Gaetz and Weatherford want to start auditing lobbying firms “this year”

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Responding to a series of media stories about lobbyists’ oversized paychecks, leaders for both the Florida House and Senate agree to establish legally mandated audits of the people paid to curry favor in Tallahassee.

Senate President Don Gaetz announced to committee chairs Monday that he will work with House Speaker Will Weatherford to start random audits of payments to lobbying firms.

Audits will happen sometime “this year,” reports Aaron Deslatte in the Orlando Sentinel.

Last spring, Gaetz pushed for new prohibitions on legislators becoming lobbyists, but he told the Sentinel this month that he now wants to move forward on random audits, a requirement never enforced before.

“For one reason or another, the audits didn’t happen. … we didn’t follow up on what we should have done,” Gaetz told reporters on Monday. “As part of our ethics initiative, we plan to begin those audits this year.”

Corporations, trade associations, advocacy groups and other lobbyists spent a reported $120.4 million in the first half of 2013 to catch the attention of lawmakers and government agencies, according to filed reports. But many firms maintain their rivals inflate numbers by double counting amounts, listing them on both executive and legislative reports.

In a meeting last week, the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists asked lawmakers if they could help make recommendations on how to approach the audits fairly under the 2005 law. Currently, lobbying firms only show payments in $10,000 ranges.

What this means is a lobbyist that is actually paid $8,000 can describe the payment as “between $1 and $9,999,” then they are averaged by the Legislature’s lobbyist registration office.

With the beginning of legislative audits, it will be the first time lobbying firms will have to open their books to verify accuracy.

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.