Backroom Briefing: Lobbyist miscues laid out in Legislative Report

FL cap
(Weekly political notes from The News Service of Florida)


So far, the legislative effort to review lobbying firms’ compensation reports hasn’t appeared to find any signs of corruption or malfeasance. But some firms might want to clean up their books a little bit.

To try to gauge whether lobbying firms were leveling on reports they are required to file with the state about who’s paying them to work the Capitol, the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee decided to look over those statements from 2014. The panel picked 26 lobbying firms to undergo random audits. In that first batch, 16 had “findings,” meaning they got something wrong.

Of the dozen firms whose lobbying of the executive branch was examined, a newly released report from the committee found that six made mistakes. And 10 of the 14 influence businesses whose legislative reports were looked over were found to have misstatements.

The vast majority of the mistakes were in misreporting how much money firms made from certain clients. For example, Dean Mead reported getting between $1 and $9,999 from Marriott International in the first part of the year for executive branch lobbying when it should have reported nothing. (A payment for the last part of 2013 got bumped into the next year.) The firm also should have reported receiving $1 to $9,999 from both Marriott and B.J. Alan Companies in the third quarter of 2014; it said it got nothing.

One of the more complicated group of findings revolved around the firm Rutledge Ecenia, PA. In addition to getting the name of one of its clients wrong (the Florida Shore & Beach Preservation Association was listed as the Florida Beach & Shore Preservation Association), Rutledge Ecenia misstated the compensation it received from six clients.

Most of those were understatements. For example, the firm reported earning between $1 and $9,999 from Sanctuary Cannabis LLC in the last three quarters of 2014. The audit panel found that the firm’s earnings were between $10,000 and $19,999 in each of those quarters.

Another significant understatement came in Rutledge Ecenia’s report on its work for Miami-Dade County. Instead of reporting the correct figure of $30,000 to $39,999 in each quarter of 2014, the firm reported getting $10,000 to $19,999.

In all, Rutledge Ecenia should have reported earning $250,000 to $499,999 from legislative lobbying in the second and third quarters of the year — but reported making $100,000 to $249,999.

Some of the mistakes were relatively picayune. One firm simply didn’t list a couple of clients that didn’t pay anything during a quarter, instead of listing them as clients who paid nothing to the firm. The Cullen Legislative Group didn’t have documentation for its compensation from the Advocacy Institution for Children, which is supposed to pay the firm the princely sum of $1 a year.

A couple of lobbying businesses overstated their compensation by reporting the whole sum of what some clients sent them for legislative and executive branch lobbying on both reports. The panel said that unless the firms had a way to tease out which funds paid for which lobbying, the amounts should instead be split evenly.

Many of the firms agreed to file amended reports, according to the auditing committee.


With U.S. Senate Democrats blocking consideration of legislation that would have endangered President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, the viewpoints of U.S. House members have become a largely academic exercise. It was likely not going to stop the deal anyway — Obama could veto the measure, meaning it would have required two-thirds support — but the action by the Senate removed the suspense.

Many members of Congress had already made known their feelings on the deal before this week, but a remaining few in tight contests were still holding out when the week began. Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, locked in a primary with Congressman Patrick Murphy for the Democratic nomination to fill an open U.S. Senate seat, came out for the deal.

Grayson had expressed reservations before.

“I wish that these negotiations had been used as a vehicle to bring peace to the region,” the normally bombastic Orlando-area lawmaker wrote in an email to supporters. “But it’s too late for that now. The immediate question is a simple one: Is it more dangerous to have an agreement, or to have no agreement? On the evidence I see, it’s more dangerous to have no agreement.”

Murphy had already said he would support the deal.

Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Graham, facing the potential that a redrawn North Florida district could pose an uphill battle for re-election, declared that she will vote against the Iran deal when the House considers it.

In an op-ed piece emailed out by her campaign and set to run in the Tallahassee Democrat and Panama City News Herald on Friday, Graham wrote that she didn’t think the agreement went far enough to ensure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.

“Unfortunately, the agreement fails to force Iran to fully account for and truly dismantle its nuclear program,” she wrote. “It gives Iran too much flexibility in determining how and when international nuclear inspectors can access suspected nuclear sites. And the agreement allows Iran to continue developing the long range ballistic missiles they would need to threaten the United States and our allies should Iran obtain nuclear weapons in the future.”

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “‘I’m still the No. 1 beneficiary of the Donald’s insults.”— @JebBush re Trump attacks on Carson & Fiorina”—Michael Bender (@MichaelCBender), a reporter for Bloomberg Politics.