Fields: Lobbying By Elected Officials Should Be A Crime

Guest Columnist

If House Speaker Ray Sansom, R-Destin, is guilty of misuse of his office,  it is sad for him and his family.

If he is Not Guilty, it is a disaster for Florida.

There is little dispute about the facts.

In 2008, at the same time he took a $110,000 part time job with Northwest Florida State College, he steered $35 million scarce tax dollars to the school.

A chunk of the money was to build the school an airplane hanger that had more value for a builder friend than it did for the school.

If he was on the payroll of a private company the law would be clear: The Speaker is Guilty, Guilty, Guilty.

But since the school is a public entity it is not so clear. And that is the nub of the problem.

We lack a legal bright line separating the activities of government officials (elected and employed) and their personal business. Every day private companies, as well as government agencies, hire government officials to represent them before other branches of government.

It is wrong, wrong, wrong.

After talking to friends around the country, I don’t believe it is allowed in most other states. If any readers know otherwise, I would be glad to hear from you.

To borrow the title of a 1950’s newspaper cartoon, “There Oughta Be a Law. And here is what it should say:

  1. If you draw a paycheck from a government agency, you cannot hold elective office anywhere. You want to be a teacher or a school principal that’s fine. You just can’t be on the School Board, in the Legislature or hold elective office with any governmental subdivision.
  2. If you draw a public paycheck you cannot lobby for anyone other than the agency that gives you that paycheck.

It is perfectly okay for a city commissioner to go to Tallahassee to fight for funds for the city. But they should not be allowed to make a dime to lobby the Legislature, the Public Service Commission or the Dogcatcher, even if it is on behalf of crippled orphans.

You want to make public service a financial springboard that’s fine. But you should be required to wait for at least two years after you have left public service.

Right now this politically incestuous behavior is unseemly. It should be a crime.


11 Responses to “Fields: Lobbying By Elected Officials Should Be A Crime”

  1. buddy nevins says:

    Sam is right about this. Yet he is too polite to mention that this is particularly a problem in Broward, where at least two members of the county commission have lobbied other governments for private clients. They are Ilene Lieberman and Josephus Eggelletion. I believe, as Sam does, that the practice should be outlawed.

  2. Buddy Breaks Major Story on Fort Lauderdale Race says:

    Sam – good article, and sorry to hijack your thread, but I wanted to give major props to Buddy for being the first newsman to break the MAJOR STORY about the Fort Lauderdale mayor’s race and Earl Rynerson’s legal/website issues.

    It’s now NATIONAL NEWS on the front page of

    Big Article about Earl Rynerson on the front page and a detailed story inside.

    So congrats to you Buddy. While Fox gives credit to the Sun Sentinel for “outing” this story, your readers know it was you that had the story on this guy weeks before the Sentinel did its first report.


  3. There's more says:

    Not just Joe and Ilene. The list of “guilty” would also include in recent years Keith Wasserstrom, Steve Geller, Joe Gibbons, John Rayson, and a few others.

  4. Lobbyists Must Go says:

    Ilene Lieberman’s best friend is Stacy Ritter, who is married to a lobbyist and who voted for her husband’s clients. None of them could get real work if they tried and they can only peddle their influence. Write about that, Sam Fields. Oh, you won’t because then you would have to include your best friend, Scott Cowan, another (former jailed) county commissioner who is a lobbyist. Tell the WHOLE story, Sam Fields.

  5. Richard J Kaplan says:

    With some objection, I was able to pass legislation in Lauderhill prohibiting elected officials who represent Lauderhill from higher governments that decide Lauderhill issues from being able to represent private clients in front of the Commission. This applies to Congressmen, County Commissioners and State Legislators. When it happened it before it put an enormous pressure on us to satisfy someone in a position that can make a decision that impact us in the future. We didn’t want to upset them, for which they could hold a grudge. This does not prohibit them from representing the body they are elected to, just representating anyone else.

  6. Agreed But says:

    I agree with 99% of the plan. But I would exclude the crippled orphans part. An elected official has a traditional and moral duty to use their “celebrity” and “office” to help focus attention and support for charitable causes. As such, it should be clearly ethical for them to advocate for those kinds of activities and causes so long as they do not profit. If they are invited to a function that’s charitable, to help raise awareness thereby, that should not be an ethical problem for them. If they are asked to help raise funds, so long as it is done without them profiting directly from the activity, I also don’t see a problem there. Charity work should be excluded from ethics violations.

    As to legal representation, somebody’s got to do a better job at defining what is “lobbying” versus what is “legal representation.” Lawyer/lobbyists get away with this distiction all the time — I’m not lobbying, I’m representing my client. Under the current rules, they slide by. Also understand that these rules may result in our losing from public life some of the most talented people that serve us now, the lawyers. You can say what you want but that’s true. Without the lawyers in public office, you’d have lousy laws written. So a balance has to be drawn between what they can’t do in ways that allow them ample opportunity to serve while also making a living. Not so black and white on this issue, it requires thought in order to craft workable restrictions.

    The County’s residents just ordered the creation of an Ethics Commission at the last election. The County is putting that together now. People that care about this should not write blogs — but write letters to the new Commission and testify once it starts meeting to get ethics right in our county.

  7. Sam Fields says:

    If you go back and see what I wrote it was prohibiting getting “PAID” to represent “crippled orphans”.

    Want to do a freebie for the infirmed and the downtrodden–mazel tov, great.

    As for the lawyer/lobbyist issue I note there are over 87,000 members of the Florida Bar with more joinng everyday.(groan!)

    Those excluded would be the the 2-3% government lawyers few of whom are also lobbyists. That group is less than 1%. My best guess is that it is under 500 lawyers.

    I am reasonably certain that the nation would survive.

  8. Sam Fields says:

    By the way Richard Kaplan is thefirst public official to mention the “grudge issue.

    Privately I have had other public officals express the same thoughts.

  9. But Sam says:

    If what you’re saying is that none of those 500 lawyer/lobbiests should be elected officials, I can live with that — because their involvement in government affairs is a constant part of what they do for a living. As such, it is too close for comfort. That’s because as a hired advocate, they are paid to represent a view that can reasonably be expected to differ from the one an elected official might otherwise hold. I have to work hard to get to that exclusion, but I can get there with you on public policy grounds.

    But if you’re also saying is that nobody in the charitable community can be an elected official, because government may help to fund their charity, then I can’t live with that. They may have individual conflicts for which recusal is the answer, but an out and out bar against them being elected officials would be too sweeping a remedy. Similarly, if you’re saying that an engineer can’t be an elected official because the firm he works for has at times been hired to work on projects that use engineering firms, I can’t live with that either. He has to recuse himself from anything involving his firm, but barring him altogether is not appropriate.

    This requires thought.

  10. Izak says:

    The man of virtue makes the difficulty to be overcome his first business, and success only a subsequent consideration.

  11. Darlene says:

    i agree that elected officials should not also be lobbyist or have contracts with lobbying firms.
    Check our goodfriend REp Gibbons- making big bucs workign for a Tallahassee lobbying firm while he is supposed to be representing us.
    and look at his financail disclosure on this page- just click on the pdf of the financial disclosure document and you will see how much that Tallahassee lobbying firm paid him last yr- he has been under contract since he was elected to the FL House.