By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
The Florida Commission on Ethics has found “no probable cause” to believe that National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer didn’t adhere to state lobbyist registration requirements, and it also dismissed a second allegation that she failed to properly file lobbyist compensation reports.
“The public interest would not be served by our proceeding further,” says the nine-member commission’s two-page report, made public Wednesday afternoon.
The decision marks the second time Hammer has been cleared of wrongdoing despite, as Florida Bulldog first reported in May 2019, she failed to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to her from the NRA dating to at least 2007 on quarterly lobbyist compensation reports required by the Legislature.
Those payments to Hammer included $270,000 in 2018; $134,000 in 2017; $206,000 in 2016; $172,000 in 2015, and $147,000 in 2014, according to NRA tax returns and NRA internal reports obtained by Florida Bulldog.
Last year, the Senate, ignoring its own rules for how to conduct an investigation, handed the matter over for “review” to a lawyer in the Office of Legislative Services, an entity under the control of Senate President Bill Galvano. Galvano, R-Bradenton, declared the case closed on Aug. 23 after OLS General Counsel Audrey Moore decided that Hammer was not an NRA contract lobbyist but rather an in-house lobbyist for Unified Sportsmen, a nonprofit NRA affiliate run by Hammer. To reach that opinion, Moore concluded that reports by the NRA secretary that said Hammer was paid for “legislative lobbying in Florida” were “incorrect” and that the NRA’s payments to Hammer were for “consulting services.”
Instead of being assessed a $50-a-day state penalty per report for each late day to a maximum of $5,000 per late report, Hammer was instructed to amend her lobbyist registration for the years 2016-2019 to show that Unified Sportsmen was in fact a lobbying firm, and to file quarterly compensation reports on its behalf detailing compensation Unified Sportsmen received from the NRA to lobby on its behalf. No fines were assessed. Hammer filed the required new paperwork.
Hammer is Unified Sportsmen’s $110,000-a-year executive director.
The ethics complaint against Hammer was filed by Fort Lauderdale Democrat State Sen. Perry Thurston. He did not respond to a request for comment.
While Senate Republicans seemingly had no desire to tangle with Hammer, whose political influence in Tallahassee is near legendary, Democrats also seem wary of her.
For example, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the state’s leading Democrat, has done nothing to enforce state law that requires nonprofits like Unified Sportsmen register, disclose certain information and pay fees to her department in order to be eligible to solicit contributions from the public.
Fried appears simply to have accepted as legitimate a February 2018 decision by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services that Unified Sportsmen is exempt from the registration requirements of the Solicitation of Contributions Act because it only solicits contributions from its own membership. That’s despite the fact that its request for “contributions” and dues can be found on the worldwide web.
The decision was formulated during the administration of Fried’s predecessor, Republican Agriculture Commissioner and self-proclaimed “proud NRA sell-out” Adam Putnam.