As possibility of compensation audits loom, this RFP for lobbying services from JAXPORT seems awfully intrusive

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With legislative leaders renewing the call for the auditing of lobbyist-compensation reports, one Request For Proposal (RFP) could be a preview of a developing trend in the byzantine world of high-stakes lobbying contracts.

Tucked into the thirty-three page RFP from the Port of Jacksonville (commonly referred to as JAXPORT) is a requirement for bidders to provide “a financial audit report prepared by an independent Certified Public Accountant in accordance with auditing standards issued by AICPA for the Proposer’s most recently completed fiscal year.”

In other words, JAXPORT is asking lobbying firms to open up their books. And while such a requirement may be commonplace in the procurement world, it’s rare for RFPs for lobbying services, says Jennifer Green, the immediate past chair of the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists.

“I’ve never seen a requirement like that,” said Green, whose firm is not a respondent to the RFP. “I can see that in a scenario like an RFP for a road builder or software provider, but not a consultant. This seems like overkill unless there is a specific legal requirement I am not aware of or a particular concern of the entity that financial statements would somehow resolve.”

If not overkill, a requirement to provide a financial audit could create a chilling effect on the bidding process. Several lobbyists said they are passing on bidding for JAXPORT’s business specifically because of this requirement.

“That requirement and the requirement that their lobbyist have an office in Jacksonville make it appear as if JAXPORT is not really interested in attracting a broad field of suitors,” said Alan Suskey, a lobbyist with Capitol Insight, the firm started earlier this year by former House Speakers Dean Cannon and Larry Cretul.

What’s also interesting is how a requirement to provide a financial audit, were it to become standard, would fit into the ongoing debate about the need for greater transparency in lobbying compensation reports. 

During a meeting last week, the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee discussed proposals on how to best audit lobbyist-compensation reports. State law requires lobbying firms to file quarterly reports that list their clients and give at least ranges of payment amounts from those clients. An audit requirement for the reports has not been enforced, and some lobbyists have questioned whether other firms are inflating reported incomes.

If, in the future, RFPs must be accompanied by a financial audit, there really wouldn’t be a need for audits directed by the Legislature because the financial audits in the RFPs could be cross-referenced against the lobbying compensation reports, right?

In fact, won’t it be interesting to see the submitted RFPs for the JAXPORT contract just to see how the audits in them match up against the recently filed compensation reports for the second quarter of 2013?

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.