Four former top state utility regulators now work for Florida Power & Light as lobbyists.
Three are former Public Service Commissioners, once holding the power to approve or deny FPL fees. One is a former commissioner's top aide.
In addition, at least seven other government officials have been hired by the power company, some as lobbyists.
All are part of what one consumer advocate calls the revolving door from government to the utility's payroll.
By hiring former regulators, FPL taps their expertise, a utility spokesman said.
"Former public officials bring a broader perspective about the impact of policy decisions," said Mark Bubriski, the spokesman.
Critics say the power company buys insight into the state's oversight strategy and access to the former regulators' colleagues.
The Public Service Commission has come under fire for its ties to FPL in the past few months as the agency weighs the company's largest rate hike request. Two agency employees stepped down from their jobs and two others were put on administrative leave for having private conversations with utility employees. One commissioner's re-appointment is in question after she admitted attending a dinner with a group that included an FPL executive. The state's law enforcement agency is investigating the commission.
Since the revelations, commissioners have taken steps to limit private interactions with employees of the companies they regulate. But none of those steps close the door on the utility's practice of hiring former regulators and government officials with political connections.
Among the most powerful state regulators to go to work for FPL:
Susan Clark, public service commissioner from 1991 to 2000, is a lobbyist for FPL on the pending rate hike.
Terry Deason, public service commissioner from 1991 to 2006, also is lobbying for the increase. Deason's term overlapped with current commissioners Katrina McMurrian, Lisa Edgar and Matthew Carter.
Mike Wilson, public service commissioner from 1985 to 1991, is the vice president for federal governmental affairs for FPL Group, the utility's parent company.
Jorge Chamizo, who was the chief adviser for the commission's chairman as recently as 2004, is a registered state lobbyist for the utility.
State law bars commissioners from working for utilities within two years of leaving the job, in part out of concern that the prospect of future employment with utilities could influence regulators' decisions.
But there are gray areas. For instance, Deason joined Clark's law firm as a consultant within months after leaving the commission. He wasn't a registered with the state as an FPL lobbyist then, but Clark was.
Bill Newton, executive director for the Florida Consumer Action Network, criticized the move as "a ruse to get around the rule." Deason could not be reached for comment, despite e-mail and phone messages asking for comment.
The only rule governing former PSC employees such as Chamizo bars them from representing utilities on a pending matter that they were involved in before they left the agency.
Newton called the move from government to utility payroll, "a good career path."
"You work in a regulatory environment, learn the ropes, get some state training. Then you go over and work for the utility and get more money," he said. " 'They do it all the time' is not a good excuse."
Brad Ashwell, a consumer advocate for the Florida Public Interest Research Group, said the relationships former regulators and state employees have with current regulators give utilities special access that everyday consumers don't have.
"It's really an unlevel playing field for consumers," Ashwell said.
FPL's Bubriski said the utility "under no circumstances" wants to exert undue influence.
"Florida administrative law is a very narrow specialized area, so it's just common sense that utilities and [consumer advocates] would seek to hire from the small pool of experts," he said.
Chamizo, a former PSC staffer who now lobbies for FPL, agreed: "The advantage is having an understanding and background on the issues."
Commissioner Edgar said attorneys like herself don't find the change in roles awkward.
"Attorneys will work together on a case one day and advocate vigorously against one another the next." she said. "As a professional and attorney, it's not the person making the case. It's the argument and evidence."
Carter, commission chairman, said his previous job on the staff of the state House of Representative prepared him to work with lobbyists.
"A number of lobbyists were former legislators. Just like that didn't impact me in my job there, it doesn't impact me here," he said.
Some former commissioners and PSC employees are less directly tied to FPL. They work for firms that the power company has hired.
Lila Jaber was a public service commissioner from 2000 to 2004.
Beth Keating was a commission attorney until 2005.
Mike Cooke was PSC general counsel until last year. He said he doesn't work on FPL cases. Jaber declined to comment, and Keating could not be reached for comment despite a request by e-mail.
Consumer advocate Newton said concerns about utilities hiring regulators could be addressed by extending the two-year ban to five years. Or commission officials could be barred from working for law firms hired by FPL.
"I'm not sure what we can do," Newton said. "But it needs to be cleaned up."
Staff writer Julie Patel can be reached at 954-356-4667 or email@example.com.