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Lawmakers call for probe of NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer’s failure to disclose payments

NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer

Marion Hammer has been the NRA's chief lobbyist in Florida for years, and her voice carries a lot of weight in Tallahassee.
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Marion Hammer has been the NRA's chief lobbyist in Florida for years, and her voice carries a lot of weight in Tallahassee.

Democratic state lawmakers are calling for an investigation into whether prominent National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer violated state law by failing to disclose payments from her organization while lobbying on NRA priorities like banning the sale of bump stocks and raising the age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21.

Democrats Sen. Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale and Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando filed complaints Thursday with the state and oversight committees in the Senate and House to investigate Hammer.

Hammer, who is registered to lobby for the NRA and its Florida affiliate, Unified Sportsmen of Florida, did not respond to requests for comment.

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According to Florida law, non-employee lobbyists for both legislative and executive branches are required to register and disclose their total compensation. Hammer is not an in-house lobbyist for the NRA, and therefore is required under law to submit a compensation report for each quarter during which she was registered to lobby.

The Florida Bulldog, an online investigative website, reported earlier this month that Hammer failed to file any compensation reports with state since at least 2007, despite Florida law requiring quarterly reporting requirements by contract lobbyists.

Tax records and internal reports obtained by the website show that the NRA has paid Hammer hundreds of thousands of dollars for her work in Tallahassee, including a payment of $270,000 in 2018, when she lobbied against an assault weapons ban being pushed by students and Democratic lawmakers after the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

The tax returns showed Hammer received $147,000 in 2014, $172,000 in 2015 and $206,000 in 2016, none of which was reported to the state.

The complaints outline specific appearances by Hammer before the legislative committees, where she introduced herself as lobbying on behalf of issues ranging from amendments to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” in 2017 to bills related to concealed carry of firearms on school property in 2019. They also include emails and phone calls to lawmakers regarding specific legislation.

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Thurston wrote in a prepared statement that the law is meant to give greater transparency into the legislative process. He filed complaints with both the state Ethics Commission and the Senate, writing that the NRA “has had an outsized influence” on the passage of pro-gun bills for more than two decades. He said Floridians have the right to know just how much money was driving its agenda.

“Unless someone makes an appearance at a committee hearing or in a lawmaker’s office, it’s hard to know with certainty who may be driving a particular bill,” Thurston said. “In the NRA’s case, there is no money trail to follow.”

Eskamani, who filed a complaint with the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, recalled Hammer’s appearances before House committees attempting to influence her own legislation that aimed to keep guns out of the hands of domestic violence perpetrators.

The Orlando Democrat, whose district includes the site of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting, also co-sponsored legislation to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

“This past legislative session members of the Minority Caucus filed more than 10 pieces of legislation focused on gun safety legislation, and none of our bills got a hearing, despite hundreds of advocates coming to Tallahassee to support these proactive measures,” she said in a statement. “Floridians have a right to know how much money is driving the National Rifle Association’s legislative influence, and why it’s not following our rules of ethics and transparency.”

Rep. Tom Leek, who chairs the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, said the complaint will be handled through the committee’s typical protocol. He will review it to see if it states facts. If the facts are true, he will see if the facts support the claim.

“Then the complaint either gets dismissed or I’ll send a letter to the Speaker [José Oliva] with a recommendation,” said Leek, R-Ormond Beach.

Leek would then either create a special subcommittee of House members or appoint a special master to investigate.

Senate Rules Chair Lizbeth Benaquisto declined to comment, as she had not yet seen the complaint.

Samantha J. Gross is a politics and policy reporter for the Miami Herald. Before she moved to the Sunshine State, she covered breaking news at the Boston Globe and the Dallas Morning News.