TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida lobbyists earned more than $120 million last year in an effort to pass and defeat bills in the Republican-controlled Legislature, reports show.
An analysis of year-end reports filed this week showed that some of the biggest spenders on lobbyists were those with the most to lose or gain in the halls of the state Capitol.
The 2012 totals don't match the amount spent in 2011, the year Gov. Rick Scott took office and Republicans assumed a supermajority.
But the final total for 2012 - which is close to $124 million - is still one of the highest on record since Florida started requiring lobbyists to report how much they get paid back in 2006.
"The economy has sort of leveled out," said Brian Ballard, who runs one of the most successful lobbying firms in Tallahassee. "The whole industry felt a recovery the year before."
State law requires random audits of what lobbying firms report but legislators have never carried out the requirement.
The figures reported by lobbyists are not exact; instead they report a range of how much they are paid by various corporations. The $124 million total was derived by taking the median amount, although lobbyists must report exact amounts if they are paid $50,000 or more from one company.
But while the amounts may not be exact, the reports shed a light on how much money is spent by corporations and others in an effort to either pass, or kill, a long list of legislation.
Gambling interests, telecommunications companies and sugar growers were among some of the biggest spenders on lobbyists.
AT&T spent more than $1.35 million on lobbyists, while Bayfront 2011 Development spent $965,000. The company is an arm of Genting, which wants to build a large resort casino on the shores of Biscayne Bay in Miami. Lawmakers in 2012 wound up shooting down a bill that would have allowed the casino to go forward.
Another company caught up in last year's gambling fight — International Internet Technologies — spent as much as $740,000. The company was fighting a proposal to shut down storefront sweepstakes operations known as Internet cafes.
Other large spenders include business lobbying outfits such as Associated Industries of Florida, which reported spending at least $600,000. Automated Healthcare Solutions, a software company engaged in a bruising fight over the state's workers' compensation laws, spent at least $425,000.
Dosal Tobacco, a company that has successfully fought off efforts the last several years to place fees on its cigarettes, spent nearly $700,000. U.S. Sugar reported that it shelled out at least $855,000.
Ballard said it was unfair to assume that all lobbyists were trying to get lawmakers to do something they wouldn't normally do. He said that some of his clients are competing for government dollars or trying to change the law to bring benefits to the state.
"They are not all dirty corporations lurking to take advantage of government," he said.
And it's true that it's not just corporations paying lobbyists. So did local governments.
Cities across the state spent tens of thousands, with diverse cities such as Tallahassee, Tampa, Orlando, and Hollywood paying $100,000 and more last year on lobbyists.
Counties and school districts also hired outside lobbyists. Miami-Dade spent $360,000 and Broward County — including its county government, sheriff and property appraiser — spent nearly $500,000. Miami-Dade County schools spent at least $240,000.
Lobbying firms are also required to report how much they got paid to lobby Scott and other members of the executive branch, but some firms report the same information twice, meaning that the overall total could be inflated. One state report estimates that the amount spent on lobbying the governor and state agencies could be anywhere from $47 million to $127 million.
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