Seeking to discover whether a powerful Tallahassee lobbyist routinely violated state law by failing to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments from the National Rifle Association, state Senator Perry Thurston (D-Ft. Lauderdale) and Representative Anna V. Eskamani (D-Orlando) on Thursday filed formal complaints with the state, Senate, and House oversight authorities requesting that they launch immediate investigations.
“Florida’s lobbying disclosure law was passed in 2005 to give citizens more insight into the forces driving the legislative process,” said Senator Thurston, who filed complaints with both the state Ethics Commission and the Florida Senate. “The National Rifle Association has had an outsized influence on the passage of pro-gun bills for more than two decades. Floridians have the right to know just how much money was driving that agenda, and why those payments were never disclosed.”
“House District 47 is home to Pulse nightclub,” said Representative Eskamani. “Our community deserves to know what influence the National Rifle Association has in our political process, and why the transparency lobbyists are required to follow appears to be missing.”
According to a recent news story floridabulldog.org/2019/05/nra-pays-lobbyist-marion-hammer-big-bucks-not-disclosed posted by FloridaBulldog.org, Marion Hammer, the NRA’s influential Florida lobbyist, has failed to file any compensation reports with state authorities disclosing payments she has received since at least 2007, despite Florida law requiring quarterly reporting requirements by contract lobbyists. Tax records and internal reports obtained by the news outlet, however, showed that the NRA has, in fact, paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to the lobbyist over the years for her legislative activities, including $270,000 she collected following the 2018 Parkland massacre when students and Democratic lawmakers were pushing for an assault weapons ban.
Earlier this year, Senator Thurston openly questioned whether the NRA may have, in part, been behind the push for highly unpopular legislation allowing teachers to carry guns in the classroom. “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,” said Senator Thurston. “The disclosure law was meant to counter that uncertainty by providing greater transparency into the ‘who’s benefiting’ question. But in the NRA’s case, there is no money trail to follow.”
Florida Statutes 112.3215 and 11.045 govern the requirements for non-employee lobbyists to register and disclose their total compensation for both the Executive and Legislative Branches, and provide penalties for violations. For lobbyists registered under the Executive Branch, the state Commission on Ethics retains jurisdiction.
In his complaint sent to the Commission on Ethics, Senator Thurston cited numerous instances of Ms. Hammer’s lobbying on gun-related issues such as concealed carry permits, as well as upcoming legislation with various officials with the Department of Agriculture under former Commissioner Adam Putnam. He noted that because she is not an in-house, salaried lobbyist for the NRA, she is a lobbying firm as defined under the law and state administrative code, and as such, obliged to submit a compensation report for each calendar she was registered as a lobbyist for the organization.
For the legislative branch, each chamber is responsible for developing rules for handling breaches of the statute.
Representative Eskamani filed the sworn complaint with the House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee, citing numerous instances of Ms. Hammer’s appearances before House committees attempting to influence pending legislation, including her own efforts to keep guns out of the hands of domestic violence perpetrators.
Representative Eskamani, whose district includes the site of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub tragedy, has been a firm advocate for gun safety legislation, co-sponsoring legislation to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and also fighting hard for Florida teachers to not be armed. All attempts at gun safety legislation were soundly defeated by the Republican majority.
“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,” added Representative Eskamani. “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.”
In the Senate’s case, the complaint is made with the Senate Rules Chair under Rule 9.6, and based on personal knowledge, among other requirements.
As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Thurston witnessed appearances by Ms. Hammer, including on November 6, 2017 when she was introduced by the chair as “on behalf of the National Rifle Association on the bill as amended.” No payments were reported by Ms. Hammer to state authorities for her work as a lobbyist on behalf of the NRA that year, yet $134,000 was shown as paid to Ms. Hammer by the NRA for “legislative lobbying in Florida” according to one of the NRA’s internal reports.
She also made committee appearances last year as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school safety bill was moving through the legislature. And she was active behind the scenes less than two weeks after the mass shooting rallying support against provisions in the bill with NRA news alerts such as “Help Stop Gratuitous Gun Control.”
“The failure to comply year after year with our law’s disclosure requirements calls into question what else might have been done to circumvent transparency in the legislative process,” said Senator Thurston. “The Parkland students, like most Floridians, didn’t have a high-powered lobbyist pushing their agenda. They couldn’t always know who was actively working to block them, and the price that was paid for that circumvention, without this law. They’ll never know unless it’s enforced.”