JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax investigated the amount of money going to lobbying efforts at the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA).
A previous Action News Jax investigation found the JTA’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) makes a total of $626,475.29 and travels all over the world on the public’s dime while ridership dwindles, and on-time rates are questionable.
Our continuing investigation looked into the reason for some of that travel.
“We’re in a very competitive environment when it comes to federal infrastructure dollars. This is probably the most competitive environment we’ve been in in decades,” said Ford. That’s the reason Ford gave when Action News Jax pressed him on his travel itinerary.
Since 2016, we found Ford has taken 140 trips all over the world on the public’s dime. The travel tab tallies to $189,573.03, and he said that’s money spent in pursuit of more money.
“That travel is related to the dollars that actually come here creating jobs through our infrastructure projects.” He also said, “I’m the number one lobbyist for the JTA.”
But in a strict sense of the word “lobbyist”– that’s impossible. We checked and found Ford is not a registered lobbyist on the state or federal levels.
Heather Ferguson is with the federal watchdog group, Common Cause. She said you must be registered to lobby or risk violating the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995.
“If this individual is lobbying directly to members of congress or to the state legislature, that they should be not only registering but also ensuring that they are filing their reports as to how much they have been spending in their lobbying efforts,” she said.
We couldn’t find any on the lobbying disclosure’s website. But when I asked Ford about not being a registered lobbyist, he was very clear that’s what he’s doing, “It’s one thing to see a lobbyist. It’s another thing to see the number one principle for an organization be part of that effort.” It’s double the effort at more than double the cost to the taxpayer. This year alone, Ford’s travel totals $40,970.41.
We found JTA simultaneously pays three lobbying firms $288,000. The Senate Office of Public Records shows JTA has paid the firm Holland and Knight $90,000 so far this year for lobbying at the federal level.
City records show it can pay Ballard Partners up to $10,000 a month for state lobbying. That could total $120,000 for the year.
And for local projects, the contract earmarks $78,000 a year for the Southern Group.
Those three firms combined can be paid $288,000 for the year. So we asked JTA to show us how all that money is paying off. According to its own records, that $288,000 has gotten about $6.6 million at the federal level this year. Zero from the state and zero from the local level.
This raises questions about the way at least $198,000 is being spent.
Ferguson said, “When there are suspicions raised or when the perception by the public is that lobbyists or other individuals are having an outsized voice to their individual voice for what matters most to their community, the public trust continues to erode.”
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