The rise of a political rainmaker: Helping mayors of Miami-Dade, Broward find big money

By Francisco Alvarado, BrowardBulldog.org 

Brian Goldmeier and clients, Broward Mayor Barbara Sharief and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez

Brian Goldmeier and clients, Broward Mayor Barbara Sharief and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez

Since helping elect Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez three years ago, Brian Goldmeier is South Florida’s least known, yet most sought after political rainmaker.

Goldmeier, a 31-year-old professional fundraiser, has collected $627,359 in consulting fees since 2011, according to campaign finance reports submitted by his clients. He has raised money for Gimenez, three Miami-Dade County commissioners, and promoted a slew of successful referendums that included a $1.2 billion bond issue for Miami-Dade Public Schools and an additional half penny sales tax to help operate Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Goldmeier also has expanded into heavily-Democratic Broward County where he’s in charge of enlisting political donors to show up at County Mayor Barbara Sharief’s upcoming $1,000-a-pop fundraiser “per person, business entity & PAC.” The event is set for June 25 at YOLO restaurant in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

The hustling Goldmeier’s meteoric rise signals a new trend in the local realm of political fundraising. Candidates and political action committees are turning to Goldmeier to do the dirty work of picking the pockets of lobbyists, non-profit groups, and companies doing business with county government.

“Raising money is the thing every candidate hates to do,” says Miami public relations consultant Ric Katz. “Having someone brazen enough to get people to open up their wallets takes the pressure off them. Brian is very good at that.”

FIRST JOB WITH ALEX SINK

Alex Sink, who gave Goldmeier his first political job raising money for her failed 2010 gubernatorial bid, says he is one of the most tenacious people she’s met.

“He doesn’t take no for an answer,” Sink says. “You can’t be shy in the world of political fundraising.”

So who is Goldmeier? Despite his high-profile status and in-your-face style, he shies away from the public eye. He did not respond to two emails and two voice messages on his cell phone requesting comment.

Goldmeier, the son of Miami-based shopping mall and hotel developer Barry Goldmeier, graduated from Cheshire Academy, a Connecticut boarding school, and then earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Endicott College in Massachusetts, according to online newsletters for both academic institutions. Following his college graduation in 2002, Goldmeier worked several years as an events coordinator and tennis coach for Endicott.

Sink met Goldmeier in 2008. He had returned to Miami as a volunteer for Hillary Clinton during her failed bid for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. A year later, Sink hired him to raise money based on a friend’s recommendation. He sought donors from the office of Brian May, a Miami-Dade lobbyist who was subsequently fired from the Sink campaign after he broke the rules of a debate prohibiting electronic messages being sent to the candidates.

“Brian has no problem asking people for money,” says May. “In the Sink campaign, he pushed hard. At times, donors would get a little ruffled and the higher-ups in the campaign would get upset at him.”

Sink acknowledged that she or others had to reign in Goldmeier’s aggressiveness on occasion. “Oh sure, I had complaints about him,” she says. “Sometimes, you have to tell him to wait a minute and hit the pause button.”

GIMENEZ’S FINANCE DIRECTOR

After Sink’s narrow defeat, Goldmeier stayed in Miami, landing a job as finance director for then-county commissioner Gimenez’s political action committee, Common Sense Now. His first payment was for $5,750 on Dec. 1, 2010.

Four months later, voters recalled then-Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Gimenez decided to throw his name on the ballot for a special election in May 2011 to elect a new mayor. With Goldmeier continuing to raise campaign donations, Gimenez entered a crowded field that included then-Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina and former state Rep. Marcelo Llorente.

“With Gimenez, it was tough at the beginning for Brian,” May says. “By the time Gimenez made the runoff, Brian had refined his approach, using a softer touch with donors.”

Goldmeier continued dialing for dollars immediately after Gimenez beat Robaina in the June 2011 run-off. The mayor had a short window to amass another war chest before the next election in August 2012. Common Sense Now collected close to $2 million in a one-year span, mostly due to Goldmeier’s relentless soliciting of campaign donations from people doing business at County Hall.

For his efforts, Gimenez’s political action committee paid Goldmeier’s firm, BYG Strategies, $220,076 in consulting fees, plus a $20,000 bonus. In addition, Goldmeier got another $44,919 from Gimenez’s re-election campaign.

One lobbyist, who asked to remain anonymous, says he disliked Goldmeier from the moment he met him. “I promised Gimenez I would raise a few bucks for him,” the lobbyist says. “That led to Brian calling me every half-hour. The guy’s a jerk, but he is effective.”

Goldmeier has parlayed Gimenez’s victories into more fundraising jobs. Building for Tomorrow, a political action committee organized to promote a successful $1.2 billion bond issue for Miami-Dade Public Schools in 2012, paid BYG $74,507.

During the same election cycle, he pocketed $9,000 in fees from another political action committee that pushed a referendum to expand the Key Biscayne Tennis Center. Goldmeier made $154,046 in fees raising money for last year’s Jackson Memorial Hospital campaign for an extra half penny sales tax. The Miami Dolphins also retained him, doling out $9,000 in consulting fees for a referendum that never happened because the Legislature rejected owner Stephen Ross’ attempt to put public financing of Sun Life Stadium improvements on the ballot.

