Newly minted Republican nominee for governor Rick Scott is making the rounds on national television promoting his plan to cut state taxes and spending.
On MSNBC's The Daily Rundown on Aug. 26, 2010 -- two days after his defeat of rival Bill McCollum -- Scott faced questions from host Chuck Todd about whether the major tax and spending cuts he has suggested are realistic given Florida's budget structure and current tax policy. Todd correctly noted that the state budget has been crafted by Republicans for the last 12 years.
Todd, who grew up in Miami, then tried to get Scott to zero in on some specific program that could be cut. "It's a pretty lean and mean government, is it not?" Todd asked.
"No," replied Scott. "We have a $70 billion budget. We're not going back and looking at how we spend everything. And for example, we have 50 state lobbyists that just lobby the Legislature for money every year. That's not what state governments ought to be doing."
We were intrigued by Scott's specific example of government excess -- his claim about the 50 state lobbyists who "just lobby the Legislature for money every year."
So we decided to check it out.
Anyone who lobbies the Legislature is required to register with the state, so we started by going to the Florida Legislature's lobbyist directory. State statutes define a "lobbyist" as a "person who is employed and receives payment, or who contracts for economic consideration, for the purpose of lobbying, or a person who is principally employed for governmental affairs by another person or governmental entity to lobby on behalf of that other person or governmental entity."
The same statutes define "lobbying" as "influencing or attempting to influence legislative action or nonaction through oral or written communication or an attempt to obtain the goodwill of a member or employee of the Legislature."
The definitions could catch a lot of state employees who talk policy or budget with the Legislature on behalf of their agency or department. And when we searched through the 2010 registered lobbyist list, that's exactly what we found.
We counted more than 200 state employees who have been registered as lobbyists by the Legislature.
A few examples:
- The Agency for Health Care Administration has eight registered lobbyists.
- The Department of Children and Family has 31 registered lobbyists.
- The Department of Education has 10 registered lobbyists.
- Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith is listed as a lobbyist, as is Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey, Department of Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole, and Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos.
- So is someone like Secretary of State spokeswoman Jennifer Davis and James Karels, the director of the Division of Foresty under the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
In total, the list includes way more than the 50 state employees Scott claimed on MSNBC.
But as we looked at the list, many of the state employees aren't lobbyists in the traditional sense -- meaning that they only lobby the Legislature.
We went to the Executive Office of the Governor -- the formal title for Gov. Charlie Crist's office -- to examine the issue in a little more detail. Crist's office includes 40 registered lobbyists, according to the directory.
The list includes many employees who work in the Governor's Office of Policy and Budget, the arm of the state executive branch that crafts and reacts to policy proposals and drafts a state budget. Put simply, the governor's sausage makers.
That list includes John Mitchell (environmental policy), Jasmin Raffington (transportation and economic development policy), Christian Weiss (economic analysis) and Randy Ball (public safety policy). Then there are folks like Bruce Grant of the Office of Drug Control, JoAnn Carrin of the Office of Open Government, Lucia Fishburne of the Office of Film and Entertainment, and Chris Hart of Office of Tourism, Trade, and Economic Development.
And then there's Crist's executive team, which includes chief of staff Shane Strum, and deputy chiefs of staff Ken Granger, Chuck Drago and Jerry McDaniel.
"Most of our staff discuss policy before legislative committees and (are) not necessarily there to lobby for money," said governor's office spokesman Sterling Ivey. Later, Ivey added that the governor's office "does not have an employee whose only job is to lobby the Legislature. Anyone lobbying or appearing before committees would have other primary job responsibilities and appearance before the legislature would be a secondary part of their job."
All that information left us skeptics. On one hand, Scott's number was awfully low. And also, it seems misleading because it's labeling employees as lobbyists when they get that title more by technicality.
So we turned to the Scott campaign for clarity.
The campaign provided us with this spreadsheet, which wasn't really clear at all until we got a more detailed explanation. In short, the Scott campaign created a subset of those 200-plus lobbyists, specifically those whose primary or sole responsibility is to work with the Legislature. For many agencies, these positions are often called "Legislative Affairs Director" or something like that.
With that information, we started doing our own research.
Take, for instance, the Agency for Health Care Administration. The agency has its own Legislative Affairs Office, which "serves as the Agency resource for statutory interaction," according to the AHCA website. "It provides information to legislators and the public about health care legislation. The office also acts as liaison between AHCA staff, legislators, legislative committee staff and industry interests."
