News Service of Florida:
While the summer and early fall might have been off-season for lawmakers, that didn't stop lobbyists from doing business --- and collecting millions of dollars in fees.
Newly filed reports show that three legislative lobbying firms topped $1 million in fees from July 1 through Sept. 30, while eight others collected at least $500,000. Another 10 firms pulled in at least $250,000.
The top earners were Ballard Partners, Ronald L. Book PA and Southern Strategy Group. Taking into account earlier reports, each of those firms has reported collecting at least $3 million this year as they represent dozens of clients before the Legislature.
The firms have a blend of high-profile and more-obscure clients, ranging from major corporations to local governments
Ballard Partners, for example, reported receiving $82,000 during the three-month period from Automated HealthCare Solutions, a Miramar-based firm that has been embroiled in a long-running legislative debate about the costs of doctors dispensing drugs to workers-compensation insurance patients. The firm provides software that doctors use when dispensing drugs.
As other examples, the Book firm collected $50,000 during the three-month period from AutoNation, Inc., a major car dealer, and Southern Strategy collected between $30,000 and $39,999 from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida.
Lobbying firms are required to file quarterly reports with the state about their fees and faced a Wednesday night deadline for filing the July-through-September reports. The exact amounts that lobbying firms collect are unclear, because the reports list fees under $50,000 in ranges --- for example, $30,000 to $39,999 and $40,000 to $49,999.
But as an indication of the amounts of money being spent on lobbyists, at least $9.5 million in fees went to the 21 firms that topped $250,000 in collections during the most-recent quarter. And those are only a fraction of the firms that reported collecting smaller amounts.
The firms that reported collecting between $500,000 and $999,999 during the quarter were Capital City Consulting; Coldony, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky, Abate & Webb; Corcoran & Johnston; Dutko Worldwide; Foley & Lardner; GrayRobinson; Johnson & Blanton; and The Rubin Group.
The reports also offer a glimpse into clients that have been shelling out large amounts for lobbyists. As an example, United States Sugar Corp. paid $90,000 during the most-recent quarter to the firm Fowler White Boggs and also paid seven other firms, including Ballard Partners, which received between $40,000 and $49,999.
Similarly, Las Vegas Sands Corp., which has been involved in a debate about allowing resort casinos in Florida, paid $60,000 to Capital City Consulting, which includes Sands' highest-profile lobbyist, Nick Iarossi. The casino company also paid between $30,000 and $39,999 during the period to the lobbying firm Floridian Partners, according to the reports.
But not all of the clients that spent heavily on lobbyists were prominent players, such as sugar companies or casino operators. For instance, PawsPlus, Inc., which offers veterinary services, paid $57,000 to Strategos Public Affairs, a firm run by former House member Trey Traviesa, the reports show.