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Is government lobbying government a necessity or a waste of tax dollars?

@stevebousquet and @MichaelAuslen

Three decades ago, lobbyist Ron Book persuaded a public hospital to pay him to protect its interests in a faraway Capitol, just as private businesses do.

Book still represents the South Broward Hospital District, and he earns more than $1 million a year lobbying for nearly three dozen local governments, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Pinellas counties — all paid by local taxpayers in Florida.

"It's just a necessity to make sure that taxpayers are properly represented," Book says. "We're smart enough to understand the system."

Cities, counties, colleges, school districts, sheriffs, airports and seaports all pay lobbyists to help them fight for state money, protect home rule powers and fend off political interference in Tallahassee.

But what local officials call a necessity, the new House speaker, Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, calls wasteful. He says taxpayers should not have to pay so that one group of politicians can talk to another, using well-connected lobbyists as intermediaries.

"It's a disgrace that taxpayer dollars are used to hire lobbyists when we elect people to represent them," Corcoran says. "The state doesn't do it, and neither should the locals."

He says private companies can hire all the lobbyists they want with private money but government, paid for with taxes, is different.

Government spending on lobbying is far exceeded by what private industries spend.

In addition to his public clients, Book last year earned another $4.5 million, or nearly three times as much, from a long roster of clients that includes AT&T, AutoNation, Florida Power & Light and the NBA's Miami Heat.

That total is a low estimate, and is based on lobbyists' fee disclosure reports filed with the state in which income is listed in wide ranges.

But lobbying paid for by taxpayers is an easy target for Corcoran, a conservative firebrand who two years ago launched a populist crusade against "Gucci-loafing, shoe-wearing special interests" in a pitched debate over health care expansion.

Corcoran tried in November to outlaw taxpayer-funded lobbying as part of his broader strategy against business as usual in the Capitol.

Read the full story here.

Photo: Lobbyist Ron Book checks his phone in the state Capitol as Joe Negron, R-Stuart, now the Senate president, discusses a bill. (Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times)