Courtesy of The Miami Herald
September 28, 2015
TALLAHASSEE — The 44-page manifesto titled “BluePrint
Florida,” released this week by Rep. Richard Corcoran after he was
officially designated House speaker for the 2016-18 session, reads like
a nine-step plan to addiction recovery.
It calls on legislators to develop coping strategies, challenge their
creativity and adopt a cause to end the “dangerous” dependence on
special interests and lobbyists that have “excessive influence and power
in the process.”
“Government is broken because elected officials fail,” wrote Corcoran,
R-Land O’Lakes, in the white paper penned in the fall of 2012 after
Corcoran and 31 fellow freshmen Republicans had finished their first
year as legislators.
The blueprint declares war on “self-promoting,” ego-driven and
self-interested legislators. It blames leaders who “willingly trade
significant policy achievements that would benefit Florida for trinkets
sought by lobbyists,” and it casts special interests as predators ready
to exploit Florida lawmakers for their own agendas.
It is a stark indictment of the House of Representatives and the
Republican leadership that has dominated its leadership since 1996. And
it is the most candid self critique by Republicans since Sen. Tom Lee,
R-Brandon, used his Senate presidency in 2005 to force lobbyists to
disclose fees and stop courting legislators with secret gifts, trips and
Corcoran released the blueprint as part of his campaign to push for
reforms aimed at countering the influence of special interests on
Tallahassee. But, like any intervention, it is rife with challenges, and
many believe that Corcoran, a lawyer in the Tampa office of Broad and
Cassel who has risen to power on the strength of the status quo, must
himself come clean.
“These trend lines were created to give the Republican Party a firm hold
on political dominance, and I’m not sure they’re willing to reform
themselves at the expense of their power,” said Dan Gelber, a former
Democratic legislator from Miami. “I give him points for high-minded
platitudes, but it’s not going to matter unless they actually do
As Corcoran was announcing his reforms to standing ovations on the House
floor, lobbyists were buzzing about his dependence on their money. As
head of the House Republican 2016 election efforts, Corcoran is in
charge of raising millions for GOP campaigns from the same special
interests he criticizes.
In the last week alone, the political committee he runs was busy
arranging nearly a dozen cocktail receptions and fundraisers just blocks
from the Capitol in Tallahassee. An analysis of the Republican Party of
Florida campaign finance data by Politico Florida estimated that
Corcoran has spent $238,000 in the last five months already, including
purchases of cuff links, cigars and fundraising ventures from Las Vegas
Fox Business news then riffed on the issue for nearly four minutes with
one Republican commentator noting, “this is what people hate about
But neither Corcoran in his speech, nor his blueprint, made any mention
of the unlimited soft money contributions that legislators can collect
from lobbyists for their political committees — a system that was voted
on and approved by nearly every member of Corcoran’s team in the 2013
Republicans for statewide and legislative offices raised a staggering
$209 million in 2014, according to an analysis by the Herald/Times and
the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics.
Massive checks were sprinkled into the political committees of
legislators like seedlings, with the largest contributors being the
gambling industry, utilities, the sugar industry and healthcare
Corcoran makes no apologies and argues that by asking for money to elect
Republicans he is not asking legislators to give up their right to be
independent. He says he does not take flights and dinners from lobbyists
as in-kind contributions but works to keep costs down by leasing a
Cirrus turbo-prop and is trying to make party expenses more transparent
“Going to war against the special interests to protect the integrity of
the chamber is not the same as writing a check to the Republican Party
so that we can get our message out,” he told the Herald/Times. “There’s
He argues that if his reforms are adopted, individual members will set
the agenda, not special interests — which dictate the agenda when
legislative leaders leave a void.
“Want to see how leadership’s lack of an agenda is benefiting special
interests? Take a look at the campaign reports,” the blueprint states.
“It shouldn’t be surprising that the most influential committee chairs
raise far more contributions than their counterparts on less prominent
Since Corcoran’s blueprint was written, legislators have continued to
give their top donors special treatment. In 2013, for example, the House
sided with the state’s large electric utilities and killed a
constitutional amendment that would have given tax breaks to businesses
that install solar panels, and it watered down a bill to repeal the
utility tax on nuclear power.
Legislators passed a bill shielding nursing home investors from some
lawsuits by targeting the tactics of a Tampa-based law firm. And they
set aside $100 million for capital expenses for privately managed,
for-profit charter schools — twice the amount earmarked for traditional
In 2014, a massive bill to rewrite the state’s gambling laws — a
priority of the gambling industry — advanced in both the House and
Senate until the governor started negotiations with the Seminole Tribe,
which stalled the legislation indefinitely.
Corcoran says he and his supporters have quietly killed “anti-consumer”
insurance measures and other bills they believed were designed to
protect special interests in the last four years, but “tried to stay
under the radar.”
His silence, and subsequent prominence as one of the most active
fundraisers in Tallahassee this cycle, have subjected him to a drumbeat
of criticism among many members of Tallahassee’s lobbying corps.
“The hypocrisy is they are complaining because they can’t control the
House,” he responds.
Lee, the former Senate president, who supports Corcoran, said he faced
the same criticism when he was trying to push through the gift ban.
“I understand that allegation of hypocrisy, but how else can you get to
become a presiding officer without having lived the cultural defects in
the process?” he said. “Ethics reform is something that can only be done
by a presiding officer. We don’t make the rules of engagement but, once
we become the presiding officers, we have the ability to change them.”
In his speech to the Republican caucus in Tallahassee on Wednesday,
Corcoran outlined the top goals of his blueprint: a constitutional
amendment to ban lawmakers from becoming lobbyists for six years; a
House rule requiring lawmakers to wait six years before padding their
state pensions by taking public jobs after leaving office, unless they
are elected to another office; a prohibition on legislators taking a new
job with any company or organization that receives public money from the
state while in office; and a rule to require lobbyists to disclose the
legislation they intend to influence.
Gelber noted that Corcoran was House Speaker Marco Rubio’s chief of
staff when Rubio proposed his 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future
and touted them as ideas generated by the public, not the special
“It’s not the first time an incoming presiding officer has said
high-minded things only to see them come crashing down over the inertia
of the system,” Gelber said. “All Marco really did was generate
Republican talking points and it wasn’t the kind of innovation that was
As Corcoran and his colleagues were developing their “manifesto” in 2011
and 2012, House Speaker Dean Cannon and his staff were working with
political consultants to circumvent the Constitution and influence the
redistricting process to help make sure that Republicans could be
re-elected, according to court records.
Nowhere does the blueprint spell out a need for more competitive
A main focus of the blueprint’s “nine solutions for reforming the
process” is the Legislature’s “culture of self-promotion” which, the
blueprint suggests, would end by requiring “any member who wishes to
serve in a leadership role to take a pledge not to seek another elected
office, at any level of government, until after the completion of the
second regular session.”
And to shield members from using their committee posts to collect
contributions, they also would pledge not to open campaign accounts
until they no longer have the jobs.
They are ambitious and controversial ideas, Lee warns, and Corcoran
“better be prepared to walk the talk.”
During Lee’s attempts to pass the gift ban, he was “followed by a
private investigator” and faced an assortment of false rumors about his
family, he said. “They will try to tarnish the messenger to derail the
Corcoran says he is confident he will prevail. “When all is said and
done, there will be zero doubters,” he told the Herald/Times.