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Florida lobbying policies need additional review

At a time when many are struggling to hold down one job, some workers in Tallahassee have two.

At least 12 lobbyists also work as consultants for political committees and campaigns, according to the St. Petersburg Times, creating a strong conflict of interest that cannot be ignored.

Lobbying itself has historically been poisonous to the lawmaking process, as personal relationships between legislators and private interests are cultivated in exchange for campaign contributions. Now the same people who’ve worked for representatives’ campaigns are being recruited by businesses to ask those representatives for favors.

This allows special interests to rely on the rapport already built between lobbyists and lawmakers to influence votes, creating a political climate in which public interest takes a backseat to personal relationships.

Joe Perry, a consultant and lobbyist who’s been paid $209,000 since 2007 for fundraising and consulting, said lobbyists’ access to legislators may be seen as a “unique commodity” by special interests, according to the Miami Herald.

Todd Richardson, a political consultant for Rep. Ellyn Setnor Bogdanoff (R-Fort Lauderdale), was hired as a lobbyist by cigarette maker Altria this month. Bogdanoff happens to be the chair of the House Finance and Tax Council — and conveniently, Altria would like to stop proposed legislation to raise the cigarette tax.

According to the Herald, Richardson said, “What I’m doing is completely legal. Relationships are the name of the game. I have more relationships than with just (Bogdanoff). I have relationships with a lot of freshmen and with almost every member of the House.”

Attitudes like these are what have led the legislative process so far from its original intent. Richardson’s defense that the manipulation of legislators is legal says more about the faults of lobbying law than his ethics.

It is a shame if we must reform the law rather than relying on our public servants to avoid conflicts of interest. Perhaps voters will acknowledge the void of virtue in Florida’s legislature and elect representatives who are able to identify the ethical dilemma of taking advice from former consultants.

A higher standard of ethics must be required from all public servants.