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Bills would delete lobbying-firm audit requirement

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

In November a group of legislators reviewing the first-ever audits of lobbying firm income started to wonder why they were doing it.

“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” other than being a “marketing tool for big lobbying firms.”

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that now legislation (HB 4065/SB 1636) filed for the 2016 Legislative Session would repeal the audit requirement.

The House bill was sponsored by state Rep. Dan Raulerson, the Plant City Republican and certified public accountant who chairs the auditing committee. He couldn’t immediately be reached Friday.

After that November meeting, however, he was seen huddling with Bradley and could be heard telling him, “I’m with you on this.”

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

Last year 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.

It was part of an overall “gift ban” package, banning registered lobbyists from plying lawmakers with meals, booze or anything else of value.

But the state law requires only that lobbying 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.

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

Neither bill has yet had a hearing, records show.

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 jim@floridapolitics.com.

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