Protection patrol

By: 
Mar. 7, 2014

State representative-turned-lobbyist Jerry Paul has a nice backup plan if his passion for public policy and civics ever wanes.

Turns out he's an accomplished nuclear engineer. So accomplished that President George W. Bush appointed Paul principal deputy administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration at the U.S. Department of Energy in 2004. With a post-baccalaureate degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Florida, in addition to a law degree, Paul oversaw the agency's nuclear nonproliferation programs.

But Paul, whose state House district included parts of Charlotte, Lee and Sarasota counties, has no intentions to diverge from his current mission at Tallahassee-based Capitol Access, a firm he founded in 2006. Paul is actually expanding the reach of the firm, which also includes lobbyist Rob Shave, who has done work for clients mostly based in Charlotte County. “When we see the scope of what government can do to small businesses,” says Paul, “we think what we do matters.”

Paul's first big move to aid the firm's growth strategy: He recently hired Jamie Miller, a Sarasota-based statewide political consultant who has run and worked for several major high-profile campaigns. The list includes Rick Scott's 2010 gubernatorial run; Katherine Harris' U.S. Senate race against Sen. Bill Nelson in 2006; and Newt Gingrich's Florida campaign for president in 2012.

The trio of lobbyists now aims to become a louder voice for business interests in Tallahassee, especially the entities and organizations it works for on the Gulf Coast. The biggest misunderstanding about the Legislature, says Paul, is many entrepreneurs and executives think they're safe if a proposed bill is not precisely about their industry.

Yet Paul, a Republican elected to two terms in the House, in 2000 and 2002, says negative consequences are in play anytime Tallahassee expands its power and reach. “Every single aspect of your business is being regulated or re-regulated every day in Tallahassee,” says Paul, who was deputy majority whip in the House. “That's why people need us. We kind of see ourselves as the ones who have their back.”

Capitol Access' client list over the past year includes the Florida Association of Sinkhole Specialists, based in Tampa; the Charlotte County Airport Authority; and Southeast Renewable Fuels, a Coral Gables-based biofuel refinery firm with facilities across Florida. The firm reported a range of revenues from $350,000 to $850,000 for all clients it did official work for before the state Legislature in 2013, according to public filings.

The clients, says Paul, are really an extension of the issues that mean the most to him, which tend to revolve around water and energy policy. That's also the main way the firm markets itself in lobbyist-centric Tallahassee, where there are more than 1,500 registered lobbyists. “A lot of this business is word of mouth,” he says. “When you cultivate an area of expertise over time people seem to find you.”

Paul, who was born in Ohio and grew up in Englewood, has long held an interest in public policy and legislation, going back to a college internship. The lesson he's learned the most over his career, on either side of the Legislature, is doing the right thing can sometimes be lonely, but worthwhile. It's all the more true, he says, when waging battle against powerful government forces.

“The easiest thing up there is to say yes,” Paul says. “It's the path of least resistance. It's harder to say no, and to put your hands up on the railroad tracks and say stop.”