Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Corcoran raises big money for expensive tastes

You might say Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Tammany Hall, is … ahem, a high-maintenance date.

Sure, Corcoran is more ethically challenged than Charles Dickens’ Fagin, as he presides over Tallahassee’s Artful Sammy Glicks in the endless pursuit of power and money. But the Daddy Warbucks of the capital doesn’t come cheap.

The Tampa Bay Times’ Adam C. Smith and Eli Zhang reported on the rather sumptuous lifestyle that fell into Corcoran’s expanding lap as he achieved the high and exalted position of House speaker. All bow and scrape.

Corcoran can’t be bought, but he is available for a long-term time-share.

Benefiting from the Republican Party of Florida’s accounts as well as his political committee, Watchdog PAC (really, that’s its name, stop laughing), Corcoran probably has amassed more frequent flyer miles than an International Space Station astronaut.

But you won’t find Corcoran standing in boarding zone B at the Southwest Airlines departure gate. Oh no, this chap goes wheels up in style, spending some $400,000 in donor money for private jets to whisk him or his allies away to exotic haunts like Napa Valley — all in the noble quest to defend liberty, freedom, democracy and the latest pinot noir vintage.

Corcoran has blown through $11,000 for dinners at the chi-chi Morton’s steakhouses, another $15,000 at Ruth’s Chris steakhouse and (belch) $29,000 at Tampa’s Capital Grille, not to mention $8,000 dropped on a single supper at the hotsy-totsy French Laundry eatery in California. Did that include an after-dinner mint? And what have we learned? Apparently the speaker likes steak, with a side order of hubris.

Indeed, $1,000 was spent on cuff links. Do they come in the shape of an open palm?

It is easy to dismiss this as rank hypocrisy. After all, when he assumed the speakership, Corcoran offered up all manner of blithering as to how he was going to rid the House of the pernicious influence of those evil lobbyists and the dark, dark forces of influence-peddling. That’s even funnier than Watchdog PAC.

But then nobody ever really believed Corcoran would suddenly turn into the Diogenes of the Apalachee Parkway.

Corcoran bragged about barring legislators from traveling on the corporate jets of lobbyists and other reforms. But during his "I’m Richard, Buy Me!" reign as speaker, Corcoran has financed his travels, his five-star meals, his pricey cigars and yes, the cuff links, all on the dime of the very broad-ranging special interests he campaigned against.

Corcoran’s Watchdog committee has taken in more than 600 donations totaling $5.4 million.

And where has all the money come from? It’s a long list of air-kissing suitors, including law firms, real estate developers, the sugar industry, utilities, Florida Blue and other insurance interests, Walmart, Disney, health care concerns and gambling operations.

That pays for an awful lot of filet mignons. And $400-a-night hotel rooms, too.

Corcoran is another in a long line of Florida House speakers and Senate presidents who treated their positions of public trust as little more than an ATM to underwrite their self-entitlement.

Consider this. If you walked into Corcoran’s office and plopped $5.4 million in cash down on his desk in return for passing your legislation, that would represent an illegal bribe. As Richard Nixon once famously said, "That would be wrong."

But if you create a political action committee, you can wheedle the state’s most deep-pocketed lobbying interests to launder $5.4 million in your direction, which you can then freely spend on private jets, gourmet meals, luxury hotel rooms, fancy cigars and even declasse cuff links in the name of amber waves of grain — and it is all perfectly legalized baksheesh.

Corcoran enjoys the kindness of money changers because he is a big shot — for now.

Come this time next year, he will be just another former speaker on the way out the door and quite likely a failed gubernatorial candidate.

Then he could become what so many of his predecessors became — another Tallahassee lobbyist spreading the wealth to the next generation of elected hustlers.

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