RACKING UP CONSULTING FEES

Today, Goldmeier is working the phones on behalf of the re-election campaigns of incumbent Miami-Dade county commissioners, Lynda Bell, Jean Monestime and Jose “Pepe” Diaz. So far, Diaz is running unopposed.

Commissioners’ campaign finance reports show that Goldmeier’s firm to date has racked up $43,451 in consulting fees. Political action committees supporting the commissioners have paid BYG another $52,360. He’s mainly been tasked with corralling prominent donors for events featuring Gimenez and politically connected hosts.

For instance, Goldmeier set up an April 2013 fundraiser for Bell hosted by the mayor at the house of Rafael and Vicky Garcia-Toledo. Rafael Garcia-Toledo was Gimenez’s campaign finance chairman and chauffeured the mayor to events during the 2011 special election and the 2012 re-election campaigns. Garcia-Toledo’s wife is a high-powered lobbyist whose clients include Genting Group, the Malaysian casino giant and owner of the old Miami Herald headquarters.

The host committee included some prominent Democrats, such as attorney Alex Heckler, who has raised tens of thousands for the Clintons, and Freddie Balsera, a political consultant who is President Obama’s main pitchman to Hispanics in Florida. Interestingly, Bell is one of the most conservative Republicans on the county commission.

Bell, Monestime, and Diaz did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Democrats skirmish over open Broward House seat

By Buddy Nevins, BrowardBulldog.org 

Florida House candidates Steve Perman and Kristin Jacobs

Florida House candidates Steve Perman and Kristin Jacobs

Broward County political campaigns run on food. Bagels and cream cheese, Danish, hummus, spaghetti, barbeque and fruit salad for vegetarians who might show up at a political event – all paid for by candidates.

One recent evening, Florida House candidate Steve Perman brought eight pizzas and eight two-liter bottles of soda along with scores of his campaign flyers to the hungry members of the Margate Regular Democratic Club.

Perman, a chiropractor, hovered over the handful of Democrats hunched over greasy paper plates, answering questions and asking for votes.

For Perman, this sleepy night in May was just one more campaign stop leading up to the key Aug. 26 Democratic primary for the House seat in District 96. A few more hands are shaken. A few more backs are patted. And another speech is ended with the quip, “When you send a chiropractor to Tallahassee, you don’t have to worry. I’ve got your back.”

The Coral Springs resident has been at it for months. It clearly shows.

“I’m tired,” Perman, 57, conceded.

Although House District 96 is relatively compact, stretching from Pompano Beach to Parkland along the northern border of Broward, the campaign for one of the House’s open seats is strenuous and often exhausting. The district’s current occupant, state Rep. Jim Waldman, a Coconut Creek Democrat who endorsed fellow Democrat Perman, is retiring because of term limits.

Candidate Perman hovers over Democratic pizza eaters  Photo: Buddy Nevins

Candidate Perman hovers over Democratic pizza eaters Photo: Buddy Nevins

Perman’s opponent in the primary is Democratic County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs, 54, who said she is often exhausted, too. Jacobs, a grandmother, has been campaigning door-to-door with her non-political husband, Stuart, in tow.

“I have to remind him to smile,” said Jacobs, of Pompano Beach.

She estimated she has met thousands of likely voters picked from lists of registered Democrats who have a history of voting in primaries.

A SAFE SEAT FOR DEMOCRATS

Both candidates are campaigning only among Democrats because District 96 is safely Democratic, and victory in the primary will be tantamount to election in November.

About 46 percent of the district’s 99,460 voters as of May 1 are registered Democrats, compared with 25 percent who are Republicans and 29 percent who listed no party affiliation or registered with other parties.

The campaign will boil down to two phases. The first phase, now underway, involves personally meeting voters. Political consultants and the candidates predict a low turnout. They foresee as few as 8,000 voters will take part in the primary. Thus, knocking on doors and meeting a handful of voters at club meetings could conceivably make a difference.

The second phase will be the withering blast of negative advertising both candidates expect in the closing days of the campaign. The ads will focus on their personal differences and a handful of past votes. “She’s going to paper me,” Perman predicted.

“Part of a campaign is to tell people about your opponent,” Jacobs said. Both candidates will have plenty of money to get their message to voters.

As of April 30, Jacobs had raised $123,818, mostly from firms and people doing business with the county.

Perman had raised $49,714, the overwhelming majority from chiropractors.

Jacobs said of Perman’s campaign finances, “He’s not going to be the representative of Broward. He’s going to be the representative of the chiropractors.”

Perman got his political start as a lobbyist for his fellow chiropractors. With an office in west Boca Raton since 1993, Perman had been a lobbyist for the state’s chiropractors for a decade when in 2006, he decided to run for a Palm Beach County-based House seat. He lost, the first of four races he ran in a district far from his Coral Springs home that stretches from south Palm Beach County through rural areas to Lake Okeechobee. Of the four races, Perman won only when he was unopposed in 2010, winning a term in the House. He lost that seat in the 2012 Democratic primary.

