Lobbyists Cost Taxpayers Millions


A decade ago a federal judge criticized the persistent cost to taxpayers of Broward’s lobbyists.

Judge Herbert Grossman ruled that a bond firm had paid $134,493 to win work from the county.  He charged that the case exposed a widespread system of influence peddling that corrupted county bond deals and raised costs for taxpayers.

Nothing has changed.

If the feds want to strike at the heart of corruption in Broward, they need to smash the web of lobbyists who control politicians through campaign contributions and freebees.


Taxpayers pay thousands — sometimes millions–in added costs for lobbying. It comes in the form of expenses tacked on to the price of government purchases. 

Its Broward’s “Lobbyist Tax.”

I talked to one lobbyist sitting at a commission meeting at the Government Center.  This senior partner in a law firm brought along two associates.

The meeting dragged on. 

I pulled the lobbyist into the hall and asked him why he needed two associates with him.

“Cha ching. Cha ching, he said, smiling.

Instead of charging his client $600-an-hour for his time, he could charge $1,200 by adding his two associates. 

Thousands for one day of lobbyist and you are paying.

This lobbyist tax directly affects the quality of life in Broward.

How many library books or park trees are not purchased because the money has instead gone into lobbyists’ pockets? How many meals for the homeless would just one lobbyists’ fee buy? How many layoffs could be prevented?

Lobbyists will tell you they are necessary to explain complicated issues to commissioners.  I don’t buy it.

I thought that was what the commission’s well-paid staff was hired to do.

How does it work at the Broward Government Center? Teams are routinely used because certain lobbyists sell access to certain commissioners:

  • Attorney Bernie Friedman is the prime example of a lobbyist who is widely known for his access to one commissioner   Sue Gunzburger. Friedman has been put on teams because of the perception that only he can get to her.
  • Lobbyist Judy Stern sometimes is hired because it is perceived she has entrée anytime to Commissioners Lois Wexler, John Rodstrom and the recently-arrested Josephus Eggelletion.  She is so close to Wexler she once lived in the commissioner’s home.
  • Lobbyists Barbara Miller has weight with Commissioner Diana Wasserman-Rubin.


bernie friedman

Lobbyist Bernie Friedman

How do lobbyists get access?

They buy it. Just like you buy a ticket to a movie.

Friedman is an eager supporter of Gunzburger’s re-election, helping her raise money.

Stern not only raised money but offered campaign strategy for commissioners’ re-elections.   Miller is handling Wasserman-Rubin’s re-election.

The rest of them — George Platt, Ron Book,  etc. — throw thousands in campaign contributions at commissioners.

That’s not all.

Some commissioners lap up free tickets to political dinners and charity galas. 

Regular folks are paying hundreds for the tickets. Commissioners go for free and sit at a table paid for by lobbyists. 

(I must add that I’ve never seen Gunzburger or Commissioner Kristin Jacobs taking a free meal. Gunzburger, in particular,  has publicly asked for a ban on the free meals.)  

What does this spending buy lobbyists?

That most valuable of commodities—access.

A commissioner who will go unnamed said this to me:

“I’ve got a fist full of messages every day from folks seeking appointments.  It is obvious that I am going to call back the folks I know, the people who help me.

Elected officials are by-and-large an insecure group. Insecure because their careers depends on the next election.

And politicians — many of them have never held a real private sector job–love their careers.

They are being flattered by millionaire lobbyists. Millionaire business folks want to treat them to dinner.

“When I was in office, suddenly my shit didn’t stink. Suddenly, my IQ went up to genius, explained one former politician.

All the millionaires patted him on the back. They laughed at his jokes. He could do no wrong.   

The electeds love the attention; love the lifestyle they couldn’t otherwise afford.  So lobbyists who offer them money to keep them in office have them hooked.

It is a web that is sometimes corrupt, as the FBI sting revealed.

This web is not unique to Broward.  That doesn’t mean we can’t keep trying to clean it up.

Cleaning it up is important. Because when a lobbyist pulls up to the Government Center, you helped pay for his $100,000 Mercedes.

7 Responses to “Lobbyists Cost Taxpayers Millions”

  1. missed one says:

    I guess your friend and lobbiets Ms. Waldman and her friendship with wasserman rubis was just an oversight?

    FROM BUDDY: Thanks for reminding me that lobbyist Aleida “Ali” Waldman is close to Wasserman-Rubin.

  2. Bernie Friedman says:

    Hey Buddy. I have loved following your journalism since I was a kid even when you made fun of my Dad when when he ran for Congress in the 1970’s. I never take any of the criticisms personally and am truly proud of what I do. I am known as one of the hardest working lawyers at Becker & Poliakoff and spend endless hours researching issues and helping my clients prepare presentations, documents, and other factual information to support their cause. If you ask the professionals at the Purchasing Department at the County, they will tell you that probably no one writes more letters, does more public records checks or reviews more documents than me. My view of lobbying is to prepare as if you are going to trial. Get all the information and present it to the decision makers. I operate by working hard and presenting my client’s case. I spend hours helping clients with power point presentations, videos, graphs, charts etc. I don’t play golf; go on vacations with folks I work with, go to Heat or Dolphin games or anything of the sort. I was once told by an elected official that I was boring and thank G-d my wife was fun and exciting. That is a good thing.

