Pay to Play

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

"I guess we'll have to see what happens when I go into the voting booth," Book counters wryly. Turning serious, he adds, "You want to try and make sure you're accessing both campaigns. I don't do that all the time."

Actually you do. You gave to both parties in the 2000 presidential race.

"Did I?" Book asks earnestly. "Who did I support in 2000?"

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

I don't know who you voted for, but you gave $5000 to the Republican Party, $1000 to Bush, $2500 to the Democratic Party, and $500 to Bill Bradley.

His memory instantly refreshed, Book insists, "I clearly supported the president last time. I gave more money to [Bush] than I gave to Gore." Not that he's embarrassed by his equal-opportunity check-writing: "I think my clients are better served by my being a bipartisan guy."

In that respect at least, Book is certainly more forthright than some of his fellow lobbyists. Across town at the high-powered firm of Barreto, Cunningham, May, Dudley, Maloy, Rodney Barreto is known as a well-connected Republican. Indeed, with the exception of Alex Penelas, all his contributions this past election cycle have been to GOP figures, including $2000 to Bush and $25,000 to the Republican National Committee. Yet Barreto's partner Brian May donates solely to Democrats. Is there an ideological war brewing at their office's water cooler, or are Barreto and May trying to fool certain clients?

"Well, I'm not trying to fool anybody," Book declares. "Judge this book by its cover!"


Braman Motorcars CEO Norman Braman is refreshingly unequivocal about his presidential hopes. "With all due respect to John Kerry, it's a no-brainer for me," Braman says. "I just really believe in these difficult times we're going through, especially since 9/11 and the courage it took to move against Iraq, that this country needs George W. Bush as president." Sure enough, a look at federal records reveals a $2000 contribution from Braman to Bush -- and not a penny to Kerry or any national Democratic organization. Not that he isn't sympathetic to some of his fellow businessmen's ambiguous positions.

"I can understand Bob Graham from a local perspective," Braman notes. "I encouraged my wife to make a contribution to Bob Graham as a way to say thank you for all the years he served here."

But what about all your pals who are giving money to Bush as well as the DNC? The DNC isn't a local cause.

"You're missing one point, and that's who's asking. If somebody calls an individual where there's a special relationship, you don't say no. Conviction may not always be a factor -- obviously it isn't for some people. It all comes down to who asks you.... You know how it works."

Still Braman has good reason to be so understanding. Besides Graham and Bush, his wife Irma has also given $2000 each to Wesley Clark and Joseph Lieberman. "She's not as avid a Bush supporter as her husband," Braman chuckles.

Celebrities may flock to political causes in Hollywood or New York, but not in Miami. We've got a few crusading stars: P. Diddy gave $2000 to Al Sharpton's presidential quest -- perhaps to exorcise the mojo inside his Star Island mansion, whose previous owner, record company exec Tommy Mottola, gave $2000 to Bush. But if Kerry is serious about taking the White House, he should immediately consider wooing Mount Sinai cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston, better known to his millions of devotees as the creator of The South Beach Diet.

Agatston's influence has moved far beyond his massive book sales. Wall Street now anxiously tracks his advice as closely as any of his nationwide army of dieters: Companies that produce his favored low-carb foods are seeing their stock prices soar (it's a good time to buy into poultry) while several high-carb food-makers are skidding into debt (sayonara Krispy Kreme!). Certainly if a Madonna endorsement was worth enough to Wesley Clark to mandate a one-on-one 90-minute meeting with the Material Mom, Agatston should merit at least a phone call.

Memo to Kerry: Agatston still seems to be on the political fence. He's given $1000 to Lieberman, but he's also contributed $1000 to Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman's Northstar Leadership PAC. Agatston was unavailable for comment at press time -- "He's taping The View up in New York," explained his publicist -- but Kulchur was promised an eventual exclusive. (Leonard Pitts, eat your heart out!)

Unfortunately, beyond Agatston, South Florida's activist-minded A-list starts to thin out. Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Jennifer Lopez, and Lenny Kravitz all have yet to cough up a single cent to either party. Instead we'll have to make do with KC -- Harry Wayne Casey of KC & the Sunshine Band fame ($500 to Graham), sunbaked singer Jimmy Buffett ($2000 to Graham, $2000 to Clark), and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret author Judy Blume ($2000 to Dean). But a word of advice to Blume or anyone else about to go before People's Court TV judge Marilyn Milian: Leave the Deaniac button at home. Milian gave $2000 to Bush.

Still the biggest surprise has to be the discovery that one of the Democratic Party's most generous Miami contributors is hiding in plain sight. WFOR-TV (Channel 4) weatherman Bryan Norcross has given $25,000 to the DNC and $5000 to the DCCC in just the past election cycle, with a $1000 kicker to Dean. Pundits such as Ann Coulter and Bernard Goldberg have fashioned lucrative careers from their shrill allegations of liberal bias in the media, but Norcross's case poses a thornier question.

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