During his two years in the House, Perman sponsored and got passed The Nursing Home Division Law, which allowed low-income seniors to receive home care rather than being institutionalized. He also sponsored a law increasing the penalties for stolen credit and debit cards and another law extending tax breaks for the creation of new small businesses or the expansion of existing ones.

As a member of the agriculture committee, he passed a bill that increased clean water storage capacity by allowing farmers to lease land to the state for water storage without losing property rights.

PERMAN’S PAST IN PALM BEACH

It is Perman’s repeated quests for a House seat in Palm Beach County that has become an issue in the campaign.

“He’s never been engaged in Broward County in the past,” Jacobs said. “He’s never been part of advocating for Broward County. He’s been advocating for other places, while living in Broward County. I’ve been advocating for Broward County for 16 years.”

Perman fired back, “I fully supported the (Broward) delegation’s legislative agenda on the floor of the House and in committees. Interestingly, I do not recall Commissioner Jacobs ever reaching out to me…to discuss any Broward issues or enlist my support for Broward. Even so, I always voted in full support of Broward County and its residents, both on the floor in Tallahassee and at delegation meetings at home.”

Jacobs was the president of the North Andrews Neighborhood Homeowners Association near Fort Lauderdale when she beat veteran County Commissioner Sylvia Poitier in 1998. Poitier, who was backed by the development industry and was the only African-American on the commission, had the support of the county’s entire political establishment, which pumped $230,479 into her campaign.

Jacobs, a political unknown who had only $15,682 in contributions, won by pounding Poitier as an ethically lax tool of political insiders. It was one of the most stunning upsets in Broward history.

In Jacobs’ only tough race since – a 2012 campaign for Congress against now U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel – she was crushed.

On the County Commission, Jacobs is one of the state’s most outspoken voices on a wide range of environmental issues. She is most passionate about finding enough clean water and offering alternative transportation options, such as bike paths and buses. She was recently named to a White House task force on global climate change, a vital issue for low-lying Florida.

Jacobs was the sparkplug behind the ordinance requiring companies doing business with the county to pay their employees a living wage. She also has been an advocate for affordable housing.

Candidates’ past votes haunt them in campaigns, and the District 96 race is no exception.

In speeches, Jacobs has been pounding Perman for voting to allow state money to be used by the poor to pay for private school tuition. Perman said that many “good Democrats” such as Waldman voted along with him for HB 965 in 2011. Eighteen legislators, including some Broward Democrats, voted against the bill. The bill provided “private school scholarships to students from families that meet specified income limitations,” according to the final bill analysis by the Legislature. The money came from corporations and other groups that received a tax credit for funding the vouchers.

“The bill he voted for was the first step towards expanding the use of vouchers, which allows more tax money to be taken from the public schools,” Jacobs said.

Perman said he has been careful not to stridently attack Jacobs publicly, fearful that he would look like a bully picking on a grandmother. However, in private, Perman was not reticent about mentioning some of the votes Jacobs has cast that he believes are wrong.

JACOBS VOTED TO EXPAND NORTH BROWARD DUMP

Jacobs voted in 2011 to allow the 21.3-acre expansion of the Monarch Hill landfill on Wiles Road just east of Coconut Creek and Florida’s Turnpike. The vote could be controversial in the campaign since parts of District 96 are periodically plagued with wind-blown foul smells from the landfill. Monarch Hill has successfully resolved numerous odor-related violation complaints from the county in the past.

Jacobs said that Coconut Creek, the city most affected by the landfill, signed an agreement with the landfill operator five years ago to allow the facility to expand in return for stepped-up attempts to damp down the smell. She called the county’s vote “ministerial” and noted that “no one from the city objected….It was a unanimous vote.”

Perman’s campaign manager, David Brown, also said that Jacobs took $35,000 in campaign contributions from the Florida Panthers, team officials and lobbyists and related interests. The contributions were made before the hockey team’s request for more money from the county’s bed tax. The campaign funds were for her losing 2012 congressional race and the current House campaign.

“There has been no vote for the Panthers. It has been postponed and probably won’t come up while I am still at the commission,” said Jacobs, who leaves the county’s Government Center in November because of term limits. She contended that despite the contributions, she has never supported the Panthers’ request. “I’m beholden to no one,” she said.

Both candidates sounded remarkably alike when asked why voters should choose them over their opponent.

“There are 120 House members and only one-third of them are Democrats. We need to send up our A Team to represent Democrat values, and I’ve been part of Broward County’s A Team for 16 years,” Jacobs said.

“We need a strong voice in Tallahassee,” Perman said “I’ve proven I can work with both Republicans and Democrats….It’s what I did in a state Legislature which was very hostile territory.”