    Don McCloskey is a mentor of mine. When I started lobbying he gave me some advice that I have lived by. You only have one name. Keep it. Be proud of it. I am proud of it. I am proud of my work in the community as a Past President of the Posnack JCC and the work horse behind our beautiful campus in Davie. I am proud of my work for numerous other organizations too. I left Washington D.C. because I wanted to be a part of a real community and accomplish good things for my family and others.

    To say that all I do is lobby Commissioner Gunzburger is downright insulting to me after my 30+ years of involvement in Broward County. I am proud that I have never been hired and will never be hired to lobby one person. I am hired to strategically guide a client through a difficult process and I pride my self on understanding the process better than anyone and working harder than anyone else. I meet with all eight Commissioners and staff and work with elected officials throughout Florida. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. I move on to the next client and project.

    For the record, Commissioner Gunzburger has voted against me many many, many, many times on some of the biggest projects of my career. The Convention Center Hotel with Don Peebles for three years, she voted against me every single time. The Convention Center Hotel, round two last years, I was representing Marriott and every single vote she voted against me. And many other clients like the outdoor bus advertising, several design competitions at the airport, seaport, the master banking contract, health insurance for county employees, and the huge program manager contract at the airport.

    Finally, much to my wife’s chagrin, we live in a nice but modest house. I drive an 11 year old Acura . I buy my suits at Men’s Wearhouse (on sale once a year) and I am truly happy. Come on Buddy.

  3. Not Unless says:

    They won’t get one lobbyist unless they are caught up in payola. Period. Nothing that a lobbyist does, short of that, is illegal.

    FROM BUDDY: I’m not so sure. The federal laws are broad enough to cover lots of borderline conduct.
    For instance, not revealing freebees on your state gift disclosure could be mail fraud, since the documents are mailed.
    When the FBI looks hard enough, things are often uncovered like tax problems.
    Regardless of all of that: The coziness between lobbyists and commissioners doesn’t pass the smell test. It is undemocratic and morally wrong to have to pay a lobbyist to get a fair shake from the county commission.

  4. Buddy, Buddy says:

    You’ve been covering politics in Broward for decades so you should know that elected officials serving on the same boards are not allowed to talk to one another in Florida. That stupid provision of the Sunshine Law, more than any other factor, makes lobbyists important.

    To begin, lobbyists are relied upon to inform and create consensus in Florida where everywhere else in America elected officials duke it out until the best argument wins.

    Second, lobbyists help clarify issues by being prepared with counter-arguments that government staff can’t or won’t present because doing that puts them in potential conflict with high and mighty, elected, A-1 personalities.

    People and companies are entitled to representation, and in a place where elected officials must be deaf and dumb around each other, the lobbyist “sees” the opportunity to thrive. It’s really that simple.

    Third, as to campaign contributions while that might smell to you, try making a law agaist it that doesn’t violate the First Amendment. Won’t happen.

    You are barking up the wrong tree.

    The answer is not to try and control much less eliminate lobbyists. The answers involve regulating the conduct of the elected officials:

    — Let the elected officials speak to one another like they do all over America. However well intentioned, that aspect of the Sunshine Law is just causes more difficulty than it resolves.

    — Prohibit elected officials from participating in selection committees for vendors. They have no business there to begin with. That should be a staff function. All that elected officials are supposed to do is guarantee a fair process with their vote.

    — Everything else you mention is already covered by existing laws.

    — The only way to get around lobbyists funding campaigns is to create public campaign financing. Good luck trying to convince residents that this will help ensure better democracy for them, they are just too dumb on average to understand why and will call any such attempt a pork barrell tax increase.

  5. Karnack and Score Keeper says:

    Lobbyists are hired to package up the product of their real clients, the vendors. They then spend their time CREATING needs, whisper those needs into the ears of the bought politicians that they have skewed access to and then convince the elected that they need an “issue” to define their term.

    The lobbyists then continue to pump the electeds with “BUZZWORDS” to use up on the dais to sound informed and objective. These words are always used in conjunction with the concept of “DATA” based decisions in the best interest of the people.

    Then the electeds pressure their crony managers to write bids with specifications that virtually eliminate the competition of the lobbyists client(s) and then get on with the business of “FAIR” business decisions at public meetings while talking points are texted or emailed to them on the dais.

    These methods are undetected by the typical voter/taxpayer because they do not know the ritual. But once you have seen it working seamlessly, one can’t help but wait for days like these when these scoundrels are busted for betraying the public’s trust when the real compensation is discovered and it only benefits the lobbyist, vendor and public official…not the taxpayer.

    I hope that it is all squeezed out like the last drop of toothpaste in the Osmond household. Only then will we truly see how much the work of the lobbyist is just to educate the electeds. BTW, why do we pay the managers so much when a lobbyist is still needed??? Because cronies are more valued than a creative-problem solving staff member…

    FROM BUDDY: After decades of covering government, I can assure readers that this is a very perceptive analysis of how Broward government works.

  6. QuestionForBernie says:

    Bernie- have you ever used sucess fee contracts for your lobbyist services?

    If so, is that legal?

    FROM BUDDY: Success fees are illegal in the Legislature and they must be disclosed in Broward.
    Lobbyists get around the laws if they are successful by getting an extension of their contract at a much higher fee.
    As far as the first question which was addressed to Bernie, he’ll have to answer it. I have no reason to believe he has done anything unlawful.

  7. ur a dumbass says:

    This very conversation is the REASON it was jackass for Barbra Stern aka BS to accept 99.9% of her contributions from mama stern’s lobbyists friends. Sooner or later bs will get the picture and realize she has already lost this race.