Government Inc.: Cashing in on state contracts equates to big business, little oversight
Even for Tallahassee standards, the scene was notable: lobbyist Brian Ballard dining with a nursing home executive, Gov. Rick Scott and a top aide at a pricey restaurant just blocks from the Capitol.
That Ballard’s clout could command a private dinner with the governor for a client speaks to the influential lobbyist’s fundraising finesse.
But equally important, and less celebrated, is Ballard’s talent for helping his clients land lucrative state contracts: $938 million this year alone, according to a Herald/Times analysis of contracts in the $70 billion state budget.
“Is that all?’’ joked Ballard, who said he had never added it up. “A big part of my business is protecting contracts, and outsourcing. Outsourcing saves [the state] money.”
Ballard is not alone. The lobbying offices that line the moss-covered streets of Tallahassee have grown exponentially larger in the past two decades as governors and legislators have steered a greater share of the state’s budget to outside vendors.
No one is keeping track of the total, but Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater last year estimated the total contract expenditure for Florida’s 2011-12 budget cycle at $50.4 billon — 72 percent of the budget. The bulk of it, nearly $42 billion, was for healthcare contracts and service sector grants that often are never competitively bid. Read the first installment here.
Meanwhile the state's inconsistent and weak oversight, means taxpayer losses. Atwater and Scott say they're ready to change that. Read the second installment here.