Outside groups dwarf candidate spending in Florida special election

By Michael Beckel, Center for Public Integrity 

Democrat Alex Sink, left, and Republican David Jolly

Democrat Alex Sink, left, and Republican David Jolly

The campaign money machines of Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly have not just been matched by outside forces, they’ve been lapped.

Roughly $12.5 million has flooded the heated special election in Pinellas County on central Florida’s gulf coast, but less than one-third of that sum was controlled by the candidates’ own campaigns, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal records. (more…)

As Broward commission races take shape, LaMarca, Keechl fear nasty re-run

By Buddy Nevins, BrowardBulldog.org 

Broward Commissioner Chip LaMarca, left, and challenger Ken Keechl

Broward Commissioner Chip LaMarca, left, and challenger Ken Keechl

Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca and former Commissioner Ken Keechl approach their upcoming race for the commission like a child approaches the first day of school — with anxiety and trepidation.

Both fear a re-run of their slash-and-burn campaign of four years ago when the upstart LaMarca, a Republican, toppled Keechl, a Democrat, from his District 4 commission seat. Now Keechl wants the seat back.

The two spent a combined $763,106 during the 2010 campaign as they tried to drown their opponent in a flood of negative ads. A third candidate, Chris Chiari, spent roughly $65,000, mostly his own money and was not considered by either LaMarca or Keechl a serious challenger.

LaMarca blasted Keechl in a mailed ad emblazoned with a newspaper headline reading: “FBI Arrests Broward County Public Officials.” Keechl was attacked for his role as a “Ponzi scheme attorney” for having a client who was later found to be operating a fraud.

Keechl branded LaMarca a “criminal” for his drunk driving arrest in college and for being the target of an investigation into a political complaint by the State Attorney’s Office while he was a Lighthouse Point city commissioner. The probe ended without charges.

“I don’t want it to happen again. It wasn’t right. I feel sorry for my wife. She didn’t like the person they painted me to be,” LaMarca said.

“I anticipate he will come after me,” Keechl said. “He has surrounded himself with people who play hardball politics, people who believe politics is a contact sport.”

NEGATIVE ADS EXPECTED

Negative advertising could be expected in races like the county commission, according to Jim Kane, an adjunct political science professor at the University of Florida who has both held office and worked as a lobbyist in Broward during the past four decades.

“They are used because they work, especially in down-ballot races like county commission where many voters have little knowledge of the candidates. They are a way to define a candidate before the voter has any way to define the candidate themselves,” said Kane, a contributor to Browardbeat.com, a political website owned by the author of this story.

On Tuesday, a third candidate entered the District 4 race. Ben Lap is best known as a Democratic fundraiser, but neither LaMarca nor Keechl consider him a major factor at this point.

As of Dec. 31, 2013, incumbent LaMarca had more than triple the money to run ads than challenger Keechl. Including personal loans and in-kind contributions, LaMarca had $131,343 compared to $41,773 for Keechl.

That’s a stark reversal from the race four years ago when Keechl was the incumbent. He raised $614,801 that year, compared to LaMarca’s $148,305.

“Incumbents get more money because they have a vote on the commission,” Kane said.

Keechl isn’t worried about lagging in contributions.

“I am fortunate that I can always put in my own money,” he said.

Keechl contributed roughly $180,000 to his victorious commission campaign in 2006, when he was the challenger. He spent only $500 of his own money in 2010, when he was an incumbent. For an open seat in 2012 in a different commission district, Keechl spent about $1,500 of his own money on a losing campaign in a race where there was no incumbent.

“An incumbent always has access to a lot more money. I will have six figures to spend in this race and will be competitive,” Keechl said.

KEECHL AND BAIL BOND INDUSTRY

While most of those doing business with the county and their lobbyists are funneling money to incumbent LaMarca, Keechl is getting help from one special interest – the bail bonds industry.

Keechl’s connections include Wayne Spath, the president of Brandy Bail Bonds in downtown Fort Lauderdale and a long-time leader in Broward’s bail bonds industry.

Wayne Spath   Photo: brandybailbonds.com

Wayne Spath
Photo: brandybailbonds.com

The bail bonds industry has been a major supporter of Keechl since January 2009, when he backed a move by the County Commission that curtailed the county’s pre-trial release program.

Although the vote was 7-2, Keechl was an influential voice on the subject because he is an attorney and because of his membership on the Broward Public Safety Coordinating Council. The result of cutting back the county’s pre-trial release program meant a larger number of defendants are held in jail to await trial and must use bail bonds to be released.

Spath’s $500 donation was the first contribution to Keechl’s current campaign. Spath also held a fundraiser for Keechl in September.

In an e-mailed invitation addressed “Dear Colleague,” Spath wrote members of the bail bond industry to say, “I had the opportunity of working with Ken on the Public Safety Coordinating Council on jail overcrowding along with other issues. Ken understands the criminal justice system and we need your help in order to get Ken elected on the Broward County Commission.”

In an interview, Spath denied his support for Keechl hinged on his past vote, although he said he had a problem with the way the pre-trial detention program was being operated before it was changed by the County Commission with the help of Keechl.

