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GrayRobinson merges with Dean Cannon’s Capitol Insight lobbying firm

One of the largest and most prestigious law firms in Florida is merging with former House Speaker Dean Cannon’s governmental affairs firm. 

GrayRobinson P.A. announced the merger with Tallahassee’s Capitol Insight on Thursday. The terms were confidential.

The deal creates the third-largest influence shop in Florida, according to the state’s directory of registered lobbyists.

“The merger blends the political influence of Capitol Insight with the horsepower and statewide footprint of GrayRobinson,” GrayRobinson managing shareholder and President Byrd F. “Biff” Marshall Jr. said in a statement. 

With the merger, GrayRobinson could be even more of a competitor to top lobbying heavyweights for well-heeled, A-list clients needing representation before the Legislature and state agencies.

Cannon, a lawyer since 1993, will become GrayRobinson’s Executive Vice President and Statewide Chairman of Government Affairs.

The move comes roughly seven months after the death of the law firm’s top influencer, Fred Leonhardt. The lobbying legend was personally registered to lobby for 46 clients last year, including the Orlando Magic and five Florida cities. 

“Fred was a friend and we are all still saddened by his untimely death,” Cannon said. “No one could replace Fred, and I certainly wouldn’t try.”

The combination “makes GrayRobinson’s government relations and lobbying practice the largest such practice in any law firm in Florida and one of the three largest groups of legislative lobbyists in the state overall,” the firm said in a news release. 

As of this year, Cannon was personally registered to lobby on behalf of the City of Orlando, The Villages, PepsiCo and its Frito-Lay and Gatorade subsidiaries, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, and Monroe County, among others. 

He also was registered to represent Cox Media Group, which has radio, television, digital and newspaper properties in 15 states, including the Palm Beach Post in South Florida. 

Capitol Insight ranked No. 13 in 2015 lobbying compensation, with a reported median revenue of nearly $1.4 million, according to records. GrayRobinson’s lobbying practice was No. 9 with a reported median income of $2.8 million for 2015. 

State law requires lobbying firms to report their revenue but only requires them to do so in general ranges, not in precise amounts.

The firm’s stable now includes two former House speakers: Larry Cretul, a former real estate broker who was speaker in 2009-10 and Marion County Commissioner from 1994 to 2002, is Cannon’s lobbying partner. 

“I’m proud of what Dean, myself and our other colleagues have accomplished with Capitol Insight,” Cretul said. “I look forward to combining our strengths with those of GrayRobinson.”

It’s also a homecoming for the 47-year-old Cannon, who was with GrayRobinson for 12 years until 2007. He was in the House from 2004-12, serving the last two years as head of the chamber. 

He started Capitol Insight after leaving the House but could lobby only state agencies at first. By law, state lawmakers are banned from lobbying their former colleagues for two years after the end of their last term.

“This is an exciting new chapter in my career, one that reconnects me with many of the mentors at GrayRobinson who helped shape my legal and political work,” Cannon said. “It is also a momentous opportunity to work with one of the most talented groups of lawyers and lobbyists in the state.”

In addition to Cretul, Cannon is bringing with him the entire Capitol Insight team:

— Rheb Harbison, former senior lobbyist with a national law firm before joining Capitol Insight, and director of legislative and communication policy and research for the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court.

— Cynthia Lorenzo, former Director of Florida’s Agency for Workforce Innovation and Department of Economic Opportunity, and former Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

— Richard Reeves, former campaign manager for U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and veteran lobbyist who founded his own lobbying firm before joining Capitol Insight;

— Kirk Pepper, expert political strategist who has worked to elect officials ranging from local governments to members of Congress to President of the United States.

— Joseph Salzverg, former campaign manager and political consultant, and legislative analyst for the Florida House of Representatives.

“This truly will be a case where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and it will benefit all of our mutual clients,” Cannon said. “Both Capitol Insight and GrayRobinson already serve clients statewide, but it will be a great asset to combine Capitol Insight’s team with GrayRobinson’s incredibly strong network of professionals and 13 offices throughout Florida.”

“His firm, and the long-term relationships with decision-makers and power players in the political field it brings, will be a tremendous asset to our clients,” Marshall said.

Here’s more from GrayRobinson’s news release:

Cannon has been practicing state and local government law since 1995. He served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2004 to 2012, and served as Speaker of the House from 2010 to 2012. His legislative and executive branch lobbying experience includes representing private clients and local government entities on such issues as transportation, education, health care, insurance and appropriations. Also, he has handled administrative law and regulatory matters before the Division of Administrative Hearings and Trials, and appellate matters before the judicial branch.

Lorenzo’s 15-year career in state government includes executive level and agency head appointments by three governors. She began her career in government in 1993 by serving as deputy communications director for the Florida Department of Transportation. In 2005, she joined the leadership team at the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), where she served as communications director and later as chief of staff. In 2006, Governor Bush appointed Lorenzo to serve as the Interim Secretary of DJJ. In 2007, Lorenzo was appointed by Governor Crist to serve first as deputy director and then as director of the Agency of Workforce Innovation. 

Cretul began his career in public service in 1994 when he was elected to the Marion County Commission, where he served for eight years. In 2002, he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives and was selected by his peers in 2009 to serve as Speaker of the House from 2009 to 2010. Outside of public office, Cretul has been an active member and promoter of Florida’s business community; he owned and operated a small residential construction business and worked as a real estate broker.

Reeves began his career in Florida politics working for current U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson during his 1990 gubernatorial campaign. In 1995, he moved to Tallahassee to serve Nelson in his role as Insurance Commissioner. In 1997, he served as campaign director for Nelson’s 1998 re-election campaign. After Nelson’s re-election, Reeves took on the role of finance director for Nelson’s successful Senate campaign in 2000. In 2001, he began lobbying, specializing in education, workforce development, insurance, utilities and appropriation issues, among others. Reeves continued to maintain a presence in the political arena by serving as a consultant, and served Sen. Marco Rubio from 2004 to 2005 as a finance consultant during his successful campaign to serve as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

For more than a decade, Pepper worked to elect officials ranging from city council and mayor to Congress and president of the United States. He has also worked to re-elect the president in roles both inside the national campaign headquarters and, ultimately, heading the Republican National Committee’s efforts on behalf of the president in Missouri. In 2004, he was instrumental in the President carrying the state of Missouri, along with re-electing a U.S. senator and electing a new governor. Since 2005, Pepper has played senior roles, serving as a manager, a confidant, a policy adviser and a strategist in Florida politics, electing governors, members of the cabinet and legislative leaders along the way.

Harbison’s career comprises more than 33 years of senior level public affairs experience. During this time, he worked alongside three chief justices of the Florida Supreme Court, and former Florida Governor Bob Martinez. He has a broad range of experience in public affairs, lobbying, media relations, senior executive management, business development and marketing.

Salzverg has several years of experience in Florida’s political and public policy arenas. He has served as a campaign manager and political consultant to several members of the Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation during the past several election cycles. He lobbies Florida’s legislative and executive branches of government, on issues relating to insurance, health care, and regulated industries.

GrayRobinson, founded in 1970, is a full-service law firm providing legal assistance across the state of Florida. With nearly 300 attorneys and 13 offices throughout Florida, GrayRobinson proudly provides legal assistance for Fortune 500 companies, emerging businesses, lending institutions, local and state governments, developers, entrepreneurs and individuals. GrayRobinson has continued to stay ahead of the curve with a firm commitment to creativity and innovation. For more information, visit gray-robinson.com.

Written By

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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