Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spat with Sen. Mike Bennett of Bradenton shows how not to lobby lawmakers

The Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau's Marc Caputo reports on how a lobbyist's disagreement with Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, illustrates how not to lobby for your cause at the Florida Legislature:
There's no official book on how to lobby, but most paid advocates know instinctively that you don't want to suggest in writing that you'll exact political retribution on a state Senator.
Fred Dudley didn't get the memo.
But Sen. Mike Bennett got a hold of an email from Dudley in which the Senator-turned-lobbyist suggested he couldn't wait until the Bradenton Republican ran for Congress. And now Dudley says he feels sorry.
It all started last week when Bennett, in the April 5 Health Regulation Committee, blasted the Florida Medical Association for being "greedy" in protecting its turf. The gaggle of FMA lobbyists and doctors were none too pleased. They began emailing each other, providing a glimpse of how one of the most powerful Capitol special interests shapes its hardball tactics.
Dr. David McKalip (made somewhat infamous by his Obama witchdoctor pic emailing) suggested treading carefully. "However if it spins out of control," McKalip wrote at 8:29 am, "we could ask this question:
"Senator Bennett achieves great financial benefit from special interest groups and collects their donations regularly. He should know that patients value doctors who are there for them far more than politicians who take check after check from special interests." (True, it's not a question and the FMA is one of the most powerful special interests, but whatever).
Rafael Miguel responded with a lighter suggestion, pointing out the policy benefits of ensuring that doctors in Florida continue to write prescriptions instead of "lesser educated and trained individuals" (e.g., nurses, optometrists).
Then the conversation turned to the next election.
"Miguel good answer, we should use that, then we should make sure he does not get re-elected!" someone named wrote, referring to Bennett 
Steve West pointed out a problem with that idea: "I think this is his last term. May however run for Congress depending on redistricting."
That's when Dudley chimed in: "Steve: Hi; you are exactly correct, so let's hope the 2012 elections get here quickly and he runs for Congress."
The email chain was then forwarded to Bennett by a source who wrote "Ur gonna love this one."
Bennett hit the roof. He could believe that his comments would provoke the FMA. But why would a pro like Dudley be so sloppy?
"A former Senator wants to target a sitting Senator over some comments and he puts it in writing? It's so unbelievably stupid," Bennett said.
What's more: Dudley is a lobbyist for Verizon, which was keenly interested in SB960, which concerns petroleum storage requirements for powering remote cell phone towers. Bennett is the sponsor.
When the matter was brought to Dudley's attention, he initially played dumb but then realized the emails had leaked out.
"I certainly intend to apologize to Senator Bennett for my unfortunate comment that was made in the heat of his battle with FMA. I'm the reason he ran for the legislature, and I'm proud to consider him one of the most effective members and a friend," Dudley said in an email yesterday.
All of it might not mean much. Bennett's bill to allow optometrists to take over some ophthalmologist practices was killed Tuesday in Health Regulation (paging Dr. Mendelsohn....) And the FMA's newest medical malpractice bill looks like it's on cruise control.

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