State representative Richard Corcoran, who was recently designated as Florida House speaker, made news with an aggressive slate of ethics reforms. He told Politico late last year, “We need to restore the distance between those who seek to influence the laws and those of us who make the laws.”
However, Speaker Corcoran’s approach to creating “distance” is being challenged by an arrangement recently made public between several prominent lobbyists and a newly elected House member.
On January 9th, 2017 the Tallahassee Democrat reported that Ramon Alexander, a freshman state representative elected this past November, was hired as President and CEO of the Big Bend Minority Chamber of Commerce (BBMCC) with an annual salary of $50,000.
However, the Tallahassee Democrat article did not address the connections between the BBMCC Board, Mr. Alexander and the Florida Legislature. The Tallahassee Democrat is listed on the BBMCC website as a corporate sponsor.
Tallahassee Reports has verified, through the state maintained 2016 lobbyist database, that the BBMCC Board of Directors is composed of five members that were registered to lobby the Florida House of Representatives.
The five lobbyists are Sean Pittman (32 clients), Lila Jaber (10 clients), Chuck Cliburn (8 clients), Bryan Anderson (employed by and lobbyist for HCA Health Care) and John Thomas (employed by and lobbyist for Florida League of Cities).
The BBMCC also lists specific state legislative priorities on their website. These priorities include tax reform, employment discrimination and an increase in the minimum wage.
In addition, Tallahassee Reports also verified that Ramon Alexander’s campaign for the House office he now occupies paid ESP Media, a company owned by lobbyist Sean Pittman, approximately $150,000 for services. Pittman was also listed as a donor to Alexander’s campaign.
Speaker Corcoran’s ethics reforms included a prohibition on lobbyists sending text messages to members while the House is in session or when the member is in a committee meeting.
The reforms also banned members from flying in private planes owned by lobbyists or businesses who lobby the Legislature, even if they pay for the costs of the flight.
Under Speaker Corcoran, will it be acceptable for lobbyists to create arrangements like the one established between the BBMCC and state representative Alexander?
House rules currently address conflicts and employment of House members.
The rules state in part that “A member shall not allow personal employment to impair the member’s independence of judgment in the exercise of official duties and not directly or indirectly receive or agree to receive any compensation for any services rendered or to be rendered either by the member or any other person when such activity is in substantial conflict with the duties of a member of the House.”
Tallahassee Reports is seeking comment from Speaker Corcoran about how these rules impact the arrangement between BBMCC and Mr. Alexander.