Don't Call Me a Lobbyist!

Even though my name is Chris Korge and Alex Penelas is my best buddy and all the commissioners are indebted to me and I guarantee you'll get that fat county contract

Toss out the name of any county politician and it's a sure bet Chris Korge has raised money for his or her election campaigns.

County Commissioner Betty Ferguson? "Betty I've fundraised for," Korge says. "I think in her last election I raised almost $10,000 for her, which was a lot because she didn't raise that much money."

Commissioner Dorrin Rolle? "Dorrin I've raised money for," Korge affirms. "I raised a lot for him." He estimates that for the special election earlier this year, he collected between $25,000 and $30,000 for Rolle, which was nearly half of all the money Rolle had raised for his campaign against indicted former Commissioner James Burke, who in previous years had also received thousands of dollars in contributions gathered by Korge.

Newly appointed Commissioner Bruno Barreiro? "Barreiro I've raised money for," Korge acknowledges. "I raised between $4000 and $5000 for him."

Commissioner Miriam Alonso? Korge nods his head emphatically. "We devoted a lot of time to raising her money," he stresses. Earlier this year he helped organize an event for Alonso at the home of developer Sergio Pino, which brought in close to $200,000. "I spent a lot of time with the commissioner getting her to make phone calls right here in my office to raise money for that event."

Commissioner Miguel Diaz de la Portilla? "The last time he ran I raised $25,000 for him and $25,000 for his brother." (Diaz de la Portilla's brother Alex was running for the state House of Representatives.)

Commissioner Dennis Moss? "Dennis I've raised money for in the past," he says, "although in the last election I didn't raise any money for him. I didn't raise money for his opposition, either. The reason I wouldn't have raised money for Dennis -- and I think Dennis has a hard-on for me -- Dennis was in bed with [former Commission Chairman Art] Teele and was marshalling all his forces to run against the mayor [Alex Penelas], and I wasn't about to raise money for someone who was going to use it against the mayor." With Teele now out of county hall, he'll probably raise money for Moss in the future, he adds.

Commissioners Barbara Carey, Gwen Margolis, and Natacha Millan? "Barbara I've raised money for. Gwen I've raised money for. Natacha I've raised money for in the past. I raised $20,000 for Natacha the first time she ran."

Commissioners Pedro Reboredo, Jimmy Morales, Javier Souto, and Katy Sorenson? "Reboredo, Morales I've raise money for. I've raised money for Javier. Sorenson I've raised money for, at least $12,000 or $13,000 so far this year."

In other words, at one time or another Chris Korge has bestowed his special brand of munificence on every single county commissioner currently in office. "Right," he confirms with a smile. "I would venture to say I was one of the top five fundraisers for each individual commissioner in their elections."

And of course he's raised money for his good friend Mayor Alex Penelas. "I raised a lot of money for him," Korge boasts. "Probably in excess of $200,000." It could be more, he adds. It was difficult to keep track of all the checks that came in during the mayor's race. "We raised about $2.4 million in that campaign," he recalls. "Toward the end I think we turned away $100,000 in contributions. I've never seen anything like it."

Korge's financial support of Penelas did not begin with the 1996 mayor's race. Indeed, Korge and business associate Rodney Barreto were among Penelas's earliest supporters, and they raised tens of thousands of dollars for him in 1990 when he first ran for a seat on the county commission.

Today Korge's largess is not limited to local candidates. In the past year or so, he has leaped onto the national stage as a major Democratic fundraiser. "Last year I raised just a hair under a million dollars for the Democratic Party," he says.

In June 1997 Korge cohosted a luncheon for Vice President Al Gore at the Hotel Inter-Continental that raised $300,000 for the Democratic National Committee. This past December he organized an event at the Biltmore Hotel for the DNC that generated a million dollars in contributions -- $700,000 of which Korge claims he personally raised, along with Penelas. After the Biltmore event, President Clinton went to Korge's Pinecrest home for a smaller, more intimate reception. "You have no idea what it's like having the president of the United States in your house," he recounts with awe.

On July 9 Korge was at Sylvester Stallone's home helping organize another million-dollar affair for the president and the Democratic Party. A few days later he hopped a plane for Nashville to meet with the vice president and members of Al Gore's political action committee, which is laying the groundwork for Gore's run for the White House in 2000. He had already sent along $10,000 in checks and committed to raising another $90,000 in the coming weeks. "Not that much," he shrugs.

If money is the mother's milk of politics, then Chris Korge is South Florida's very own cash cow.

Chris Korge hates to be called a lobbyist. "I'm an attorney," he huffs. True, he is an attorney, but he is primarily a lobbyist -- arguably the top lobbyist today in Miami-Dade County. The two dozen clients he represents before the county commission include venerable institutions such as BellSouth, Host-Marriott, and Parsons Brinckerhoff Construction Services.

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