Hired Lobbyists: Why, Who, How Much, and Outcomes.
For the past year and a half, Vice Mayor Henry Rosenthal has been asking for information, detailed and important
information, related to the Tallahassee lobbying firms representing our town.
His questions and concerns have been fair and in the best interest of the taxpayers (it’s costing us more than $150,000 a year to have lobbyists). But Henry’s questions and concerns have mostly fallen on deaf ears.
What staff was able to get done: A rushed item has been added to the Thursday, June 23, 2022, Council agenda. The Council is being asked to approve a new contract for Islamorada’s lobbyists.
Despite Henry’s requests for thorough information from staff, none has been provided. And despite Henry’s more than reasonable request to postpone the vote until the information can be provided to him, they are pushing forward.
Henry has been stonewalled and put off by members of the Council and certain Village staff as recently as last month’s Council meeting and earlier this week. We find the behavior appalling – and so should you.
We wanted to know why. And what we’ve found so far is troubling.
Let’s look at some facts on our lobbyists.
Monroe County has a population of roughly 88,000 people. Monroe County has outside lobbyists. Islamorada has roughly 7,500 residents. The Village has two outside lobbying firms, who happen to be the exact same lobbyists as the County’s. We spend roughly $125,000 a year for their services ($30,000 more than Monroe County for the same lobbying firms), plus an additional $30,000 a year for the village attorney to “manage” them during the legislative session.
Everyone who lives in Islamorada also lives in Monroe County and every taxpayer pays taxes to both. Some would call that “double dipping” – the lobbyists getting paid twice for the same work from the same taxpayers.
In January 2022, the Village was given notice that one of our lobbying firms, Peebles, Smith and Matthews, had closed up shop. Yet records show the Village has continued paying the firm at the rate of $75,000 a year. Even as things stand today, the Village will continue to make monthly payments of $6,250 until August to a firm that has not represented the Village since January!
Those are bad, this is worse.
There are times when a lobbying firm may have conflicts between two of their clients. And there is a process by which the lobbying firm must handle that conflict, one way or another.
The legislative session of 2022 created one of those conflicts for Gray Robinson, the other lobbying firm the Village has under contract. Senate Bill 2508 was the top priority of the Senate President. The Senator’s must-pass legislation was being rammed through the process at the behest of Big Sugar and to the demise of Monroe County (drinking water supply) and Islamorada (Florida Bay). In this case, all three are clients of Gray Robinson.
There was not a soul in the state of Florida who wasn’t watching this ugly power move play out. Yet no discussion was had to determine a course of action for handling the obvious conflict.
When questioned through a public records request, the lobbyists claim they didn’t “receive this direction from Roget (then village attorney).” Important to note: Lobbyists have an obligation to reach out to their clients when issues affecting or potentially affecting the clients arise – especially if it results in a conflict with another client.
To be clear, Senate Bill 2508 would have put into jeopardy the water supply for all of Monroe, as well as the clean freshwater the Everglades and Florida Bay desperately need to survive. But nothing happened? One could argue the lobbyists were either incompetent or willful in their lack of a conflicts check – either way this is a big problem for the residents.
Read more about Big Sugar’s sneak attack that hundreds of Islamorada leaders and residents made a top priority to kill: Captains for Clean Water: Governor Vetoes SB 2508!.
None of this makes sense.
So, we’re asking you to join us in emailing each Councilmember and asking that this item be postponed until next month. Let us know if you have any other questions!
Lobbyists 101. More on this soon.
It is not an overstatement to suggest the role of lobbyists is controversial in politics. Lobbyists are hired and paid by special-interest groups, companies, nonprofits, groups of citizens, and even local governments, ostensibly to exert influence over elected officials at all levels of government. To have any meaningful discussion or debate about hiring a lobbyist, there are (at least) four principles that must be understood and agreed to.
WHY? Why would a small town spend precious resources to lobby higher levels of government? After all, we elect a State House member and a State Senator to be our advocates at the state level. We have five councilmembers and staff, all able to advocate on the Village’s behalf.
WHO? Are these decisions made in a manner that an observer might deem strategic and positioned to succeed? Or are these choices driven by ad hoc factors such as local politics?
HOW MUCH? How do local governments decide the amount of public resources to commit to professional lobbying of the state or federal government?
MEASURABLE OUTCOMES? Shouldn’t public discussions about priorities and results be a natural part of the process? When you run a business, and invest in better outcomes, don’t you check to make sure your investment is paying off? Is the juice worth the squeeze?