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Auditing panel muses whether lobbyists should be audited

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A panel of state lawmakers going over the first-ever audits of lobbying firm income on Monday started bringing up a common question: Why are we doing this?

“I may be an outlier … (but) I don’t understand how the public’s interest is advanced by this exercise,” said state Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who sits on the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee.

“I just don’t see how this information is relevant,” he said, other than being a “marketing tool for big lobbying firms.”

This was the first time under a 2005 state law that how much lobbying firms say they make was subject to audit.

More than $200 million a year is spent trying to influence state policy creation, according to estimates.

But state law requires only that individual firms report compensation in ranges rather than exact figures, so it’s nearly impossible to know precisely how much is spent on lobbying.

Whether numbers are known precisely or in wide approximations, critics have said  reporting income causes a kind of competition between lobbying houses, in which making more money is seen as a measure of better lobbying.

Committee Chairman Dan Raulerson, a Plant City Republican and certified public accountant, huddled with Bradley after the meeting and could be heard telling him, “I’m with you on this.”

“It is the law so we’re going to comply with it,” Raulerson told FloridaPolitics.com. “The real question is: Is this something of benefit to the Florida taxpayer?”

About $121,000 was spent to do the audits, not including staff time, a committee report said.

When asked whether Floridians should know how much was being spent to influence their lawmakers, “I just don’t know (whether) that’s a function that state government should be involved in.”

Others on the panel agreed with him, including state Rep. Debbie Mayfield, a Vero Beach Republican.

“Maybe we need to come back and look at this,” she said during the meeting.

In February, committee staff randomly picked 26 lobbying firms to be audited, looking at 2014 compensation.

Four accounting firms – Carroll and Co.; Carr, Riggs & Ingram (CRI); Grant Thornton; and Warren Averett –were picked to do the work.

The upshot of this year’s audit reports, looking at 2014 compensation, was that problems were found in 16 of 26 firms, with lobbying concerns either understating or overstating how much they made.

The firms turned in amended disclosures, saying any mistakes were unintentional.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at [email protected]

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