Legislature sets procedures for random audits of lobbyists

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Transparency in lobbying was on the table Monday at a Tallahassee meeting of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, where lawmakers discussed rules for random audits of compensation reports.

In a measure closely watched by the Florida lobbyist industry, the board also set up a means by which state auditors will select random lobbying agencies for review. 

The process begins with the Legislature asking the Lobbyist Registration Office to provide a list of all firms that deal with the executive and legislative branches, listed in alphabetical order. The Office then assigns a number to each firm.

The Auditor General’s office will produce a list of random numbers using the Microsoft Excel random number generator. Then, the Auditor will match random numbers to corresponding numbers on the list.

As required by Florida law, the resulting list will represent three percent of each group of lobbying firms. Selections of the lobbying firms occur during meetings open to the public.

The goal is to have audits completed by June 30, 2015.

Legislature staff will notify the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists and other parties about the time and place by posting information on the websites of both the committee and the Lobbyist Registration Office.

There will also be a notice sent to all registered lobbying firms and relevant associations, placing the date/time on the calendar.

Selection of firms for evaluation will be after the deadline for submitting 2014 compensation — mid-February of 2015.

Lawmakers previously asked FAPL to keep records going back one year from the beginning of audits, enabling firms to understand what to expect in the case of a random audit. This will keep the firms from worrying about mistakes that could lead to penalties.

Record keeping requirements are available online at http://www.fapl.us/associations.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.