Amid high-stakes debates about issues such as expanded gambling, legislative lobbyists raked in millions of dollars in fees during the first three months of the year, newly filed reports show.
At least four lobbying firms reported earning $1 million or more between Jan. 1 and March 31, a period that included the first four weeks of the annual legislative session. At least seven more earned between $500,000 and $$999,999.
Lobbying firms faced a Thursday deadline for filing compensation reports that gave a general idea of how much they were paid by clients to work the hallways and committee rooms of the Capitol.
With reports being posted on a state website through the day, it was difficult to immediately put a bottom-line estimate on total lobbying fees. But in only looking at firms that had reported earning $100,000 or more during the quarter, it was clear that overall fees easily topped $15 million -- and that does not take into account a wide range of firms that reported earning less than $100,000.
As of late Thursday afternoon, four firms that reported fees of $1 million or more were Ballard Partners, Capital City Consulting, Southern Strategy Group and Ronald L. Book PA. Each of those firms has dozens of clients, including some that paid large amounts for lobbying.
For example, Resorts World Miami LLC, which has been involved in efforts to bring a resort casino to South Florida, paid $83,000 to Ballard Partners, according to the lobbying firm's report. Similarly, Las Vegas Sands Corp., another company seeking to open a resort casino, paid $79,000 to Capital City Consulting.
The Book firm, meanwhile, reported three clients paying more than $50,000, including the auto dealer AutoNation Inc., which paid $68,000. Among Southern Strategy's major clients was Simply Healthcare Plans Inc., an HMO that paid the lobbying firm $54,000.
Lobbying firms are required to file quarterly reports that show their total compensation in broad ranges. Those ranges start with some firms reporting overall fees between $1 and $49,999 and go up to the top-dollar firms, which report that they earned $1 million or more.
Similarly, the firms report income from specific clients in ranges -- for example, $1 to $9,999 and $10,000 to $19,999. More exact numbers are only available when payments from individual clients top $50,000.
Issues such as the possibility of expanded gambling -- an issue that ultimately died -- drew heavy lobbying during the session. But lobbying firms also reported receiving large fees from clients in industries such as insurance.
For instance, FCCI Insurance Group paid $60,000 to the Advantage Consulting Team lobbying firm and another $55,000 to the firm Floridian Partners LLC, according to the reports. Similarly, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. paid $50,000 to The Moya Group lobbying firm.