BY BUDDY NEVINS
Read the following and you can almost hear the American Flag snapping in the wind and the Star Spangled Banner playing.
It a speech by lobbyist Bernie Friedman, who wrapped himself in the Constitution to fervently defend his business in a speech to county commissioners.
The year was 2001. County commissioners were under pressure to cut the umbilical cord tying them to lobbyists.
For instance, a Miami Herald editorial blasted Broward commissioners for allowing lobbyists to become “the equivalent of Third World fixers, a necessary and expensive link between the business world and local government. . .
The Herald went on to state that “Federal Judge Herbert Grossman railed about influence mongers who’ve become mandatory expenses for anyone doing business with the Broward County Commission : Ã¢â‚¬ËœIt is the taxpayers and residents of Broward County who are victims of a system in which municipal contracts are surreptitiously awarded on the basis of influence, rather than merit, and fees paid by the county are inflated by lobbyists’ commissions.’
Nothing has really changed. Lobbyists continue to have power over much of the commission’s agenda and spending.
I thought Friedman’s speech would be interesting to reread since lobbying at the commission is again in the news.
Commissioner John Rodstrom wants to stop commissioners from asking lobbyists for charity donations. The county’s newly-appointed ethics commission is considering new laws and some could involve lobbying.
Finally, rumors of a federal investigation into county government allegedly includes the relationship between lobbyists and elected officials.
As hokey as it is, Friedman’s speech worked.
Commissioners watered down their proposed lobbying rules. They stripped away provisions that would have required lobbyists to disclose their fees. They also refused to ban contingency, or success fees.
Fee disclosures and a success fee ban is the law in Tallahassee and numerous other jurisdictions.
Here is the speech direct from the county minutes. I cleaned up some obvious spelling mistakes in the minutes, but I may have missed some:
MR. FRIEDMAN: My name is Bernie Freidman.
Every morning my 11 year-old daughter, Elana and I read the newspapers together. As Elana munches on her Cherrios and I munch on my bagels, together we discuss world and local news in between Y-100, of course.
Lately, Elana, like many of you, have been subjected to many derogatory, demeaning and down right dastardly articles on the influence of lobbyists over each and every one of you. By a bunch of new arch, voyeuristic, demagogic reporters and editors, all, of course, with preconceived points of views in desperate search of something juicy to sell to their papers and fiercely jealous of everyone daring to compete with influence with the fourth estate.
And, some — so, one recent morning my daughter Elana popped the question. Daddy, is there something wrong with what you do for a living and with our elected officials? Well, it’s for my 11-year-old Elana that I rise today to say a resounding no.
I have lived in Broward all my life and, like you, care deeply and passionately about the well-being of our community. I love Broward’s magnificent parks, libraries, beaches, airports and arenas, and yes, I’m really proud of the excellent job that many of my clients have done in providing these services.
And, you see, Elana, lobbyists and elected officials are human. Most are good, kind, thoughtful and honorable. Lobbyists and elected officials spend thousands of hours in our local charities and non-profits.
So, is there something wrong? I have never been prouder of what I do for a living. In so many countries around the globe you get thrown in jail, killed or tortured for trying to exercise the free speech rights we have. The free press tries to influence you everyday with their point of view. So, what is wrong when I try to influence you.
Lobbying or no lobbying, each one of you are assertive, independent, smart, vocal, opinionated, strong-willed and, all things considered, including lobbying by me, the public, the press, invariably each one of you does what you believe is the right thing to do. And, that is what happens. To believe otherwise is unadulterated fantasy.
There are literally thousands of items that are voted on each month and less than a handful of lobbyists. I beg to disagree with anyone who believes that we are so powerful that we control what goes on. Yes, we’re hired to provide information on a few items.
But, we are not elected like you to make the very tough decisions, weigh the evidence, do the independent research, speak with all sides, and in the final analysis, do what you are elected to do, the right thing.
Quite honestly, to think otherwise would question your very own integrity.