The Greater Miami Opera never had much luck getting money from the state of Florida.
Then it hired a lobbyist. Actually, it signed up three.
The next year, the Florida Legislature awarded the opera nearly $1 million. "It was almost embarrassing, " said William J. Conner, the opera's development director.
The opera, the oldest performing arts institution in the state, allowed The Miami Herald to review its internal files. The files offer a rare public glimpse into the usually private world of lobbying for public dollars.
It is a process that doesn't end when the money is appropriated.
Once the opera got its money, the lobbyists solicited opera board members to raise campaign contributions and provide show tickets for the politicians who voted for the funding. The lobbyists urged the board to host cocktail parties for legislators, send them Christmas cards and write letters pushing the opera causes.
The lobbying comes with a price.
"What really rubs people is the numbers, " Conner admits, but he notes that it would cost the opera more to hire a full- time fund-raiser than to hire lobbyists.
The opera has spent nearly $200,000 on lobbyists in the past three years. Ron Book and Phil Hamersmith, who worked as a team, earned about $158,000. Bill Hebrock earned approximately $40,000.
Considering how much money the lobbyists have brought in -- about $2 million -- "it's relatively cheap, " Conner said.
The opera decided to hire a lobbyist at the advice of Sen. Larry Plummer in 1987. "He said the only way to get anything done was to get a lobbyist, " Conner said.
Plummer led them to the Hamersmith and Book team. Book lobbied the state; Hamersmith the locals.
But lawyer John Schulte, a member of the opera board, thought it wasn't enough. Schulte wanted a Republican, close to Gov. Bob Martinez. He recommended Hebrock, Martinez's finance chairman. "As far as appropriations were concerned, my involvement was to avoid a gubernatorial veto and to get Republican support, " Hebrock said, noting he was also paid to help with fund raising.
The arts community had been pushing for a change in how the state awarded money to arts institutions. They wanted the state to fund 10 percent of the budgets of the major arts groups statewide.
The major institutions bill failed in 1987. Still, the Legislature awarded the opera $250,000.
Opera general manager Robert Heuer assessed the 1987 lobbying effort in a memo after the session: "Book feels that the opera can receive up to $800,000 next year with proper efforts this coming year."
Among the suggestions: "Prior to the next legislative session, the Opera should host an event to thank the legislators and to give them some kind of award for their effort. This event should include Board and major patrons."
Book had another idea. Immediately send a framed poster with a small plaque reading "Bravo and thank you! Greater Miami Opera 1987" to Reps. Ron Silver, Mike Abrams, Fran Carlton, Bud Gardner and Jim Scott.
In an interview, Book explained: "I like members of the Legislature to think about my clients all the time. The best way for them to think of them all the time is to put something on their walls."
Keeping the legislators in office was also important: "Ron will contact us during the coming year to seek Board member contributions for a number of key legislators' campaign funds."