Friday, December 06, 2019

My latest column in Biscayne Times. By Geniusofdespair

http://www.biscaynetimes.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3393:money-money-money-&catid=86:eye-on-miami
Money, Money, Money PDFPrintE-mail
Written By Nancy Lee, BT Contributor   
DECEMBER 2019

NEXT YEAR, LOBBYISTS’ STRANGLEHOLD ON OUR COUNTY COMMISSION COULD COME TO AN END

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Lobbyist Ron Book’s businesses and family have given about $8000 to Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert. Courtesy of Floridapolitics.com
o term limits curb lobbyist influence? We’ll soon find out. This stinking system of influence-peddling on the one hand and raising money for candidates on the other is rotten. Lobbyists even write scripts for the dumber county commissioners like Pepe Diaz.
Term limits are a teeny, tiny step in the right direction, because sitting commissioners could never lose an election under the old system -- the lobbyists just were too efficient at raising money for them.
In Miami-Dade County, citizens changed the charter, voting in term limits for commissioners. It passed years ago. Regrettably, it wasn’t retroactive. Political wonks have been patiently waiting for eight years to pass. Some county commissioners have been in office forever; Dennis Moss has been there since 1993.
I say halleluiah for term limits. We’re seeing the end of long-held county fiefdoms, and it feels so good. Five county commissioners from odd-numbered districts will officially be out of office, leaving open seats for the elections in August 2020.
Five open seats to vote on. Damn, I’m ecstatic.
Audrey Edmonson gave a truly moronic quote to the Miami Herald about being kicked to the curb after 14 years on the county commission. The quote infuriated me. It’s why I’m writing about this subject. “If you don’t have an experienced commission,” she said, “you won’t be able to see through what the lobbyists are telling you.”
Audrey: “You needed 14 years of experience to figure out when you were being conned?”
• • •
Who will admit they like lobbyists? Maybe their children and the spouse who is accustomed to the finer things. Politicians will say they’re a necessary evil, but they actually like most of them.
In Miami Beach, lobbyists disclose their fees, which comes in handy. Some get flat fees, such as $12,500 for Alexander Heckler to represent Terra Group. Alexander Tachmes gets $650 per hour to represent Aiyara LLC, a restaurant company. Of course, they all have lots and lots of clients, so they are making “finer things” kind of bucks. Ron Book and his two-person staff made almost $5 million in 2013, according to Sunshine State News, and his firm had 81 clients that year.
Unfortunately, even the very best of the county commissioners will see a lobbyist ten times faster than they’ll see you. Your $100 is chump change next to a lobbyist who can raise $10,000 for that commissioner.
Ron Book’s businesses and family have given about $8000 to Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, who is running for the commission from District 1 next year. Of course, that doesn’t include what Book raised from others, and it’s still early.
I would say, by the obscene $366,685 that Gilbert has raised so far, he should win. He appears to be the choice of the mega donors. Except… Sybrina Denise Fulton, mother of murdered Trayvon Martin (I call it the Skittles murder), is running against him. Hillary Clinton and Cory Booker have endorsed Fulton, who has hardly raised any money ($41,467), but she does have the community behind her. Plus, voters in that part of the county might not care so much about ads, and Gilbert must tread lightly with negative ads against the much-loved Fulton.
I find City of Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon’s run for county commissioner particularly awful. He comes from a lobbyist family. With his connections, he should win Edmonson’s District 3. He’s already raised $97,325. Almost every donation was $1000, from about 100 people. Those contributors will get the royal treatment, while his constituents will have no clout.
When City of Miami Commissioner Johnny Winton was first elected, he wouldn’t even see lobbyists. When they slithered in, he’d instruct them to send their boss. That didn’t last long.
More awful than lobbyists raising money for candidates, though, are lobbyists put into positions of power. According to ProPublica, President Trump has had 281 lobbyists in his administration. Trump’s swamp contains “one lobbyist for every 14 political appointments.” Worse, he puts them in positions overseeing industries where they worked on the dark side.
According to Open Secrets, $3.46 billion was spent on lobbyists in 2018. Woof! That would go a long way toward subsidizing unaffordable prescriptions.
I got in touch with Sylvia Farina, who for 20 years was a chief of staff to three Miami-Dade County commissioners. Sylvia ended her career working for Katy Sorenson. I sent her Audrey Edmonson’s stupid quote. Sylvia said, “If you hire experienced people for your staff, then lobbyist issues will be fine.”
Another former chief of staff inspired me with hope: “If new commissioners hire professional staff to give them objective, independent advice, this powerful local governing board could become the most respected legislative body in Florida.”
Wow! If we start to respect commissioners, that would put most of us lunatic Miami-Dade writers out of business.