Ron Book Never Saw a Conflict of Interest Waiver He Didn't Like UPDATED
Update: Ron Book tells Banana Republican that it was unfair to characterize his representation of municipal governments and private clients with competing interests as something bad. "I didn't do anything nefarious or unethical," he says. "Your story implies I did, and that is wrong."
Just call superlobbyist Ron Book the Waiver Man. Today he goes before the Miami-Dade County Commission requesting a conflict of interest waiver. See, the North Miami Beach-based government arm-twister represents the county on legislative matters in Tallahassee. But he also works for the Florida Apartment Association, which is lobbying in favor of a state bill that Miami-Dade is against.
Oh, the agony of serving two masters with competing interests. Well, not really. You'd think county commissioners would tell Book no, but they gave him a waiver last year when he was caught in a similar pickle.
In fact, Book has made it a common practice to put the interests of his private clients over his public ones. Yet he still keeps getting contracts from cities and counties to represent taxpayers in Tallahassee and in front of other government bodies. Consider the following:
- A month ago, Broward County created a new policy requiring Book and its other lobbyists to seek a waiver from the county commission when they have a conflict of interest on an issue. The measure was adopted after Book's client, the Miami Dolphins organization, wanted Broward County tourist taxes to help renovate Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens. Broward County -- along with the City of Sunrise, which Book also represents -- was vehemently opposed. Still, county commissioners in Broward told the Sun-Sentinel they didn't want to dump Book.
- In February, Book lobbied North Miami council members on behalf of a development group that wanted to take over the Biscayne Landing property. City Attorney Lynn Whitfield had to send Book (who is paid $60,000 a year by North Miami) a letter reminding him that his lobbyist agreement to represent the city "specifically states that you avoid any representation or relation which would create a conflict of interest." Yet council member Scott Galvin told the Miami Herald he didn't see the problem.
- In March last year, Miami-Dade County commissioners voted without discussion to grant Book a waiver because of his representation of the bail bond industry. At the time, the industry supported a bill that favors the bail bond for suspects over pretrial release programs.
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Today, Book -- who raises tens of thousands of dollars for politicians all over the state -- is asking Miami-Dade's elected body to allow him to keep representing the Florida Apartment Association, a group of landlords who support a bill that would let them hire private process servers to deliver eviction notices. Miami-Dade County favors keeping the current system in place, which grants eviction powers only to the local sheriff's office.
The county commission should vote no. Book should not be allowed to collect a check from taxpayers while working against their interests, a fact that the Miami-Dade ethics commission and billionaire activist Norman Braman have picked up on. In his covenant with the people, Braman proposed an outright ban on lobbyists representing county government to shill for private entities against county government's interests.
In an April 1 letter to county commissioners, ethics commission advocate Michael Murawski recommended denial. "There does not appear to be any compelling reason... to grant a waiver to Mr. Book in this matter," Murawski wrote.
We left a message on Book's cell phone yesterday seeking comment, but he did not return the call. He phoned us this afternoon to explain why he sought today's waiver from the county commission and clarify what happened in North Miami.
Book says Miami-Dade County commissioners passed a resolution opposing the bill favored by the Florida Apartment Association (which he notes is a longtime client) after the legislative session in Tallahassee began. "I did what I was required to do under my contract," Book says. "I put the county on notice about the conflict and stopped my lobbying activity."
In regard to North Miami, Book says Whitfield was not aware that he was in fact representing the city and not the developer when he got involved. "The city engaged me to help on the Biscayne Landings deal with a client I have represented for a long time," Book says. "It was done with the manager's and mayor's knowledge."
Book also complains that New Times and other media outlets don't report on lobbyists representing local governments who fail to disclose conflicts. "But you'll always write about me," he says. "When you play this game, chances are you will run into a conflict. They keep us on the payroll for a reason. We get the job done for them."