“People were getting out (of jail) who had no business getting out,” Spath said.

Keechl reported $7,225 in contributions the day after the fundraiser. To date, he has received $2,100 from contributors who identify themselves as part of the bail bonds industry.

Keechl described the bail bonds industry as “friends,” but LaMarca has another take on the contributions.

“He supported an issue that the bail bondsmen wanted,” LaMarca said. “That is the only reason they have supported him now.”

LAMARCA AND BUSINESS LOBBYISTS

LaMarca refused to comment on his own contributors, who include dozens of people who do business at the county. They include lobbyists Stephanie Toothaker, Robert Lochrie III and John Milledge; groups like the Broward Builders Political Action Committee; and companies like Weekley Asphalt.

As if to highlight that contributions to the GOP commissioner are about business rather than partisan politics, several of his contributions come from lobbyists with weighty Democratic credentials – former College Democrats of America national president Bernie Friedman and former Broward Democratic Chair George Platt.

Lobbyists George Platt, left, and Bernie Friedman

Lobbyists George Platt, left, and Bernie Friedman

Besides District 4, three other seats on the county commission are also being contested this year.

The qualifying period for candidates in each of those contests is from noon June 16 to noon June 20.

District 4, which was redrawn since the 2010 election when LaMarca won, contains roughly 8 percent more registered Democrats than Republicans in the district. The Democratic majority offsets the removal from the district of Wilton Manors, home to many gays, which could have hurt the openly-gay Keechl.

Keechl lives in Wilton Manors, but said he’s planning to move to a new location within District 4’s new boundaries.

It may appear that Democrat Keechl has a big advantage, but that’s not necessarily the way it will work out. Democrats tend to vote in lower numbers than Republicans.

Political science studies have “shown that Republicans are more likely to turn out and are more likely to stick with their party’s nominee, especially in down-ballot races where they know little else about the candidate other than the party label,” said Kane, the University of Florida professor. “Any down-ballot race where the advantage for Democrats is less than 10 percent, generally speaking, is competitive.”

BROWARD OVERWHELMINGLY DEMOCRATIC

 

Kane’s analysis reflects why the District 4 race, where Democrats have less of an advantage than in any of the eight other Broward commission districts, is shaping up to be the only real contest in the Nov. 4 general election. The reason: the county is so overwhelmingly Democratic that District 4 in northeastern Broward is the only place where there are enough Republicans in upper-income neighborhoods along the beachfront to comprise a voting bloc.

In contrast, this year’s races for a trio of other commission seats heavily favor Democrats, and are expected to be decided in the Aug. 26 primary.

Three candidates have announced so far for District 2, now held by term-limited Commissioner Kristin Jacobs. They are: Coconut Creek City Commissioner Lisa Kohner Aronson, lawyer Mark D. Bogen and former Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Charlotte Elizabeth Rodstrom.

In that North Broward district, Democrats hold a 31 percent advantage, so most political observers believe the race will be decided in the primary.

District 6, where Commissioner Sue Gunzburger is also being forced out by term limits, the announced candidates are former Hollywood City Commissioner Quentin “Beam” Furr and State Rep. Joseph “Joe” Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach. Democrats have a 32 percent advantage over Republicans in the southeast Broward district.

Democrats’ advantage is even higher in District 8 – which stretches from Miramar and Pembroke Pines to West Park and western Hallandale Beach along Broward County’s southern border – where there are 38 percent more registered Democrats than Republicans.

The two announced candidates, both Democrats, are incumbent Barbara Sharief, who now has the title of county mayor, and Alexandra P. Davis, a West park city commissioner.

Meanwhile, despite their concerns, the District 4 race between LaMarca and Keechl is moving towards a negative campaign.

Keechl vowed to “tell voters who their county commissioner is.”

In turn, LaMarca said he will “not sit back” quietly and “let him pound me.”

Said Kane said, “One person’s ‘defining their opponent’ is another person’s negative advertising.” 

How Washington starves its election watchdog; Bickering, backlogs – even Chinese hackers

By Dave Levinthal, Center for Public Integrity fecbuilding

Just after the federal government shut down Oct. 1, and one of the government’s more dysfunctional agencies stopped functioning altogether, Chinese hackers picked their moment to attack.

They waylaid the Federal Election Commission’s networks. They crashed computer systems that publicly disclose how billions of dollars are raised and spent each election cycle by candidates, parties and political action committees. (more…)

Koch-backed nonprofit spent record cash in 2012

By Michael Beckel, Center for Public Integrity 

Billionaire David Koch speaks at a 2013 Americans for Prosperity Foundation event.

Billionaire David Koch speaks at a 2013 Americans for Prosperity Foundation event.

Americans for Prosperity — the main political arm of billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch — spent a staggering $122 million last year as it unsuccessfully attempted to defeat President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of documents filed in Colorado. (more…)

The governor and the felon: the profitable, private partnership of Rick Scott and Ken Jenne

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org 

Before he was governor, Rick Scott, left, funneled stock options worth $375,000 to then Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne

Before he was governor, Rick Scott, left, funneled stock options worth $375,000 to then Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne

Kimberly Kisslan’s sudden resignation from Broward Health’s governing board two weeks ago followed news of her immunized testimony in the 2007 corruption case that brought down Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne.

