Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL) March 11,
2003 Tuesday Broward Metro Edition
Copyright 2003 Sun-Sentinel Company
Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
March 11, 2003 Tuesday Broward Metro Edition
SECTION: LOCAL; Pg. 1B
LENGTH: 1187 words
HEADLINE: STATE TO PROBE PAYMENTS
COUNTY PAID $500,000 IN DEAL FOR VOTING MACHINES.
BYLINE: Buddy Nevins Political Writer
The Broward County State Attorney's office is investigating almost $500,000 in
payments made to lobbyists as part of the County Commission contract to buy the
new touch-screen voting machines.
The revelation about the payments comes at a time when commissioners are
complaining about the extra money Elections Supervisor Miriam Oliphant says she
needs to run elections.
At least two of the four lobbyists mentioned in county documents were paid
six-figure fees though commissioners do not remember even meeting them to
discuss the voting machines. And it is possible the total lobbying fees built
into Broward's $17.2 million voting-machine purchase is higher than $500,000
because only a portion of them have to be publicly disclosed.
"This is all very disturbing," said County Commissioner Ben Graber, the only one
to vote against the purchase. "It was wasted money. We paid to lobby ourselves."
"I'm shocked. It is a huge amount," said County Commissioner John Rodstrom.
Rodstrom said it was the largest lobbying fee he can remember in his 10 years on
The disclosure of big lobbyist payments comes after a South Florida Sun-Sentinel
investigation last month found commissioners tried to use the voting machine
purchase to repair strained relations with the minority community.
Commissioners built into the Election Systems & Software contract $1.7 million
of subcontracting such as advertising programs to encourage voting in the
minority communities. But the county never monitored the subcontractors'
performance and doesn't know if the services it paid for were provided.
Prosecutors began looking into the lobbying fees as part of their investigation
into Oliphant, who has been accused of widespread mismanagement and misspending.
That inquiry led investigators to start looking at other aspects of the
elections office, such as the County Commission's purchase of the voting
machines from ES&S and the lobbying that surrounded the deal.
Graber said he was questioned extensively about the lobbying fees by
prosecutors. Investigators from the State Attorney's Office also visited ES&S'
office in Omaha, Neb.
Russ Klenet, ES&S' Fort Lauderdale-based lobbyist, said his fees never came up
when he was questioned by prosecutors.
"Why would it? I wasn't paid that much," said Klenet, whose fees included a
$25,000 success bonus, according to the county documents.
Prosecutors would be looking for evidence the lobbying payments broke criminal
laws, rather than simply being unusually large. Ron Ishoy, spokesman for the
State Attorney's Office, had no comment, which is usual for an investigation in
The lobbying payments, technically called success bonuses to be paid only when
the contract with Broward was signed, were around 3 percent of the total $17.2
million purchase price of the 5,200 machines.
Success bonuses are the only portion of the charges for lobbying that must be
made public. Lobbyists traditionally are paid a retainer when hired, and some
are promised two- or three-year continuing contracts, in addition to a success
bonus. Since those aren't required to be reported, total fees paid by lobbyists
in this contract and most others are probably much higher than $500,000.
The list of lobbyist success bonuses were obtained by the Sun-Sentinel this
month and were part of the bid documents ES&S gave commissioners in November
2001 when they were vying to win a contract to sell Broward voting machines. The
bonuses were made public under Broward lobbying registration rules.
The extensive lobbying was necessary, said Michael Limas, the chief operating
officer of ES&S, the company that sold Broward and 11 other Florida counties
about $70.6 million worth of touch-screen machines in the past two years.
"This was a new system, and we needed professionals to explain it statewide,"
Those professionals in Broward include Andrews Plus, described by Limas as a
Tallahassee lobbying firm, which got a $90,000 success bonus when the Broward
contract was completed, according to county documents.
Klenet got a $25,000 success bonus, the documents state. Klenet,
who has been on the finance committee of Commissioner Ilene Lieberman's
campaigns, also received a continuing contract with ES&S as their permanent
Broward liaison and spokesman. He would not say how much that was worth.
Former Secretary of State Sandra Mortham, who in that role was the chief
election officer from 1995 to 1999, and her chief aide at the secretary of
state's office, Gene McGee, received a success bonus of $172,000 each from the
Broward contract, the documents indicate.
The county documents show those four lobbyists got $464,000 in success bonuses.
Klenet's continuing contract, and any retainers paid to the lobbyists, were not
required to be disclosed and weren't.
Lobbyist Mike Moskowitz, a Broward lawyer who registered as an ES&S lobbyist,
said he was paid "several thousand dollars" working for the voting machine
company. He received no bonus so his name or fees were not included in the
Taxpayers ended up paying for Mortham and McGee, although commissioners don't
recall them ever visiting Broward or lobbying them.
"I never saw them," said County Commissioner Lori Parrish.
They got money from the Broward contract but were not required to lobby in the
county under an agreement that paid them for every machine sold in Florida,
The two helped ES&S' machines receive certification from the Secretary of
State's office in late 2001, an approval process necessary before counties can
buy the machine.
"They helped us on a statewide basis," said Limas, who would not reveal the
total they were paid.
If Mortham and McGee got the same 1 percent of the contract price apiece that
they received in Broward, they each would have gotten about $700,000 of the
$70.6 million in machines ES&S sold.
Mortham and McGee did not return calls for comment.
Not paying those bonuses could have gone toward paying the extra costs that have
developed since the touch-screen machines were bought, Graber said.
The November election cost the county about $900,000 more than planned for
additional personnel to keep the polls open and the machines operating. Oliphant
wanted about $600,000 extra to run the February city primary and today's
election in 13 cities, but received $180,000 and now says she will be out of
money by May.
Oliphant, who opposed the purchase from ES&S machines because she preferred
another manufacturer, has blamed some of the cost overruns on the extra
personnel needed to operate the technologically advanced machines.
County commissioners and a county audit have blamed her for the financial
troubles in the elections office. They contend she overspent her budget by $1
million last year because of her own mismanagement.
Oliphant's secretary said she was too busy planning for today's election to
answer questions about the lobbying.
Buddy Nevins can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4571.