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Often Portrayed as Evil, Lobbyists Perform Valuable Service | Lloyd Brown

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Often Portrayed as Evil, Lobbyists Perform Valuable Service | Lloyd Brown

Lloyd Brown's picture
Often Portrayed as Evil, Lobbyists Perform Valuable Service
Monday, January 23, 2012 — Lloyd Brown

One of the basic rights in the U.S. Constitution is the right of people to redress grievances with their government.

But when some people exert that right in the state Capitol, they are portrayed in the media as evil “special interests” out to line their pockets.

As a general rule, anyone seeking to expand government and shrink the paychecks of Florida families is exempted from this label -- even though they are performing the same function, and being well paid in the process.

When I covered the Legislature, I relied upon two main sources of information about issues. One was committee staff and the other was lobbyists. Staff members can tell you what a bill is intended to do and lobbyists can tell you why it should or shouldn’t be enacted.

The trick is to ask lobbyists on both sides. Only the true pros will give you his opponent’s argument. Then he will rebut it as effectively as he can.

The only time you really need to talk with politicians is when you want some quotable gloss in the form of a windy explanation of why the bill demonstrates his noble service to the people.

Lobbyists perform a valuable service to politicians. They present arguments for and against a bill.

But newspaper columnists and editorial writers are lobbyists, too, and they don’t like the competition. Ergo, the lobbyist-bashing that creeps into many an article.

Barney Bishop has been lobbying for more than 30 years. He cut his teeth by representing private investigating firms during an effort to sunset the regulation of many businesses and industries.

He recently ended a successful stint of seven years as head of Associated Industries of Florida, always described in the media as the “powerful” voice of business. Now, he is lobbying again as a freelancer.

Bishop listed -- among the best of the lobbying best -- such names as Scotty Frazier, Jim Krog, Buddy McCue, Ken Plante, Mac Stipanovich, H. Lee Moffitt, T.K. Wetherall, Jim Smith, Pete Dunbar, Bill Rubin, Ron Book and others.

In 2005, there was an effort to “reform” lobbying. It passed as a tradeoff to get tort reform and changed the way lobbying works, not necessarily for the better.

The main effect was to shut down some Tallahassee businesses, such as the famed Silver Slipper, where many lobbyists and politicians dined together.

Bishop said he never was successful in getting a politician’s support because of a dinner. He said it was more about building relationships and trust.

In Bishop’s view, it also has contributed to the polarization the press complains about so often. Legislators don’t socialize as much and, being term-limited, rarely have time to build relationships that might enable more compromise.

The reforms also allow the press to find out and report how much a lobbyist earns, just the kind of titillating information they dote on. Funny, they didn’t seem interested in someone’s suggestion that maybe editors and columnists should be required to report their salaries.

Not “fairness,” I guess.

Lloyd Brown was in the newspaper business nearly 50 years, beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville.

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Dear Mr. Brown,

H. L Mencken is quoted as saying, "Laws are no longer made by a rational process of public discussion; they are made by a process of blackmail and intimidation, and they are executed in the same manner. The typical lawmaker of today is a man wholly devoid of principle — a mere counter in a grotesque and knavish game. If the right pressure could be applied to him, he would be cheerfully in favor of polygamy, astrology or cannibalism.” Lobbyist use the "right pressure", money! Case in point our foray into expanding gaming in Florida.

You would have to have your head planted firmly in the sands of Miami Beach to not see the influence lobbying money and support to legislators on both sides of this issue. Walt Disney and the Chamber of Commerce are against introducing the destination resorts to South Florida. They have flooded lawmakers with money to prevent this legislation from becoming law, don't believe me, check the most recent campaign finance disclosure forms! What about the money donated to groups like No Casinos, Inc., where did that come from? Just for fun, let us look at where and which lobbyists/ politicians the Seminole Tribe is supporting these days?

On the other hand, Associated Industries of Florida which supports expanding casinos into South Florida, just named former U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney its head. He learned from disgraced super lobbyist Jack Abramoff all about the intersection of money/legislators/ gambling. Google both names together, you won't be surprised at the result. Better yet watch the movie, Casino Jack. Then there is Sheldon Adelson, who Gov. Rick Scott relies on for "business" advice. He (Adelson)donated $5 million, to a single SuperPac recently, you don't think that caught the attention of a few Florida legislators coming up for reelection? Of course no Committee of Continuing Existence (CCE) would dirty itself by taking money from a lobbyist would they?

This is but one example, we could look at Progress Energy, North Florida Railroad, Healthcare, Prescription Drugs, University/College funding, etc. to see more of the same. Lobbyist are conduits for money and power in Tallahassee, so don't piss on my head and tell me it's raining!

Greg Melikov's picture

As Jack Abramhoff said: "Words will not ever be able to express my sorrow and my profound regret for all my actions and mistakes. I hope I can merit forgiveness from the Almighty and those I've wronged or caused to suffer."