Since then, Gov. Rick Scott, who appointed Kisslan in July, has refused to answer questions about the matter or explain why a state background check failed to uncover Kisslan’s involvement in Jenne’s criminal scheme. Kisslan was BSO legal counsel under Sheriff Jenne.

Scott, however, has a little-known reason for not wanting to talk about Jenne. The governor and the convicted felon are old friends and business associates.

“I’ve just known (Scott) for years and years and years,” Jenne told this reporter in 2005.

Scott was a wealthy private investor in April 2003 when he funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars Sheriff Jenne’s way by recommending him for a lucrative seat on the board of directors of CyberGuard, a Deerfield Beach computer security company. At the time, Scott owned nearly 40 percent of CyberGuard’s stock.

cyberguardlogoLess than three years later, California-based Secure Computing bought CyberGuard for $295 million in stock and cash. Cyberguard’s annual report made public a few weeks after the announcement listed Jenne as the beneficial owner of 42,555 CyberGuard shares valued at $375,000 under the terms of the deal.

Jenne acquired most, if not all of those shares via stock options he received for serving on CyberGuard’s board.

CyberGuard’s core business was building and selling digital firewalls to shield computer networks from intruders. Its “target customers,” according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission records, were “companies, major financial institutions and government entities.” Cyberguard did not identify specific clients.

Why Scott wanted Jenne on CyberGuard’s board is not known, and neither the governor nor Jenne would comment for this story. Jenne, who went to prison for mail fraud and not disclosing benefits he received from BSO vendors on his income tax returns, previously said CyberGuard was not a BSO vendor.

SCOTT BUYS A STAKE 

Richard L. Scott, as the governor was known before he ran for office, made his initial investment in Cyberguard in August 1999 via Fernwood Partners II, which acquired $3.7 million in company debt, according to SEC and other records. Fernwood was a Delaware firm that bought, sold and invested in the stock and debt of other companies. Scott and his wife, Annette, were major equity shareholders in Fernwood.

As part of the deal, CyberGuard added Scott’s brother, William Scott, and former Columbia/HCA Healthcare executive David Manning to its board of directors. Gov. Scott was Columbia/HCA’s chief executive until 1997 when he resigned amid a federal Medicare fraud investigation.

Fernwood went on to acquire nearly 50 percent of CyberGuard before it was dissolved and its holdings distributed to its members in March 2003, SEC records say.

With that, Scott became CyberGuard’s largest individual shareholder. By August 2005, when Secure Computing announced it would acquire all of Cyberguard’s shares, Scott owned 8,249,597 shares worth $72,356,000 in cash and Secure Computing shares, according to SEC records.

Scott’s total investment in Cyberguard: about $10 million, the records indicate.

“When I initially made my investments in Cyberguard, I felt Cyberguard had superior products in the firewall industry,” Scott said in the press release that announced approval of the takeover by Cyberguard’s shareholders. “What was accomplished over the last five years is a testament to the management team we put in place and their commitment and focus.”

Scott kept nearly 4 million Secure shares when he joined Secure’s board after the transaction was completed in January 2006. He was briefly chairman before computer giant McAfee bought Secure in a $462 million cash deal in 2008. Scott walked away with $23 million.

INVESTMENT PARTNER RUNS SCOTT’S ‘BLIND TRUST’

SEC records identify Scott crony Alan L. Bazaar as another member of Fernwood Partners in the CyberGuard investment.

For a decade before Scott was elected governor, Bazaar helped manage his portfolio at the better-known Richard L. Scott Investments LLC. Today, as co-CEO of New York’s Hollow Brook Wealth Management, Bazaar oversees the “blind trust” established by the governor in 2011 to avoid conflicts of interest and manage much of his large personal investment portfolio.

Lobbyist William Rubin with Gov. Rick Scott Photo: Tampa Bay Times

Lobbyist William Rubin with Gov. Rick Scott Photo: Tampa Bay Times

Serving with Scott and Jenne on Cyberguard’s board was Fort Lauderdale lobbyist William D. Rubin, a longtime friend and political supporter of both men. Rubin was listed in SEC records as having 58,000 CyberGuard shares worth $510,000 in cash and stock.

In 2003, while together on CyberGuard’s board, Sheriff Jenne made Rubin an “honorary deputy sheriff.” He also bestowed a BSO “Friend of Children Award” on a lobbyist in Rubin’s firm, Noreen Reboso.

The Tampa Bay Times quoted Rubin about his friendship with Scott on the day of Scott’s election in November 2010.

“I got to know Rick in 1991 when he started his hospital company, and we’ve stayed close ever since. I love him,” said Rubin, who in 2009 lobbied in Tallahassee on behalf of Solantic, Scott’s walk-in clinic company. “He’s a very good friend. We’ve stayed in touch ever since.”

