February 23, 2024

Lobbying Restrictions Get Go-Ahead

TALLAHASSEE — A federal appeals court Thursday allowed Florida to enforce — with one exception — a 2018 constitutional amendment imposing restrictions on lobbying while a legal battle continues to play out.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals approved a request by Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office for a partial stay of an injunction that U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom issued this summer to block the restrictions statewide.

The only exception is that Florida will not be able to enforce the restrictions against Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rene Garcia, who is the named plaintiff in the case. Otherwise, the restrictions can be enforced while an underlying appeal of Bloom’s ruling continues.

The 2018 amendment, which was proposed by the state Constitution Revision Commission, prevented state and local officials from lobbying other government bodies while in office. It barred such officials from lobbying “for compensation on issues of policy, appropriations, or procurement before the federal government, the Legislature, any state government body or agency, or any political subdivision of this state.”

Garcia, a former state House member and senator, is executive vice president of New Century Partnership, a firm that provides lobbying and other services. He and other local officials challenged the constitutionality of the restrictions — but Garcia ultimately ended up as the only named plaintiff.

Bloom ruled the restrictions violated First Amendment rights and applied an injunction statewide. The state appealed Bloom’s underlying ruling to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and in September requested a partial stay so that the injunction would only apply to Garcia.

Thursday’s decision didn’t resolve the dispute about the underlying ruling, but the panel said Bloom did not “explain the need to enjoin the enforcement of (the constitutional amendment) against every ‘public officer.’”

“Injunctive relief should be no broader than ‘necessary to protect the interests of the parties,’ and the district court found that only one plaintiff had standing to challenge the state statute,” said the decision by Judges Adalberto Jordan, Jill Pryor and Britt Grant, partially quoting a court precedent.

Bloom, who is based in South Florida, ruled that the 2018 constitutional amendment and a law that carried it out placed “content-based, overbroad restrictions on speech.” Garcia said he turned down at least two clients who sought lobbying services for legislative appropriations in Tallahassee because of the restrictions, according to Bloom’s ruling.

“Contrary to defendants’ assertion, the in-office restrictions target speech based on the context of the speech and its content,” Bloom wrote.

But in a brief filed in October at the appeals court, lawyers in Moody’s office disputed that the restrictions are unconstitutional and said paid “lobbying by public officials threatens the integrity of and public confidence in democracy.”

“Florida’s restriction alleviates the threat of financial quid pro quos and their appearance in a direct and material way,” the brief said. “It prevents elected and executive-level officers, who wield political influence, from taking, or appearing to take, dollars … for political favors … in derogation of public trust.”

Bloom did not block another part of the voter-approved amendment that restricts former state and local officials from lobbying for six years after leaving office.

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