The cruise industry's ICCL donated $168,146 to various candidates in 1998. Republicans received $89,146 while Democrats raked in $79,000. And which House member benefited most from ICCL largess? None other than Miami Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who garnered $6500. Diaz-Balart sits on the Rules Committee, arguably the most powerful committee in the House. It may not sound exciting, but the committee plays a crucial legislative role by determining the rules of debate for every bill that passes through Congress. Control the debate and often you control the fate of the bill. So Diaz-Balart is in a wonderful position to stymie any legislation Arison and the cruise industry don't like.
In addition to campaign donations, Arison and his fellow cruise-industry executives spend a king's ransom on lobbyists. In 1997 ICCL burned up $557,000 arm-twisting members of Congress. The bulk of that money, according to information compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C., was directed at issues relating to "taxation" (or more accurately, "taxation avoidance"). In 1998 the industry's bill for lobbying jumped to $604,000.
AP/Wide World Photo
Here's a novel idea: Hold Micky Arison personally responsible for crimes committed aboard his ships
The cruise lines' principal Washington lobbyist is a company called Alcalde & Fay, the fifteenth-largest lobbying firm in the United States. (Read "The Deep Blue Greed" for a delightful tale about a Mississippi congressman's encounter with the firm's name partner, Hector Alcalde. It'll go a long way toward reinforcing any notions you may have about politics in our nation's capital being hopelessly corrupt.)
Following the money and tracking the players also serve as a reminder that the political world is small and incestuous. One example: Miami-Dade County's lobbyist in Washington just happens to be Hector Alcalde and his firm Alcalde & Fay. It might be in the county's interest for cruise lines to be more aggressively taxed (with some of that money making its way back to Miami), but the county's lobbyist also represents the cruise industry, which doesn't want to pay any taxes. No conflict there, I'm sure.
Oh heck, Miami-Dade County probably doesn't need any additional tax money from Washington. Certainly the county commission has all the federal money it can handle for improving transportation, replacing our aging infrastructure, helping out worthy community groups, and generally making this a better place to live. Who needs more money?
Why, just look at Biscayne Boulevard. Thanks to Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas and his pal Arison, we now have a gleaming new sports arena that only cost taxpayers slightly more than $350 million. Whenever I drive by it, I think of the real Micky Arison -- and the women who've been raped without consequence aboard his ships and the countless laborers he's exploited and the billions in taxes he's avoided paying over the years.