Rubin added that he would not benefit from Scott being in the Governor’s office. “I won’t be. I’ll quickly dispel that perception.”

Nevertheless, Rubin is today registered to lobby Scott and the Executive Branch on behalf of nearly 60 corporate and government clients, including Scott’s old firm, now called HCA Healthcare, and BSO under Sheriff Scott Israel.

Rubin did not respond to a request for comment.

Knowledgeable sources have said privately that they believe Rubin and/or Jenne prevailed upon Scott to appoint Sunrise City Attorney Kimberly Kisslan to the board of the North Broward Hospital District, also known as Broward Health, but there is no evidence to support it.

KISSLAN RESIGNATION TRIGGERS QUESTIONS

Kisslan resigned Oct. 18 – three months into her four-year term and two days after BrowardBulldog.org reported about her grand jury appearance under a grant of immunity.

Kisslan got into trouble with federal prosecutors due to personal legal work she did for Jenne while he was sheriff. Specifically, she and a BSO vendor coordinated the demolition of an old house with code compliance issues that Jenne owned in Lake Worth.

At the same time, Kisslan was negotiating a BSO lease extension with the vendor – quickly signed by Jenne – that called for the police agency to lease additional office space from him at a cost of $348,000.

The vendor, developer Philip Procacci, later paid the $8,130 demolition cost for Jenne and the matter became part of the corruption charges to which the sheriff pleaded guilty in September 2007.

Kisslan’s role in Jenne’s scheme is spelled out in public court documents filed at the time of his plea. Yet despite a background check, Gov. Scott was unaware of that damaging information when he installed Kisslan on Broward Health’s board, said spokesman John Tupps.

The governor’s office declined to discuss the vetting process for gubernatorial appointees.

There is, however, an intriguing Broward connection inside Scott’s Executive Appointments Office that dovetails back to both Jenne and Rubin.

Former Fort Lauderdale resident Carrie O’Rourke is the governor’s $116,000-a-year Director of External Affairs. Her duties include oversight of gubernatorial appointments.

From 2007-2009, O’Rourke was director of organizational development in Fort Lauderdale for Edify, LLC. That’s the health benefits consulting firm whose owners included convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein.

Jenne worked at Rothstein’s law firm after his release from prison in 2008. And in September 2009, New Times reported that Edify paid Jenne’s son, former State Rep. Evan Jenne, $30,000 as a consultant.

As finance director for Scott’s inaugural committee, O’Rourke worked with Rubin and his lobbying firm, The Rubin Group, to select candidates for the governor’s transition healthcare team.

In December 2011, as the governor’s deputy chief of staff, O’Rourke traveled to Israel with Rubin and his wife Lys as part of a 48-member trade mission delegation led by Gov. Scott, according to Sunshine State News.

Obama bundlers nominated for diplomatic posts; Boca’s Mark Gilbert for ambassador to New Zealand

By Michael Beckel, Center for Public Integrity 

Mark Gilbert, right, and wife Nancy flank former Pinecrest School head Robert Goldberg

Mark Gilbert, right, and wife Nancy flank former Pinecrest School head Robert Goldberg

President Barack Obama has named two more of his top campaign fundraisers for plumb diplomatic posts, nominating Boca Raton’s Mark Gilbert to be U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and Rob Barber to the same position in Iceland.

With the choices, Obama continues his aggressive push to elevate major bundlers and loyalists to top diplomatic jobs. (more…)

Cooper City shrinks official minutes: “Details you really don’t want the public to know about”

By William Hladky, BrowardBulldog.org 

A Broward Sheriff's captain intervenes to calm overheated Cooper City politicians last year.

A Broward Sheriff’s captain intervenes to calm overheated Cooper City politicians last year.

Emotions boiled as the Cooper City commissioners talked angrily over each other.

“You do this crap all the time,” Commissioner John Sims shouted at then-Mayor Debby Eisinger, accusing her of trying to ram through a commission vote to spend money to send flyers to residents about an upcoming city vote to change the town charter. “I’ve had it up to here.”

“You are extremely disruptive,” Eisinger fired back during that Aug. 12, 2012 commission meeting.

“No, you are extremely dumb…,” Sims replied.

A video of the meeting shows that at one point Sims stood and leaned toward the mayor. Another commissioner, sitting between them, rose to separate them. A woman shouted, “Stop it! Stop it!” The sheriff’s captain, responsible for Cooper City law enforcement, approached the dais to calm the politicians.

Yet Cooper City’s official minutes of that meeting make no mention of the 12-minute donnybrook.

Why? City Clerk Susan Poling offered an answer at a commission meeting one month later.

“Sometimes it’s a little embarrassing to put in details you really don’t want the public to know about,” Poling said.

INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MINUTES

The record does not establish the basis for change, but since the latter half of 2008 the minutes of Cooper City commission meetings have been shrinking. Or as local political activist Skip Klauber puts it, “scrubbed.”

