By Buddy Nevins, BrowardBulldog.org
Less than three months after being cleared of civil insider stock trading, Fort Lauderdale heart doctor and top Republican fund raiser Zachariah P. Zachariah is back in big time, big money politics.
Last Friday, Zachariah was circulating through the crowd at the Broward Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner, shaking hands and discussing politics, according to Richard DeNapoli, chairman of the Broward Republican Party.
And as the 2012 presidential campaign heats up, candidates are calling on Zachariah at his $3.3 million sprawling estate on the Intracoastal Waterway in Sea Ranch Lakes. That doesn’t surprise Republicans.
“He is at the highest level of fund raiser,” said William Scherer, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer and another key Republican financer.
Zachariah put his political activism on hold while he was fighting federal regulators, who claimed the cardiologist used insider information to trade stocks and make nearly $1 million in illicit profits. On Dec. 20, U. S. Magistrate Linnea R. Johnson ruled that the government “failed entirely” to prove its civil case and that “the evidence simply is not sufficient” to show Zachariah did anything wrong.
It didn’t take long for presidential candidates to come knocking.
“He’s always been a big player on the national level,” DeNapoli said.
Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is expected to announce a second presidential campaign soon, will visit Zachariah’s home on Wednesday for a lunchtime reception. The event was billed in an e-mail to potential supporters as “a regional organizational meeting.”
The e-mail from key Florida Republican fund raiser Meredith O’Rourke stated that “in addition to hearing from Governor Romney, members of his staff will also provide a political briefing which will include polling numbers, media appearances and other political activities.”
O’Rourke, who operates a fund raising firm in Tallahassee and raised money for Gov. Jeb Bush and Gov. Charlie Crist’s campaigns, did not return a call and an e-mail for comment. Zachariah also did not return a call to his office for comment.
As director of the Fort Lauderdale Heart Institute at Holy Cross Hospital, Zachariah is known as a man with the golden hands in the operating room while clearing blocked arteries. As a key campaign fund raiser for two decades, Zachariah is the man with the golden pitch for political donations.
Zachariah’s success is based on his ability to coax thousands of dollars from fellow Indian and other Asian physicians he introduced to politics. His donors list also includes dozens of American-born physicians and other Republicans who share his philosophy of less government and lower taxes.
“He mobilizes the Indian and Asian physicians all over Florida,” Scherer said. “He has a whole cadre of business people who will respond to his requests for donations.”
The Hindu Voice website called Zachariah “arguably the most influential Indian- American Republican, a major fund-raiser for the party for more than two decades.”
Zachariah told the Sun-Sentinel several years ago that “I don’t like begging, but I realize that if I am going to make a difference, I have to.”
He entices potential donors the old fashioned way – treating them to meals at his waterfront house and giving them an opportunity to meet and take pictures with governors, presidents and potential presidents, like Romney.
Moving to the United States in 1972 from India, Zachariah’s started dabbling in politics after moving to Florida and opening his practice in the mid-1970s.
Then he started thinking bigger. Since 1990, Zachariah’s state and national track record is written in zeros. Lots of zeros.
His first big campaign effort was that year when he raised $400,000 for Florida Gov. Bob Martinez’s failed re-election campaign.
He raised another $1 million for President George H. W. Bush’s re-election in 1992 as the former president’s Florida finance co-chair. The first installment was an envelope filled with 150 checks of $1,000 apiece.
He raised hundreds of thousands for George W. Bush’s first campaign. During George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004 he was a Ranger, a select category of a handful that required members to raise more than $200,000.
He backed Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s campaigns with thousands of dollars he bundled from his network of contacts.
Jeb Bush appointed Zachariah to the Florida Board of Medicine, the 15-member group that polices physicians. He ended up chairman.
The cardiologist continues to be close to the Bush family. He is one of two board members, along with Jeb Bush, who run the former governor’s Foundation For Excellence In Education, a non-profit group trying to reform the school system. He is introducing his network of donors who worked so hard for Bush to a whole new group of candidates, like Romney.
Even Democrats are impressed by Zachariah.
“His success is because he motivated a group of highly educated, financially well-off physicians and professionals to get involved through him in politics. That gives him a lot of influence,” Broward Democratic Chair Mitch Ceasar said.
Ceasar is happy about one part of Zachariah’s resume. Despite his attendance at the local Republican function last week, he seldom becomes involved in Broward politics.
“We really don’t see him locally all that much,” said Broward Republican leader DeNapoli.
But in Sunshine State and national politics, political players expect Zachariah to continue for many years to be a major force.
Democratic leader Ceasar was asked if Zachariah will continue to be a thorn in the side Democrats.
“Yes,” Ceasar said. “In today’s political environment as in the past, money does talk.”
Buddy Nevins is a former political reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel who now operates the political news and opinion blog, BrowardBeat.com