Tom Lee loved it, Don Gaetz loved it, now here comes Richard Corcoran peddling more lobbyist reform. It's such a crock, this business of "special interests." As the main legislative goal for this year, next year or any year, it does not one thing to move the needle for the Florida economy, for education, for child welfare, for expanding economic opportunity, anything that might improve Floridians' lives.
But, never mind. Look how much good will it buys with the media. They love tough talk on ethics, and isn't media attention what this is all about? Make a big stink about scummy lobbyist behavior and suddenly the press corps is blind to the other business you want to slide through. Heck, even Eric Eisnaugle, five years away from the speaker's gavel, figured that one out. He cashed in on a lobbyist reform oped in the Orlando Sentinel, something he ripped off from Corcoran's 3-year-old "manifesto." And even FOX News' Megyn Kelly said she loved it.
Beating up lobbyists is so easy. Lee, R-Brandon, used his Senate presidency in 2005 to force lobbyists to disclose fees and stop courting legislators with secret gifts, trips and dinners. What have the results been? To make up for the gap in "secret gift" stories, there's now a greater media concentration on publishing the campaign reports of the Big Boys of lobbying -- who's the biggest, how much they're bringing in. What it's done is allow those Bigs to get bigger, richer, more competitive -- perhaps to the detriment of the smaller lobbyists.
As Senate president, Gaetz, R-Niceville, wanted among other things more transparency -- and who doesn't? -- and legislators to attend a four-hour ethics course. His measures were meant to "strengthen revolving door rules to limit legislators from lobbying for two years after they leave office" and "create new restrictions to prohibit officials from obtaining crony jobs based on their public office."
In his speech to the Republican caucus last week, Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, went a lot further. He outlined the top goals of his blueprint: a constitutional amendment to ban lawmakers from becoming lobbyists for six years; a House rule requiring lawmakers to wait six years before padding their state pensions by taking public jobs after leaving office, unless they are elected to another office; a prohibition on legislators taking a new job with any company or organization that receives public money from the state while in office; and a rule to require lobbyists to disclose the legislation they intend to influence.
We in the media are supposed to appreciate what a tough row to hoe this brave agenda is. Please. Party leaders will always need lobbyists' money to get their people elected. Treating these people like scumbags to prove what a straight arrow you are is getting old.
I've been glad to see at least Politico's Marc Caputo isn't buying it.
It seems to me all these reformers are tryng to protect legislators from themselves. For heaven's sake, we're talking about grown men and women. But if that's the real goal, then why don't leaders change the House, Senate and/or caucus rules, don't waste precious time grandstanding and bashing "special interests" by creating more grandiose legislation.
Why not start by banning fundraising during committee weeks? After all, votes are taken during committee weeks, too -- what's the difference between those and session? They don't need a law, they can do it in the rules if they're serious about it.
Last of all, I have to wonder, what is a "special interest" anymore? It it just the big conglomerate? Or do legislators need protection from firefighters, too? How about nurses? Wait! Let's protect them against dental hygienists! Oh, and teachers' unions, Realtors and homebuilders associations ... All these groups cough up campaign contributions. Does anybody really think they are corrupting the system?
I hope I've made it clear in earlier stories, I like Richard Corcoran and believe, given a good Senate partner next year, he can take Florida a long way. He has it in him to lead on transforming Florida from an economy built on tourism to a diversified state that shows the nation something in small-business expansion, technology for the mid-21st century, diverse medical research and other incredible possibilities. He has it in him to reform Florida higher education, keep the children in our care safe, preserve the state's delicate ecosystem -- certainly not all of those things overnight, but over time and by developing political will. So, what I'm saying here isn't pesonal.
I'm saying spare us the theater.
The bottom line is, lobbyist reforms are pretty much empty puffs of sound-good-feel-good. They are no magic bullet. And most of all, they do nothing to move Florida's economic and societal well-being one tiny jot. Not one. All the time legislators spend gassing on the issue, posing in flash-popping gaggles over lobbyist "abuses," tweeting out and "liking" news stories on thwarting special interests ... it's all time taken away from issues meaningful to Floridians' lives in a jam-packed, 60-day session.
Change the rules in your caucuses, leaders. Reform, by all means. But for heaven's sake, do your reforming there.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith