UPDATED: We’ve updated this post at 7:00 pm ET Friday, Nov. 4 to note that the Florida Professional Firefighters have withdrawn their support for Amendment 1.
As a member driven organization, our leadership has communicated with hundreds, if not thousands, of firefighters over the last few weeks regarding their concerns with Amendment 1 and the real firefighter safety issues related to solar energy systems. It is clear to the elected Executive Board of this organization that our membership would prefer to pursue any future firefighter safety regulations related to the still developing alternative energy industry through legislative or rulemaking action, as opposed to a constitutional amendment that many believe to be misleading.
We have requested that Consumers for Smart Solar stop broadcasting advertisements featuring firefighters and/or the logo of the Florida Professional Firefighters.
It’s not easy to change a position that’s been advertised across a state on your behalf; the union deserves credit for allowing democratic decision-making outweigh the influence of lobbyists.
Our original post is below.
Reason for Florida Professional Firefighters Endorsement of Amendment 1 May Lay with Lobbyists
Amendment 1, the deceptive anti-solar ballot backed by Florida’s utilities, received a new endorsement earlier this month. The Florida Professional Firefighters (FPF) announced on October 10 that it was supporting the utility-funded amendment “because it protects our first responders.” Since the endorsement, Consumers for Smart Solar had rolled out new television advertisements featuring the endorsement along with a firefighter telling viewers that Florida firefighters support Amendment 1.
Eric Glasser of 10 News WTSP, a St. Petersburg CBS affiliate, took a closer look at the political advertisement. He reached out to several fire departments in the area and they all said they take no position.
Meanwhile, Greg Fox for WESH 2, an Orange County NBC affiliate, interviewed additional local firefighters. Scott Egan, Secretary of Orange County Firefighters, said, “We should not be supporting or opposing an amendment that has little or nothing to do with us.”
Fox also debunked a claim mentioned in the political ad. The Consumers for Smart Solar ad featuring FPF said that Amendment 1 will protect firefighters in the unfortunate case that a home with rooftop solar catches on fire. But several building inspectors and engineers told Fox that the Florida law and building code already protect firefighters, because rooftop solar installations must draw permits and get approval from city and county inspectors. And the firefighter featured in the CSS ad said he “could not recall a single fire, or a single training session, that has ever dealt with solar equipment.”
Fox concluded his segment by saying, “Just when and why the union [FPF] decided to endorse Amendment 1 is unclear.”
FPF’s endorsement of Amendment 1 may trace its roots to the consultants and lobbyists it has hired for its political operations. A recent article by Peter Schorsch in the Tallahassee Democrat mentions FPF and the influence it has in the state. Schorsch writes that when it comes to FPF’s political and legislative agenda, “Allison Carvajal from Ramba Consulting Group and Screven Watson from Screven Watson & Associates have the firefighters’ back when they go before the Legislature.”
In fact, FPF President Jim Tolley mentioned Screven Watson in an interview with 10 News WTSP. He said that the group’s decision to get involved with Amendment 1 came after it talked with its Executive Board, the International Association of Firefighters, and “various firefighter leaders.” There was apparantely no vote from its affiliated members. And when pressed about its consultants, Tolley said, “We do have several consultants and contract lobbyists who do work for us as well as for other clients… I am aware that Screven Watson, who does work for us in various capacities, has also been advising the folks on Amendment One. I am not sure exactly what his role is with the Amendment One group.”
Screven Watson, a registered lobbyist for FPF, is on the board of Consumers for Smart Solar and has been a primary spokesperson in the press for the Amendment 1. The latest Florida Division of Elections data shows that CSS has paid Watson $103,163 since August of 2015 for “communications consulting” and travel.
Furthermore, Allison Carvajal of Ramba Consulting Group is not only a registered lobbyist for FPF, but is also a registered lobbyist for Florida Power & Light – the largest contributor to Consumers for Smart Solar at $8 million. The group’s president, David Ramba, is also a registered lobbyist for Florida Power & Light.
Ramba Consulting Group’s other clients this year have included Duke Energy and Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), – whose leadership run Let’s Preserve the American Dream, a group that has contributed $1.29 million to Consumers for Smart Solar. AIF itself contributed $100,000 to the campaign while other groups controlled by AIF have also sent money to the campaign. The Voice of Florida Business, a PAC controlled by AIF, has given $250,000. Floridians for a Stronger Democracy, owned by AIM’s PAC, contributed $450,000. And the Florida Prosperity Fund, operated from an AIF PO Box, has provided a total of $300,000. All told, that’s a total of $2.39 million from AIF and AIF affiliated groups.
Duke Energy has contributed a total of $6.7 million.