Pay to Play

In this political season, Miami's high-profile campaign contributors favor Republicans and Democrats

It's hardly surprising that Micky Arison wrote out a $2000 check to President George W. Bush's re-election campaign. After all, last year the Carnival Corporation CEO and Miami Heat owner cashed in $66.1 million of his cruise line's stock, on top of receiving another $90 million in stock dividend payments. Thanks to the Bush tax cuts on both dividends and capital gains, Arison saved millions of dollars that would have otherwise gone to the IRS. A $2000 thank-you note would seem the least he could do to show his appreciation.

Yet talk about ungrateful -- Arison also contributed $2000 (the legal limit for individual campaigns) to Florida Sen. Bob Graham's quixotic campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, even as Graham pledged to undo most of Bush's tax cuts. Adding insult to injury, just a few weeks after his Bush donation, Arison gave $6000 to the Democratic National Committee (DNC), as well as another $1000 to the party's Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). Arison seems just as fuzzy on the Red vs. Blue divide when it comes to a race closer to home: He's given $2000 to Florida Republican hopeful Johnnie Byrd in his quest for Graham's senate seat, as well as $2000 each to two of Byrd's Democratic challengers -- Peter Deutsch and Alex Penelas. For those new to the workings of the American political system, perhaps a reminder is in order: Only one person can win an election.

Calls to Arison's Carnival office seeking a little clarification were -- surprise, surprise -- not returned. But of course Arison isn't the only Miamian hedging his bets on the 2004 presidential race. Perusing federal election records via the Political Money Line database reveals a veritable who's who of the city's power elite contributing to the campaign efforts of George W. Bush as well as Bob Graham, not to mention the host of Democrats who jockeyed for their party's presidential anointment during this past primary season.

Miami's big-time political money man is none other 
than Bryan Norcross, whose WFOR weather 
forecasts are now ideologically suspect
Fred Harper
Miami's big-time political money man is none other than Bryan Norcross, whose WFOR weather forecasts are now ideologically suspect

Spanish Broadcasting System CEO Raul Alarcón, the Vincam Group's Carlos Saladrigas, and Southern Wine and Spirits CEO Wayne Chaplin are just some of the folks who gave the maximum allowable under federal law to both Bush and Graham during the most recent election cycle. Eagle Brands CEO Carlos de la Cruz has a different dilemma to solve -- his money went to both Bush and Dick Gephardt. County mayoral hopeful José Cancela gave $2000 to Bush and $2000 to the DNC, while prominent lobbyist Ron Book just seems to like everybody: He gave Bush $2000 the exact same day he gave the DCCC $1500. Graham received $2000 from Book, as did Howard Dean and John Kerry -- within days of each other.

Vista magazine head Alfred Estrada took a more convoluted path to the same end, giving $25,000 to the DCCC, then $10,000 to Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart's Democracy Believers Political Action Committee (PAC) -- which doles out money to many of the Republicans running against the congressional candidates bankrolled nationwide by the DCCC. Perhaps to help even the score, Estrada's wife Teresa kicked in another $5000 to Democracy Believers.

What on earth is going on here? Isn't giving to both sides in a race counterproductive?

"It's actually pretty simple," explains Nancy Watzman, research director for Public Campaign, a Washington, D.C.-based campaign-finance watchdog. "These folks are protecting their investments. They're giving money for bottom-line business reasons, as opposed to ideological or true-belief reasons. They just want to make sure that whoever gets elected, they're going to have access to that administration. "

In a Public Campaign report titled Whoever Wins, They Win: Double-Giving in the Presidential Campaign, Watzman found that such practices were a "time-honored strategy practiced by the politically savvy." The report continues: "One of the best known examples of this phenomenon are the sugar-growing Fanjul brothers of Florida. For years they have managed to fight off attacks on the federal sugar loan-support program that is worth more than $65 million a year for their business. Their secret? Alfonso 'Alfy' Fanjul is a major Democratic donor; José 'Pepe' Fanjul is a major Republican donor. Meanwhile, consumers pay $1.2 billion more per year for sugar than they otherwise would."

Naturally Miami's double-dippers have a less jaundiced take on all this. To hear José Cancela tell it, his giving money to both Bush and the DNC's effort to unseat Bush is the only way to stay above the fray. "I'm a Democrat, I'm not ashamed of that," Cancela tells Kulchur. "But this presidential race is going to be very divisive and I want to be the mayor for all the people of Miami-Dade County, not just one sector of the community."

So are you a Bush supporter or a Kerry supporter?

"I'm neither," Cancela replies, honing his debating skills. "Both sides are happy I gave, and I'm happy that they're happy."

Keeping people on both sides of the aisle smiling also seems to be the secret behind Ron Book's booming lobbyist practice. "I like both candidates and consider them both to be friends of mine," Book tells Kulchur. "From a business community perspective, President Bush is a better candidate. On other issues, John Kerry is more attractive."

You do realize only one man can win in November, right?

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