcoran’s leadership the House voted to kill Enterprise Florida, the state’s chief businesses recruitment organization, and restructure Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing corporation, while cutting its funding from $76 million to $25 million annually.
Enterprise Florida’s $350 million Sanford Burnham deal that failed to create 300 jobs over 10 years, and Visit Florida’s $1 million payment to rapper Pitbull for a “Sexy Beaches” tourism promotion are symbols of Corcoran’s “corporate welfare” outrage.
The House passed the tough accountability reforms 87-28, and 80-35, respectively, despite intense pressure from Republican Gov. Rick Scott and economic development and tourism marketing beneficiaries across the state.
Lobbyists are also feeling the pressure. On Friday, the House passed the toughest lobbying ban in the country.
By a vote of 110-3, lawmakers agreed on a 6-year lobbying ban for legislators and statewide elected officials once they leave public office. The measure extends a current two-year “revolving door” restriction, and applies to all state agencies and the government bodies the elected officers formerly served.
Corcoran previously said extending the ban would eliminate the “looking to lobby” mentality that can manifest in an official’s final term. After Friday’s vote, the Speaker tweeted, “Proud that @myflhouse just passed the strongest lobby ban for fmr. legislators in the nation with a bipartisan vote of 110-3.”
All three items are central to Corcoran’s legislative agenda. Whether the state Senate will emulate his efforts remains to be seen.
Meantime, the Speaker’s transparency push continues in the lower chamber.
In a manner befitting Sunshine Week, an annual mid-March open government initiative, Corcoran is imposing additional restrictions on lobbyists with the aim of shedding light on their activities and reducing undue influence.
Before being allowed to lobby House members, lobbyists now are required to file electronic notices of appearance disclosing the specific issues they seek to influence. The disclosure is necessary to eliminate “the mystery of who is lobbying what issue,” according to a House statement.
Lobbyists also are prohibited from influencing House lawmakers via email, text message or other forms of electronic communication when the chamber is voting or when a member is in a committee meeting. It’s a practice that “if widely known to the public would engender justifiable outrage,” the statement says.
Additionally, House members are no longer allowed to travel on private jets owned by lobbyists, enter into business deals or financial relationships with lobbyists, or lobby local governments that they oversee.
Private contracts also must be disclosed if lobbyists are representing public entities or any related institution receiving taxpayer funding. “Taxpayer money being used to lobby the Legislature for more taxpayer money is a vicious cycle.”
Lawmakers and lobbyists would be subject to one or more of the following penalties for violations: public censure and reprimand, civil penalties up to $10,000 or restitution of any pecuniary benefits received in violation of the rules.