State Rep. Anna Eskamani and state Sen. Perry Thurston filed formal complaints with the state Senate and House oversight last week seeking an investigation into National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer. Eskamani and Thurston claim that Hammer broke state law by failing to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in payment for her services.
Under Florida law, lobbying firms and contractors are required to file reports that detail compensation received for their lobbying work. The complaints stem from reporting by a watchdog website, the Florida Bulldog, which found that Hammer has not filed a compensation report since at least 2007. Hammer is a former NRA president who's credited with influencing many of the state's gun laws, including the controversial 2005 Stand Your Ground law.
As the nation observed the loss of 17 lives in the weeks following the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Hammer, according to the complaints, got paid. She reportedly received $270,000 from the NRA last year for "consulting services and legislative lobbying in Florida." In 2017, she reportedly was paid an additional $134,000 "for legislative lobbyist services in Florida." Yet neither of those payments, described in internal documents obtained by the Bulldog, was disclosed in quarterly lobbyist compensation reports as required by the state Legislature.
The Bulldog found that Hammer also reportedly received $147,000 in 2014, $172,000 in 2015 and $206,000 in 2016 – a total of $929,000, none of which was ever reported according to state regulations, according to the report.
"It speaks to a lack of oversight where one of the largest organizations in the country, much less the state of Florida, is not being audited to the point where we don't know how much money is actually being involved in the legislative process," Eskamani, who filed her sworn complaint with the House Public Integrity and Ethics committee, told Orlando Weekly.
In a press release announcing the ethics complaint, Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, said the failure to comply year after year with the state's disclosure laws "calls into question what else might have been done to circumvent transparency in the legislative process."
In his complaint, filed with the Florida Senate and the state ethics commission, Thurston noted Hammer's influence in lobbying pro-gun reform legislation such as concealed-carry permits. He also pointed to state law mandating that since Hammer is not an in-house, salaried lobbyist for the NRA, she is required to submit a compensation report for each calendar year she was registered as a lobbyist for the organization.
Hammer is listed in the IRS filings as a registered lobbyist for the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, where she also serves as executive director, and the NRA, where she serves as a board member and consultant. Consultants are not employees, per Florida law.
However, Hammer is a contract lobbyist who's paid fees for her services, and state law requires her to register and disclose. So far, it seems, she's failed to do so.
The NRA did not return Orlando Weekly's request for comment.
Last September the Tampa Bay Times published hundreds of Hammer's emails to and from members of the state's Department of Agriculture. From 2014 to 2017, the emails show, Hammer involved herself at nearly every step of the legislative process, and received prompt responses to her questions and instructions – often within minutes.
In 2013, the state settled a whistle-blower lawsuit filed by a Department of Agriculture employee who claimed that when she questioned handling of gun permit applications, she was told she "worked for the NRA." That was during the tenure of former Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who famously called himself a "proud NRA sellout."
Just after she was elected to the post, new Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried sent out a letter saying her administration would "not be run by unelected special interests," a thinly veiled reference to the NRA lobby. Hammer hammered back with a statement calling Fried an "anti-gun extremist who will eliminate our freedoms."
Eskamani says she suspects the lack of regulation of Hammer's activities is grounded in fear of retribution against those who speak out against the powerful lobbyist and/or the NRA. In regards to this lack of oversight, Eskamani says, "I can't think of a moment where we've held Marion Hammer accountable."