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Jeff Brandes wants a legal opinion of Hillsborough PTC’s lobbying efforts

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Jeff Brandes is taking another shot at the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission — this time over the fact that the PTC has hired a lobbyist. The St. Petersburg based state Senator has been calling for the demise of the agency for several years now, in part for their attempts to regulate ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft.

Now he wants Attorney General Pam Bondi to review the statutes governing the agency to determine if thy are lawfully permitted to spend public funds to hire lobbyists.

Brandes’ call comes just days after WTVT-Fox 13 reported that the local agency is spending $120,000 a year for using the lobbying firm of Corcoran and Johnson, in part to influence Brandes colleagues in the Legislature not to eliminate the agency.

“I was shocked to learn that the PTC was spending $120,000 per year of public funds on lobbyists without the legal authority to do so,” Brandes said in a statement. “The PTC already has a reputation tarnished by scandal. Once again, the PTC finds itself mired in controversy over questionable practices. These circumstances deserve a full review by the Attorney General.”

The PTC has used lobbyists since at least 2007, when Victor DiMaio was utilized by then PTC chair Kevin White to lobby in Tallahassee. White was later indicted on federal charges that he bused his position as chairman of the county’s Public Transportation Commission, taking bribes in return for favors to a towing company.

The Fox 13 report alleged that three different attorney general opinions showed that entities created by the state cannot spend funds on state lobbyists without specific authorization. One of those opinions was written by Bondi to Hillsborough County Attorney Chip Fletcher back in February, 2014. It was in regards to whether or not the Hillsborough County Civil Service Board was allowed to lobby. Bondi’s office ruled that it was not.

“The civil service board is tax funded, we’re not. So there’s a major difference right there,” said Hillsborough PTC executive director Kyle Cockream. He says that Fox 13 was told of those differences but choose not to cite that in their report.

Cockream said he wouldn’t comment beyond that, but that Fletcher and other county attorneys may release their own statement soon.

Brandes has made it clear that he thinks the PTC should be eliminated. He has a local bill that would do just that will go before the Hillsborough County local Legislative Delegation when they meet in a couple of weeks.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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