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"Commentary: Money, politics make ugly mix at Orlando airport"

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Commentary: Money, politics make ugly mix at Orlando airport 
By Scott Maxwell
The Orlando (FL) Sentinel

As I read Sunday's story about the orgy of cash at Orlando International 
Airport - with board members sucking up thousands of campaign dollars from 
airport lobbyists and contractors - I was amused to see all the orgy 
participants suggest nothing was obscene.

Are we taking campaign money from a business one week and then voting to give 
that businessa $10 million contract the next? Well, of course. Why would anyone 
consider that a problem?

I was trying to decide whether these people - mayors, board members, even the 
airport attorney - knew they were hawking hogwash. Or whether politics and 
money has become so hopelessly intertwined that they genuinely didn't know how 
ridiculous they sounded.

Let's be clear, though: They do sound ridiculous.

It stinks when public officials take money from people who need things from 
them. It taints everything.

Sure, it happens from city hall to the halls of Congress. But it's on 
jet-engine-fueled boosters at the airport these days.

As Beth Kassab's weekend report detailed, the most egregious example was board 
member Dean Asher, a Rick Scott appointee who financed his failed campaign for 
the Legislature with nearly $100,000 from airport contractors and lobbyists - 
about $1 out of every $8 he collected.

The Sentinel first took note of Asher's propensity for taking money from 
airport contractors two years ago.

There was a baggage company that gave Asher a few thousand dollars one month - 
and which then received Asher's vote for a lucrative contract at the airport 
the next month. It also happened the other way around. Asher voted to award a 
contract to an engineering company - which then gave Asher $1,000.

As I wrote at the time: "It doesn't matter which one comes first, the chicken 
or the egg. It's all mixed up in one foul concoction of chicken a la stench."

Readers agreed. After all, they're the ones who pay the parking fees and 
flights costs that help fuel the airport's $3 billion expansion.

But Gov. Scott didn't care. Airport officials didn't care. The check-cutting 
lobbyists who were getting the contracts didn't care. So Asher just kept on 
collecting the checks, until he got to an estimated $96,000 worth.

Asher notes he played by the rules. And he is right.

But A) The rules stink. And B) Just because something is legal, doesn't make it 

It would be legal for me to use my column as a call for cash, promising 
favorable coverage to anyone who paid. But it wouldn't be decent. Nor would the 
Sentinel allow it.

Asher, who's hoping Gov. Scott will re-appoint him to the Greater Orlando 
Aviation Authority any day now, notes that he's not the only board members who 
takes campaign cash from contractors - that Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs 
and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer do it, too.

And he is absolutely right. The Sentinel found that Jacobs took at least 
$38,000 from companies and lobbyists linked to the airport during her last 
campaign, and Dyer took at least $45,000.

That stinks, too. Sure, Asher, a realtor and aspiring legislator, took more 
than both incumbent mayors combined. But none of it inspires confidence.

Asher said many airport vendors and lobbyists gave to him simply because they 
are longtime friends. Let's say we buy that. It's not a good excuse. It's a 
reason Asher never should have been appointed in the first place. With 20 
million people in Florida, how about appointing people who aren't best buds 
with the contractors hoping to score paydays?

One of the goofiest parts of Sunday's story was the airport's attorney, Marcos 
Marchena, defending the practice of contractors giving campaign cash to board 
members. It was goofy because Marchena is an airport contractor himself - one 
who ... wait for it ... gives campaign contributions to board members.

How shocking that he found no reason for concern.

At a minimum, this board should follow Jacobs' call for greater transparency 
with the authority clearly disclosing donations that lobbyists and vendors make 
to authority members.

Better yet, it should crack down on members accepting donations from active 

In a perfect world, board members would simply decide themselves to stop taking 
campaign cash from the companies whose fates they control.

But apparently that is too much to ask.
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