Sway of NRA lobbyist in Florida Legislature draws attention

March 01, 2018
  • By Dara Kam
  • Jim Turner
  • News Service of Florida
NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer

Legislative leaders maintain there isn’t anything there, a nothing burger in current parlance, when asked about a story in The New Yorker describing National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer’s influence throughout the Capitol, particularly her sway in helping write and dictate language in bills.

But the story has Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, prepared to undertake a one-man investigation, if necessary, to determine how much Hammer’s influence reaches into the staff ranks.

»RELATED: The latest in Florida political news

“I’m deeply troubled by what is included in this article in terms of the relationship of Ms. Hammer with legislative staff,” Richardson said during a House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee meeting Monday. “There are comments concerning her introduction of language directly with staff, outside of member participation, and I think this is something that needs to be investigated.”

In the lengthy article in the latest issue of the magazine, author Mike Spies wrote, “Hammer is not an elected official, but she can create policy, see it through to passage, and use government resources to achieve her aims. These days, Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature almost never allows any bill that appears to hinder gun owners to come up for a vote.”

» RELATED: Post coverage of the Broward County shooting

Richardson, a certified public accountant, said he would undertake his own investigation if he is unable to get the House committee to look into the report, similar to how the committee has started to review circumstances surrounding the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County.

“If that means that I have to issue public records requests to get to this data, then I intend to do so,” Richardson said.

The House hasn’t responded to questions about whether it would go along with Richardson’s request. But Fred Piccolo, spokesman for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said Hammer “doesn’t write bills or dictate language any more than the Teachers Union does for Dems.”

Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said that while senators and professional staff get input from a variety of sources, they are the only ones with the authority to file bills and amendments that carry the names of elected officials.

“Senators make the final decisions with regard to all bills and amendments filed under their names,” Betta said.

Hammer responded to the allegations of her having free rein over legislation as, “Not only is that nonsense, it is a deliberate distortion.”

“Lobbyists provide legislative language to legislators all the time, it’s part of the service we provide,” Hammer said in an email. “Sometimes staff members forget they are not legislators and take great liberties without authorization, so if lobbyists are asked to straighten out language that a staffer has messed up, we do what the legislator asks us to do.”

Lobbyist Book helps Douglas High students

Veteran lobbyist Ron Book and his daughter, state Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, have played a major role in helping Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, parents and teachers navigate the legislative process.

They’ve helped organize bus trips to Tallahassee, set up meetings with legislators and assisted the shooting survivors and supporters in spreading their message in the Capitol.

Many of the survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting, especially the students, have demanded a ban on semi-automatic weapons, like the one Nikolas Cruz used to murder 17 teens and teachers. That’s not in the bills headed to the House and Senate floor Friday.

Ron Book is among those who praise the lawmakers’ efforts, pointing out that it’s a first for the Republican-dominated Legislature to consider any gun restrictions, such as the three-day waiting period for the purchase of rifles included in the proposals.

More than three decades ago, Book was on the other side of the “cooling-off” issue when he represented a large gun manufacturer fighting local waiting-period ordinances in Broward County.

Book said it’s a client he regrets.

“If I could do it all over again, I would have never represented a gun manufacturer. I simply took the wrong side of the issue early in my career in an effort to create, if you will, an identity,” Book said. “I believe especially when you’re dealing with not just crimes of passion but instability, the cooling off period matters. It’s a big deal.”

AND WHO ARE YOU, MR. SPEAKER?

Corcoran, through his political committee and bully pulpit, has been spreading word of conservative legislation he and the House have pushed under his watch.

The Land O’ Lakes Republican is widely expected to announce a run for governor sometime after the legislative session ends next week. But as with gubernatorial candidates already in the race, polls have shown that Corcoran may be not be that well known outside the Capitol.

The limited name recognition was fully on display Tuesday when he was a guest on Laura Ingraham’s nationally syndicated talk-radio show.

Ingraham introduced Corcoran and continually referred to him as Rep. Corcoran. And as time wrapped up on their nearly nine-minute interview, Ingraham asked if he was among those signing a letter asking Gov. Rick Scott to remove Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel for the handling of the shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“Yes, I’m the speaker of the House,” Corcoran replied, noting the letter he crafted. “So, I was the one who signed it along with 73 of my colleagues.”

Ingraham, after saying she should have known Corcoran’s position, recounted that she had spent an entire segment Monday on Israel on her Fox News show, “The Ingraham Angle.”