Several Lawmakers work for lobbying firms, group says
By Brandon Larrabee The News Service of Florida
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, FL — At least eleven sitting lawmakers derive some of their income from work with firms that lobby the Legislature, according to a new report by the watchdog group Integrity Florida.
But the legislators involved say they’ve done nothing wrong and that their firms take pains to separate them from the daily operations of lobbying practices.
Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida, said the findings of his group’s report show the need for greater transparency in the personal finances of elected officials.
“We have a part-time Legislature in Florida,” Krassner said. “They’re allowed to have outside jobs. But if they have an outside job, where the insider knowledge they have as a legislator can benefit their employer, they ought to have more disclosure.”
According to the report, which drew from the most recent personal financial disclosure forms, 10 lawmakers listed as their primary source of income firms that also have registered lobbyists.
Those lawmakers include Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens; Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami; Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa; Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart; Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington; Rep. Richard Corcoran, a New Port Richey Republican slated to become speaker; Rep. Jose Diaz, R-Miami; Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach; Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach; and Rep. Greg Stuebe, R-Sarasota.
Gaetz told the group his law firm no longer employs a lobbyist.
Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, received a secondary source of income from a firm that does lobbying work, according to the report.
In its report, Integrity Florida recommended that the state develop a more thorough financial disclosure form, specifically highlighting Louisiana’s as an example; place the disclosures online; require lawmakers to disclose any conflicts of interest before they vote, rather than after; allow the Ethics Commission to perform random audits of law-makers’ forms; and shorten the grace period for officials who don’t return the forms promptly.
Only Bogdanoff, Abruzzo, Diaz and Gaetz provided lists of their firm’s legislative clients, according to the report, while Negron provided a list of clients his firm represented before state agencies. Joyner and Corcoran were the only two of those listed who filed paperwork with the Legislature indicating they had a potential conflict of interest on a given vote.
Krassner said that the lack of specific information on the forms made it difficult to track down any glaring potential conflicts.
“We need more disclosure to do that. We certainly saw plenty of red flags” on the documents, Krassner said.
But lawmakers listed in the report say there’s no conflict of interest. Negron said he works in the business litigation practice at Gunster Yoakley & Stewart, and noted that other legislators work as doctors, teachers and in a variety of other professions.
“Legislators come from many backgrounds, occupations and walks of life. … All of us are careful to follow the ethics rules and guidelines that have been set up,” he said.
Gibbons said he does help some local governments work on applications for federal grants, but that the majority of his clients are private companies and that he isn’t allowed to sit in on meetings or speak with lobbyists at Akerman Senterfitt about clients with interests before the Legislature.
“They really draw hard lines there,” he said. “ … The things I do have nothing to do with the state of Florida.”