Fla. Legislature Earns C- for Transparency

Take a field trip to the Florida capitol, walk in the door and you'll be handed a brochure showing 'How an Idea Becomes a Law'.

There are more than 20 steps, but the one that may be most important of all isn't here - the input lawmakers get from lobbyists - the very men and women who contribute big money to help get those lawmakers elected.

A new report by the Center for Public Integrity is faulting Florida for doing a bad job of tracking that money.

"It's good to get some outside input on things we see every day up at the capitol."

Consumer advocate Brad Ashwell says he agrees with the report's main finding, and he points out the very nature of Florida's part-time legislature can make a well-connected lobbyist more powerful than many lawmakers.

"Lawmakers can't be experts on every issue," Ashwell said. "Their staffs can't either, and [lawmakers] have term limits. So, to a certain degree, it's a necessary evil, but there isn't much transparency over it, and a lot of times it's hard to tell where a bill is coming from."

Case-in-point - a bill we told you about last fall aimed at hiking interest rates on short-term loans. According to insiders, it turns out the bill was written by a lobbyist, a fact that doesn't have to be publicly disclosed, and many times we have no idea where lobbyist campaign contributions wind up - they get filtered through political parties and PACs.

The report's calling for more openness in those areas, but for Charlie Becker, a retiree who's lived in Washington, D.C., the problem here isn't all that big.

"They're normal people, and they try their best, the ones I've known, to do what's right for their companies, their organizations, and for the people of Florida," Becker said.

The report isn't all bad. It does give Florida a perfect grade on redistricting, the once-a-decade process wrapping up this month. GOP leaders call it the most transparent in Florida history.

While an overall C-minus may sound bad, Florida's tied with three other states for the nation's 18th-best transparent state government.

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