The job of lobbyists is to improve the image of their clients. But lobbyists themselves could use some PR.
Carl Adams, who was a Tallahassee lobbyist for 35 years and founded the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists, thinks that the system - campaign finance laws and the prohibition on private deliberation - is flawed, not the people.
We asked Adams why his profession is so maligned.
“Well, I think – eh- much like lawyers, doctors and everything else, there are those who kind of sour the barrel.” Adams replies, “We don’t have a major collective lobbyist groups that set out to do something unethical.”
Now retired, Adams says that state lawmakers should focus on restoring people’s trust in government through ethics reform.
Part of that distrust stems from the ability of a lobbyist to give a candidate unlimited sums of money through Committees of Continuous Existence or CCEs.
“There’s nothing illegal about giving $50,000 to a campaign under the present law, which is totally wrong,” Adams explains. These large donations make the general public believe that a candidate has been “bought and paid for.”
Some elected officials have used those CCEs as personal slush funds. A Senate bill would limit the expenditures of CCEs but does not cap donations to them, whereas a House bill would eliminate the CCEs.
“The process has set us up to expect large amounts of money to be used in a campaign,” Adams adds.
But Adams says that the view that lobbyists or private deals generally somehow subvert the political process is unfair.
“A lot of people have a misconception that because people go into a room and close the door that something going on is illegal, and that’s not necessarily true.” Adams explains that compromise has become more difficult because of the ban on such closed-door conversations, through the Sunshine law.
“Part of the problem we’re having today is the inability for two legislators or parties in interest to talk in terms of – ‘Here’s what’s important to my constituents’ and ‘Here’s what’s important to my constituents. Can we work something out so that your constituents get something and mine to do too?’ What’s wrong with that?”
Want to clean up corruption in Tallahassee? Join us on Monday, February 25 for a Town Hall with state legislative leaders at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Reserve your free seat now.