The office employs three people -- Warren Moore, Jim Alfred and Ashley James -- all of them registered to lobby before the Legislature.
Then we searched around the other departments and agencies in Tallahassee.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has a legislative affairs office, which "includes developing legislation and support information, and finding sponsors for legislation. The Office also serves as the central point of contact for legislators and their staffs for information about the Department's programs," according to its website.
The office is headed by Cameron Cooper, who is registered to lobby the Legislature. Grace Lovett is a registered lobbyist and the office's deputy director.
The Department of Corrections has three people in its legislative affairs office -- Jason Welty, Tommy Maggitas, Kristen Manalo –- registered to lobby. Rivers H. Buford is the legislative affairs director for the Department of State. Kimberly Case is the legislative affairs director for the Attorney General's office.
It turns out most agencies and departments have their own legislative point person.
Jim Henry, a registered lobbyist, is the legislative affairs director for the Department of Children and Families. Sunny Phillips at the Department of Community Affairs. Two slots at the Department of Juvenile Justice -- one for Sarah Toms and a vacant director position.
The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation has a legislative director and three legislative affairs coordinators. Three of the four are registered to lobby before the Legislature. There is a director and a deputy director in the legislative affairs office of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The Department of Elder Affairs has a legislative affairs director. So does CFO Alex Sink's Department of Financial Services. So does the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles has a legislative affairs administrator. The Department of Health has a legislative planning director. The Agency For Workforce Innovation also has a legislative affairs position.
The Department of Management Services has a director and deputy director of legislative affairs. Both are registered to lobby. The Department of Veterans' Affairs has a Legislative, External & Cabinet Affairs Director who is registered to lobby. The Department of Education has an office of governmental relations. Its director is registered to lobby in Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a legislative affairs office with a director and legislative liaison who are both registered to lobby.
The Department of Health employs a director of legislative planning and a deputy secretary for advocacy and policy, both who are registered to lobby.
The Department of Revenue has an office of Legislative and Cabinet Services. We found at least two people in the office who are registered lobbyists. The Department of the Lottery has a director of legislative affairs and a senior legislative analyst who are both registered to lobby.
That's 37 people we found in a few hours searching who are registered lobbyists for state agencies and departments whose primary responsibility is dealing with the Legislature. And we admit we're likely overlooking some employees at the state department and agency level.
Then there are the college and university lobbyists -- technically state employees -- who also lobby the Legislature.
The University of Florida employs a director of government relations and an associate vice president of government relations. Both are registered to lobby the Legislature.
The University of Central Florida has a director of governmental relations. So does the University of West Florida. The University of North Florida has a vice president for governmental relations. Even non-universities have full-time lobbyists. St. Petersburg College has a government relations director. As does Palm Beach State College. And Miami-Dade College, Valencia Community College, Daytona State College, Edison State College, Pensacola Junior College, and Seminole State College.
That's another 13 people, or 50 all together, and again that most likely is just a partial list.
(For the record, state law says departments and colleges "may not use public funds to retain a lobbyist to represent it before the legislative or executive branch." However, full time department and college employees "may register as lobbyists and represent that employer before the legislative or executive branch." In other words, the state lobbyist must also be a full time department or college employee).
Scott's number is credible. There are at least 50 state employees whose primary responsibility is to lobby the state Legislature. But Scott also said that they "just lobby" for money.
That's not true. While lobbyists will no doubt support the budget requests of their specific agency, department or university, they also spend significant time lobbying for policy, and they act as a point person for legislators looking for information about a specific program. It's more than just money, though money is a part of it.
For instance, here's how the Department of State's Office of Legislative Affairs describes itself:
"The office ... supervises and coordinates the Department's legislative agenda and identifies needed legislation; drafts proposed bills; identifies bill sponsors; tracks departmental legislation and other filed legislation that will potentially impact, positively or negatively, the Department's programs. This information is then used to help educate the Legislature, other state agencies, the Governor's Office and the public to understand how these proposals impact the department's legislative and budgetary goals and objectives. The unit also takes the lead with constituent issues generated by legislative offices that affect the department."
Which brings us back to Scott's claim. In a national television interview, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott said that Florida has "50 state lobbyists that just lobby the Legislature for money every year." There are more than 200 state employees registered as lobbyists in Tallahassee to advocate either for policy or money. And there are at least 50 of them whose primary job is work with the Legislature. But they do more than lobby just for money as Scott suggested. We rate his statement Mostly True.