TALLAHASSEE -- Florida lobbyists took in a record amount of money last year after Gov. Rick Scott took office and Republicans assumed a supermajority in the state legislature.
An analysis of year-end reports filed this week showed lobbyists were paid as much as $127 million during 2011 to influence legislators.
That’s a jump of more than 10 percent from last year and the highest amount in the last five years.
“I think it’s reflection of our improving economy,” said Brian Ballard, a prominent Tallahassee lobbyist who own firm has routinely been one of the big moneymakers and made at least $4 million last year.
But Ballard, whose firm represents more than 100 clients, acknowledged that a high-stakes battle to bring large casinos to South Florida also may have also provided a one-time spike as different companies and groups fighting over the legislation hired their own lobbyists.
Casino operator Genting and its various affiliated companies spent as much as $760,000 while Las Vegas Sands spent $551,000 on its lobbyists. The Seminole Tribe of Florida, which was one of the opponents to the casino bill, spent $420,000.
The figures reported by lobbyists are not exact and instead they report a range of how much they are paid by various corporations. The $127 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. State law requires random audits of what lobbying firms report but the state has never enacted the requirement.
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.
Lobbyist income dipped in 2010, but last year saw an upturn that coincided with the arrival of Scott, a business executive critical of government regulation, as well as a Republican-dominated Legislature that had a lengthy agenda.
The biggest spender in 2011 was telecommunications giant AT&T, which spent at least $1.68 million on legislative lobbyists. The company last year won approval of a measure that deregulated state laws on landline telephones.
Stephanie Smith, a spokeswoman for the company, refused to comment on how much the company spent on lobbying.
Other large spenders include business lobbying outfits such as Associated Industries of Florida, which reported spending at least $630,000, while Automated Healthcare Solutions, a software company engaged in a bruising fight over the state’s workers’ compensation laws, has spent at least $500,000.
Dosal Tobacco, a company that has successfully fought off efforts to place fees on its cigarettes, spent nearly $800,000. U.S. Sugar reported that it spent more than $900,000 to hire lobbyists from a dozen different firms. The GEO Group, one of the companies pushing to privatize prisons in Florida, spent at least $350,000.
But it wasn’t just corporations that paid out lots of money for lobbyists. So did local governments.
Dozens of 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 with counties such as Miami-Dade spending more than $400,000 and Broward County government -- including its county government, sheriff and property appraiser -- spending nearly $500,000.
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.