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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Rubio pushed for land deal as he backed law limiting critics



The following is from The Associated Press

Marco Rubio stood before Miami-Dade County officials in May 2002 and pushed them to permit a multimillion-dollar industrial development to be built on restricted land near the Florida Everglades.

Two months earlier, Rubio — a rising Republican star in the state Legislature — backed a law that made it harder for people to challenge the kinds of developments he advocated for as a private attorney. Around the same period, Rubio also requested state money to be earmarked to benefit a flood-prone area around the development project.

Those efforts by Rubio, now a U.S. senator and the leading establishment alternative to GOP presidential rivals Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, provide a glimpse into how he handled the intersection of his public role as a young lawmaker and his private representation of a company that stood to benefit from his political connections.

There's no evidence Rubio violated Florida ethics rules. But his seat in Tallahassee, the state capital, put him in the position of advocating before a county commission that relied on lawmakers like him to fight for state money.

"I always had a problem when legislators would lobby at the county commission, because you always felt like if you didn't vote their way, does this mean we'll lose funds in Tallahassee?" said Katy Sorenson, a former county commissioner and Democrat.

The commission approved the application for the plan near the Everglades, though Sorenson voted against it because it would have required moving the so-called urban development boundary, an important safeguard that protected agriculture and the local water supply. That boundary was established in the 1970s, and the county considers periodic requests to move it.

Todd Harris, a senior adviser for Rubio's presidential campaign, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Rubio never lobbied in the traditional sense because that was illegal under state law. But Harris said the part-time nature of Florida's Legislature meant that "virtually every legislator makes their living from outside employment.

"Marco did not gain personally from this, or any other, vote because his compensation was not tied to any other specific project," Harris wrote in response to detailed questions from the AP, noting the law firm Rubio worked for was paid a standard retainer for its work.

Rubio's 2002 request to the county involved Pan American, a Miami company owned by well-known real estate developer Carlos C. Lopez-Cantera. He wanted to build a project — then known as Shoppyland — west of the city, but environmental critics said it was too close to an important water source.

Lopez-Cantera did not respond to detailed phone messages left with his staff at Pan American's offices on Monday and Tuesday. His son, Carlos, is Florida's lieutenant governor, among Rubio's closest political allies and running for Rubio's seat in the U.S. Senate. Rubio's campaign told the AP the younger Lopez-Cantera worked for his father's company and recommended hiring Rubio to do the legal work "because of his experience in land use and zoning."

Full story here.

[Last modified: Wednesday, February 24, 2016 2:34pm]


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