TALLAHASSEE -- Florida's 2,000-plus lobbyists will have another year to get their paperwork in order before the state Legislature launches long-delayed audits of their lucrative pay days.
A Joint Legislative Auditing Committee on Monday approved draft guidelines for the audits that allow for lobbying firms to keep some documentation confidential, but also will allow lawmakers critical of the auditing mandate to repeal it next session.
After media attention to lobbyists' paydays, Florida legislative leaders in September agreed to kick-start legally required audits of lobbyists paid to bend the ears of lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott's office.
The never-enforced mandate to audit lobbyists could cost more than $1 million, and has fueling calls to repeal parts of the 2005 ethics reform intended to crack down on the chummy nexus of politicians and wealthy interests.
State lobbyists in Florida have to report estimates of what they're paid by each of their clients -- a figure that can exceed $10 million annually for some of the biggest shops in Tallahassee.
But contrary to the 2005 law, lobbyists have never had to open their books before to prove they were reporting accurately.
Because the committee is making changes to the guidelines, its recommendation is for the audits to only start looking into reports filed by lobbyists in 2014 and forward.
The auditing firms actually wouldn't begin randomly selecting firms until 2015.
"No audits will be conducted in 2014," said committee chairman Joe Abruzzo, D-Boynton Beach. "This decision will allow the lobbyists a year" to prepare.
But they might never happen.
"For now, we have to comply with the current law," Abruzzo said.
Corporations, local governments, trade associations and other advocacy groups spent a reported $120.4 million to lobby lawmakers and state agencies in the first half of this year, according to an Orlando Sentinel analysis of the reports the firms filed.
But many lobbyists have quietly grumbled that rival firms have been inflating their numbers -- by, for instance, double-reporting the same amounts on both their legislative and executive reports.