Cooper City Commissioner John Sims and former Mayor Debby Eisinger

Cooper City Commissioner John Sims and former Mayor Debby Eisinger

Sims complained to Poling at the Sept. 12, 2012 meeting after seeing no mention of the angry encounter the month before in the official minutes.

“You really got to be kidding me, Ms. Poling,” said Sims. “Who is telling you to manipulate the minutes, Ms. Poling?”

Poling denied manipulating the minutes and explained that commission minutes had been reduced to “action minutes” which only record official actions or commission votes and do not summarize discussions.

Commissioner Lisa Mallozzi said action minutes were instituted to save staff time and resources. “Nothing is being hidden, nothing is being thrown under a carpet. This is a more effective way to use our staff time,” she said.

Cooper City commission minutes were not always brief. Based on information Sims provided the Florida Attorney General, the minutes in 2007 averaged more than 18 pages and in the first half of 2008 averaged more than 13 pages.

CHANGE IN POLITICAL WINDS

But the political winds in Cooper City shifted in 2008. Bruce D. Loucks replaced long-time City Manager Christopher Farrell after the commission voted Farrell out. Thirty-year City Clerk Susan Bernard retired. City Attorney Alan F. Ruf was fired and replaced by David Wolphin.

During the second half of 2008 commission meeting minutes averaged about 8 pages. In 2012, the average had dipped to fewer than 6 pages.

In an interview, Greg Ross, who took over as mayor last November, noted that video recordings of commission meetings supplement the minutes. The videos are available on demand on the city’s web site and because of the videos, there was no reason for lengthening minutes, he said.

Carla Miller, founder of City Ethics, a non-profit organization that provides local governments with ethics training and programs, agreed with Ross that supplementing minutes with videos is good practice.

“If you have a video tape of it, to have 10 pages (of minutes) and not 16 pages is sufficient,” Miller said, adding that state law does not require “verbatim notes”.

But Daniel Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida a non-profit that promotes integrity in government, was critical of Cooper City’s practice. He said recording thorough accounts of commission deliberations in the minutes “would save Cooper City residents the hassle of going through hours of videos.”

“It is important for the public to be able to understand their officials…and their decision making,”
Krassner added. “More detailed minutes offer greater public understanding of how decisions are debated and decided.”

Commissioner Sims made a similar argument in lengthy complaints to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2012 and to Broward Inspector General John Scott in 2013 where he argued that Cooper City was violating the state’s Sunshine Law.

“Trying to find what you want to watch on a three-plus hour video is a frustrating and highly imperfect process,” Sims wrote. “Unless someone tells you where to look, the Internet (video of commission meetings) in no way makes up for the bare, unlawfully taken minutes.”

NO INVESTIGATION

Neither Bondi nor Scott, however, would investigate Sims’ allegations.

Florida Assistant Attorney General Lagran Saunders’s two-page response to Sims noted that the Sunshine Law does not define “minutes.” He added that his office could not investigate unless a majority of the Cooper City Commission requested an inquiry.

Broward Inspector General Scott did not reply to him in writing, Sims said. Instead, a staffer telephoned him to report that his request for an inquiry had been rejected.

Nevertheless, Sims continues to accuse “the commission, the city manager and the city attorney” of “washing the minutes” because they “do not want the public to know what is going on.”

That includes the scrubbing of other official minutes, Sims said.

In his complaint to Bondi, Sims noted that the minutes of Cooper City’s Charter Review Board meetings also have fallen. Charter Review Boards meet every five years to consider changes in the city charter. In 2006, the average length of the boards minutes was eight pages; last year, about 3 ½ pages.

Klauber, a member of the 2012 Charter Review Board, said the board’s minutes were “dumbed down…to the point of uselessness.”

Klauber said minutes of the Planning and Zoning Board are now “garbage.” Under Ro Woodward, a city administrative coordinator who prepared them, the minutes were detailed. But after she retired this year, he said, quality departed with her.

A records review revealed that the four 2012 Planning and Zoning Board meetings Woodward attended produced minutes that averaged 16 pages. The four 2013 meeting minutes posted thus far on line average less five pages.

Michelle Alvarez is the administrative assistant to Cooper City manager Loucks, who was unavailable for comment.

Alvarez said in an email that the city’s advisory boards have the “option” of audio recording their meetings to help prepare minutes. She said the city’s Planning and Zoning and Pension boards do audio record their meetings. Audio recordings are retained for two years but are not posted online.

Official minutes are permanent, she added.

Goldman Sachs exec is 20th elite Obama fundraiser nominated for diplomatic post this term

By Michael Beckel, Center for Public Integrity 

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House, May 13, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House, May 13, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

A veteran Goldman Sachs & Co. executive and major fundraiser for President Barack Obama has been nominated as the next ambassador to Canada — the latest in a parade of big-dollar campaign backers slated to represent U.S. interests abroad.

Chicago-based Bruce Heyman raised more than $750,000 for Obama’s committees since 2007, along with his wife, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of records.

Heyman’s nomination is a sort of milestone for the White House: During his second term, Obama has now tapped 20 campaign bundlers for ambassadorships. (more…)

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