Perhaps the Florida Senate wanted to get back in Marion Hammer’s good graces.
The National Rifle Association’s Florida lobbyist became apoplectic after a school shooting last year when a few Senate Republicans voted to raise the minimum age for purchasing a firearm to 21, extend the waiting period and ban bump stocks.
It was the first major defeat in four decades for Hammer, a former NRA president who introduced Florida to concealed weapons, the stand-your-ground law and the unflattering nickname: “The Gunshine State.”
Despite her long record of lobbying, however, when it came time to disclose how much money she’s earned, Hammer has tried to pretend she isn’t really a lobbyist. Worse, the Florida Senate bought her excuse and gave her a pass on failing to accurately file quarterly compensation reports.
The Florida Bulldog reported in May that the NRA paid Hammer roughly $500,000 between 2014 and 2018 for lobbying work. Minutes of its 2019 annual meeting show she received another $270,000 last year for “consulting services and legislative lobbying in Florida.” Hammer is registered to lobby for the NRA and its affiliate, Unified Sportsmen of Florida, which pays her as an in-house employee. State rules do not require additional disclosure from in-house employees who lobby the Legislature.
After the Bulldog report, Democratic legislators filed an ethics complaint against Hammer for failing to disclose her NRA compensation. That’s when the special treatment started. The rules say a select committee of the Senate should have handled the investigation. That way, there might have been a public hearing and testimony.
Instead, Rules Committee Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers — who has received the NRA’s A-plus grade — referred the complaint to the Office of Legislative Services, an obscure agency within the Senate president’s office. It concluded that Hammer should simply amend her compensation disclosure forms.
Hammer could have faced a fine of $5,000 per inaccurate report (as much as $200,000 total). But Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, considers the matter “closed.”
Hammer didn’t even accept kid gloves graciously. She claimed a lawyer said she didn’t need to update the forms, saying “I am less than happy that the officials handling and commenting on these matters did not highlight the important point that I did not do anything wrong except rely on the advice of counsel.”
Now comes a second financial issue with Hammer. She also has received nearly $300,000 in low-interest loans from United Sportsmen of Florida, which she founded in 1977 and employs only her. State law prohibits nonprofit organizations from making loans to directors or officers. Hammer said she simply borrowed the money from her retirement account.
The Washington Post asked five lawyers about the loans, which Hammer used to buy or help buy Tallahassee properties. They said the filings describe the arrangement as “a loan from the organization” and that interest paid was reported as revenue — not reimbursement to a retirement plan.
The Hammer revelations come amid allegations of financial improprieties by the NRA’s chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, who earns a seven-figure salary, spends lavishly on luxury clothing and reportedly tried to have the NRA buy him a $6 million mansion. The group’s nonprofit status is threatened by an investigation by the attorney general of New York, where it is chartered.
The Florida organization run by Hammer, who sits on the NRA’s board, deserves similar scrutiny by Florida’s attorney general and its Legislature.
— Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Sun Sentinel