A familiar face has been representing clients with issues before Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi: Her predecessor.
Former Attorney General Bill McCollum, who directly preceded Bondi in office, has used his knowledge of the office’s inner workings to represent at least three companies navigating state legal issues.
The cruise line Royal Caribbean, e-cigarette company NJOY and health screening company HealthFair have all hired McCollum, who in turn successfully made his case to Bondi.
The arrangement has raised questions because McCollum never registered in the state as a lobbyist and because he leads the Republican State Leadership Committee, which has championed Bondi’s advancement. From June 2012 through January 2014, the committee gave $650,000 to Bondi’s re-election campaign — more than 10 percent of what she raised — and made additional contributions to allow her to travel to conferences.
“I’m not getting any special favors,” McCollum said.
The state Constitution bars cabinet members including the attorney general from contacting their former agencies on behalf of clients for the first two years out of office. McCollum said he complied with that. The law also requires the registration of anyone who lobbies the executive branch, defining lobbyists as those trying to influence an agency’s decision on policy or procurement, or who are trying to curry goodwill with an official.
McCollum said that restriction doesn’t apply to him.
“I was wearing my lawyer hat,” McCollum said. “I’m representing a client on a legal matter. I’m not trying to influence the attorney general. I’m trying to represent my client. That’s not lobbying.”
Thomas Susman, a lobbyist for the American Bar Association in Washington, agreed with McCollum, saying registering could undermine attorney-client confidentiality.
“We keep hearing this lawyer excuse, but it’s just not valid,” said Craig Holman, who lobbies for Public Citizen, a Washington nonprofit watchdog group. “What he was doing was lobbying and he should have registered.”
McCollum specializes in public policy and regulation at Dentons, an international law firm. He said he has registered to lobby in several other states.
Bondi’s deputy attorney general, Patricia Conners, said McCollum’s access to the office has nothing to do with his connections.
“He isn’t treated any different,” she said.