AT&T led pack in lobbying expenses

Despite a modest agenda, communications giant AT&T spent up to $1.1 million in the first quarter of 2010 on lobbyists, more than any other principal.

Compensation reports submitted to the Florida Legislature show the company again outdistancing any other and show a near tripling of lobby expenses reported for the quarter ending March 31.

State lawmakers involved in communications issues said there was no particularly big issue that would have sparked such an increase. Others said AT&T has always spent a lot on lobbying efforts regardless of whether there was a particular issue in play.

The most conservative estimates show AT&T spending $401,000 in the quarter, nearly three times larger than its 2009 low-end estimate of $150,000. On the high end, the company may have spent up to $1.1 million, up from $370,000 it reported for the same period last year.

Lobbying compensation reports allow principals to report spending in ranges, making an exact amount difficult to determine.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and member of the Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee, said the company had no major issues before the panel this session. Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, and member of the Government Operations Policy and Steering Committee, concurred.

AT&T was also one of the top spenders last year. Others in the list of top lobbying spenders in the first quarter of this year included other companies that routinely spend the most.

SUGAR INTERESTS

U.S. Sugar Corp spent up to $329,991 during the most recent quarter, more than double the $140,000 spent during the 2009. Competitor Florida Crystals spent up to $200,000 during the period as both parties wrangled over a proposed $536 million sale of U.S. Sugar land to the state. Florida Crystals opposes the 73,000-acre sale, which is now being challenged in the Florida Supreme Court.

Competing tobacco companies also spread money around, as companies tried to persuade or prevent lawmakers from including smaller cigarette makers into the group that pays the into a state tobacco lawsuit settlement. Currently several big tobacco companies pay, but some lawmakers have suggested small companies that didn’t settle with Florida a decade ago should also pay into the fund.

Dosal Tobacco Corp spent as much as $250,000 in the first quarter of the year. The Miami company is a small producer fighting being added to the settlement. Competitor Altria Client Services, the parent of Philip Morris, spent between $90,000 and $150,000 on lobbying — it wanted the smaller non-settling companies added — also making the top 20 for the quarter. Lawmakers ended up not adding the smaller firms to the settlement.

Healthcare companies also continued to spend. Facing tight budgets and possible changes to the state Medicaid delivery system, Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida spent up to $230,000 for the quarter, up $150,000 from a year earlier.

HCA Healthcare, followed closely behind, spending up to $210,000 in early 2010, up from $70,000 in 2009. The Florida Medical Association spent up to $100,000 for the period.

GAMING CONCERNS

Gaming companies also spent heavily as lawmakers weighed a compact with the Seminole Tribe and how to protect existing gaming interests.

Greyhound dog track owner Hartman & Tyner shelled out $170,000 on lobbying during the period. The Seminole Tribe of Florida spent up to $120,000. The compact eventually was OK’d.

BY MICHAEL PELTIER
25 Mai, 2010

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