Crime & Politics

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But Teele, who was a partner with Book in the early and mid-Eighties at the law firm of Sparber Shevin Shapo Heilbronner & Book, says he believes Book is so "uniquely talented" that county residents should continue to enjoy the benefit of his lobbying skills. "Hiring him obviously raises the kind of ethical questions, or public-confidence questions, that you have to balance against Mr. Book's effectiveness," Teele explains. "Ron Book is by any standard a very effective lobbyist and advocate in Tallahassee. And it has been my hope that he could continue to work with Dade County."

So far only one county commissioner, Katy Sorenson, has spoken out publicly against retaining Book as the county's official lobbyist. "I keep hearing the argument that he is effective," Sorenson says. "But why is he effective? Because he spreads money all over the place. If we are ever going to stop governments from operating that way -- from working in a system where money and campaign contributions are traded for political favors and votes -- then we have to say no to this kind of behavior. We have to say this is not acceptable in general, and it is certainly not acceptable from the person we hire to represent us in Tallahassee."

Most politicians, however, have rallied to Book's defense. The mayor of North Miami, for example, labeled Book's crime a mere "technical violation" and scoffed at the notion that the Ronald L. Book Athletic Field in North Miami should be renamed. Others have criticized the campaign finance law Book admits he violated. "This is a bullshit law," declares Ralph Haben, former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives who now works as a lobbyist. "I'm not saying it's okay to break the law, but to the people in the process, this is just not that serious an offense. Is it illegal? Yes. Is it wrong? I suppose it is, because it is illegal. But that whole law is ridiculous. Everybody in some way or another violates those laws, and most probably don't even realize they're breaking the law."

Dade Rep. John Cosgrove attributes the illegal campaign contributions not to criminal intent but to Book's near obsession with being helpful to people. "He has a very zealous attitude about pleasing everybody," notes Cosgrove. "I'm sure it was not an insidious or malicious effort on his part to avoid the law."

State Sen. Pat Thomas (D-Quincy), a long-time Book friend and former president of the Florida Senate, agrees with others that the lobbyist's reputation in Tallahassee will not be hurt in the least by this latest scandal. "It's hard to go through any campaign without committing some transgression," says Thomas. "It is sort of like stepping in quicksand."

Such laments are lost on prosecutor Dennis Bedard. "I expected that the public officials who deal with Book would downplay the significance of his conduct and try in some way to mitigate what he did," Bedard says. "But in a larger sense, it disheartens me because it perpetuates a cynicism that the public has about elected officials and lobbyists. There is a feeling among a very significant segment of the population that the members of the Florida state legislature, and elected officials in general, are, ethically speaking, only somewhat higher than the type of people you would find in a prison, but slightly below the folks you would see in a brothel. The reactions of politicians to this case do nothing but perpetuate that type of feeling by the public. And that is what is truly unfortunate about this matter."

During the annual 60-day legislative session in Tallahassee, Ron Book typically loses about twenty pounds -- not from anxiety or loss of appetite, but from running between committee hearings and meetings with lawmakers. "He's a blur," says fellow lobbyist Guy Spearman. "There isn't a wasted minute in Ron Book's life. He is always moving at breakneck speed."

The former high school track star carries at least two and sometimes three cellular telephones, as well as a digital pager. John Cosgrove says he has watched in amazement as Book, a cell phone in each hand, has held two separate but simultaneous conversations while at the same time trying to get the attention of another lawmaker passing by. "He is a very intense person," Cosgrove observes.

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede