When is a lobbyist not a lobbyist? Ask Bob Levy, if he's free to talk to you.
For the past 12 years, Levy has been the lobbyist for the 4th District of the American Advertising Federation, which oversees the Florida and Caribbean region. Officially, the Miami-based lobbyist remains the group's representative. In a recent letter from the district, however, he was told not to lobby for the AAF in the Florida House or Senate.
In a Nov. 16 letter from District Governor Brenda Edwards, a copy of which was obtained by Adweek, Levy was told his position with the group would be limited to developing a strategic plan of action and monitoring legislative sessions. "DO NOT lobby our current legislation" is the letter's final command from Edwards.
According to the letter, Levy has been muzzled in an attempt to allow AAF members to spearhead a grass-roots campaign. That effort hopes to spur passage of a bill that would dissuade the Florida Department of Revenue from taxing ad agencies.
The Department of Revenue implemented a similar special services tax of 5 percent in 1987, but it was rescinded less than a year later after a vociferous outcry from the advertising community. Past AAF Governor Susan Gilbert pointed to Levy's efforts at the time as key to killing the tax.
Levy's attempts to have the state pass a bill that would forever keep the taxman out of agencies' wallets have been less successful. Two votes have both fallen short in the Florida Senate, and members have begun to question his effectiveness with legislators, his large caseload that includes 70 other clients, and his $12,000 annual salary.
The grass-roots effort seems to be having no better luck. The bill is not yet on Gov. Jeb Bush's budget; the deadline is Jan. 12.
The 4th District has been in flux since its previous governor, Frankie Lesocky, resigned last September and was replaced after a member vote by Edwards.
Neither Levy nor Edwards returned calls for comment.