By Jacob Engels
Some of the most disgusting, “you-watch-my-back, I-watch-yours” political activity imaginable was on full display at yesterday’s legislative auditing committee. The guys I served with in the Florida Federation of Teen Age Republicans are now eight years later- working in Tallahassee as lobbyists.They are my sources. What’s going on is incredible.
The State legislative leaders have called for formal state audits for Lobbying firms working in Tallahassee largely because one company – the Southern Strategy Group many have jiggered their reports to pump up the value of an internal company “stock”.
Read about it here: Hays and Ring Sleazathon
State senators of different parties, Alan Hays, R-Umatilla and Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, suggested repealing the eight year old law requiring lobbyists to register an disclose how much they are paid in an effort to protect a powerful lobbying firm and to continue the practice of potentially fraudulent stock ownership.
Just weeks ago, we caught Southern Strategy Group’s hand in the cookie jar when they very obviously over-reported how much they earned as a lobbying firm for the last quarter.
Speculation runs rampant that they used accounting tricks, included local government lobbying and exaggerated their way in to reclaim the top rank, even while everybody in the know acknowledges they were slipping as a firm. Many believe that they do so to preserve their unique “stock ownership” scheme, which many insiders believe is nothing more than a ponzi scheme for the firm’s founders to cash in on neophyte, ambitious junior lobbyists.
The Orlando Sentinel’s Aaron Deslatte did a good job of explaining the auditing dilemma in this article: Aaron Deslatte’s Column
Evidence was out there that Southern knew they were caught. Everything you need to know is in this sentence: “Gaetz said Monday that Bradshaw had asked his office for a meeting to discuss the audit requirements following last month’s reports.”
So one of the most powerful lobbyists in Florida exaggerates its income to support the internal ponzi scheme of stock ownership and the press catches on. Then, the head of the firm reaches out to determine “audit requirements” following last month’s reports. Does that sound like an innocent man to you? Does a man who has nothing to hide worry about audit requirements?
So SSG Boss Paul Bradshaw, who stands to potentially lose millions if the stock ownership scheme at Southern Strategy Group falters, resorts to the old standby… changing the law.
Fast-forward to yesterday’s meeting. Hays and Ring, who’s campaign reports and political committees are littered with campaign contributions from Southern Strategy Group clients, now decide that the juice isn’t worth the squeeze after all.
In so doing, they hid behind some absolutely absurd numbers and made some shocking statements. Estimating that the random audit of two-dozen lobbyists would cost the taxpayers about $1 million, they set the stage for this disgusting activity.
One million dollars? Puhlease… There would be no random auditing of two-dozen firms. And it wouldn’t cost $45,000 to audit a small firm OR a large firm. There would likely be a process wherein legislative staff – the same staff that basically takes off from June to December – eyeball reports, and if anything comes up, they refer it to a more comprehensive evaluation. The experts we discussed this with agree that comprehensive evaluation could be done with a small fraction of these resources.
But the legislative cattle jumped on this. Instead of questioning these absurd numbers, the moderate businessman democrat Ring offered: “I just don’t think the Legislature should be auditing a private business.”
Um, what? Does Senator Ring not consider insurance companies, utilities, banks, parimutuels and other regulated industries private businesses? The man has served for years, and to my knowledge has never sought to repeal the oversight of government into those “private businesses.” Senator Ring, please be sure to tell your constituents and fellow progressives about your newfound revelation.
Senator Hays likened lobbyists to chicken farmers. Otto von Bismarck once said, “laws are like sausages, it is better not see them being made.” Or maybe chickens, Senator Hays?
Senator Hays didn’t seem to have a problem with the system when he voted for the bill back in 2005. And I’m certain that he and all other elected officials would love to stop talking about the money in politics… the $120.4 million spent lobbying and the hundreds of millions in donations that will be spent this election cycle to elect the senators and their cronies. But transparency matters, or so Hays voted back in the day, until his buddy Bradshaw was about to see his company crumble.
No lobby filings? No disclosure at all? How does that benefit the public ? So there you have it… busted red handed, they deploy the nefarious playbook:
Step 1 – Create Bogus Numbers
Step 2- Get Busted Red Handed
Step 2 – Call in Sleazy Special Interest Favors to Change and Repeal Law
Step 3 – Sell More Stock!
You almost wonder if Senators Hays and Ring are getting stock options. Is it any wonder that our confidence in politicians is at an all time low?
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post. Along with the Post, he owns several other businesses and is currently enrolled at Valencia College. Jacob has lived in Avalon Park since it’s founding and enjoys playing with his black Labradoodle Jasper, listening to indie rock, and seeking out new business ventures. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org