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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Lobbyist ripped for bogus work




A Tallahassee lobbyist hired to help two organizations get specialty license plates is under fire for submitting old, unrelated surveys showing demand for the tags.

The surveys Michael Dobson handed in were from 2006 and had nothing to do with the "Horse Country" or the "I Believe" proposals, according to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. (letter here)

They were for "Trees are cool," which Dobson worked on two years ago. People trying to get specialty plates must demonstrate public demand across the state by having an independent company collect 2,401 names. If approved, Floridians can pay $25 extra and the money goes to the nonprofit organization.

Dobson was paid $40,000 by the Panama City Marine Institute, a center for at-risk youth, to work on the horse tag. Advocates, including bill sponsor Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, are now scrambling to salvage the idea. The Senate version, by Don Gaetz, has a hearing tomorrow before the transportation committee.

"I have given the man every benefit of the doubt," Patronis said. "I just hopes he finds it in himself that what he has done is wrong. To me, it's such a disappointment to find individuals that will take advantage of people who have good intentions."

DobphotoReached by the Times this evening, Dobson denied the surveys were recycled. "Those were recent surveys," he said, adding that the situation is being "worked out." He then hung up the phone. Dobson (pictured) later called back, explaining he hung up because someone was waiting on him.

He said he had ordered up new surveys in the past couple weeks and they were completed this evening. Dobson said he takes responsibility, but blamed the mistake on someone else in his office for giving survey collectors bad "data sets."

The "I Believe" tag is sought by Faith in Teaching, an Orlando nonprofit. The proposal shows a cross in front of a stained glass window.

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 10:52am]


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