Should David Beckham have registered as a Miami-Dade County Hall lobbyist?

02/14/2014 2:12 PM

02/15/2014 4:40 PM

In June, during his early days of exploring Miami as a location for his expansion Major League Soccer franchise, David Beckham toured Florida International University’s stadium with his business partner, an eager investor, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz.

With their plans firming up, Beckham, business partner Simon Fuller and Miami-based billionaire investor Marcelo Claure met again with Gimenez in November, this time over dinner at Claure’s house.

That presents a potential problem: At no point did Beckham, Fuller or Claure register as lobbyists.

The Miami-Dade’s ethics commission is examining whether Beckham, his investors or their representatives broke any rules requiring lobbyists to register before making a pitch to public officials. A violation of the registration requirement can result in a fine or a temporary ban from County Hall, though that penalty is unusual.

One of the men who is registered to lobby on Beckham’s behalf, attorney Neisen Kasdin, said Friday that neither the retired English soccer star nor his investors had to register because they have only participated in “meet and greets” where no specific proposal before county government was discussed.

The lower-level Beckham group members trying to negotiate a soccer stadium deal have filed lobbyist registrations, Kasdin said.

A county ordinance requires lobbyists — including a company’s “principals” — to register within five days of engaging in lobbying or being retained as a lobbyist.

The law also says lobbyists are people who seek to influence an ordinance, resolution, action, decision or recommendation. None of those had come up at the time of Beckham’s June tour or November dinner, Kasdin said.

“He was checking the city out and seeing what was here — the same way as if the president of IBM came to town and said, ‘Hmm, am I interested in coming to this town?’ ” Kasdin said. “There was no proposed site.”

“I was the one lobbying him to come to Miami,” Gimenez told the Miami Herald.

According to Kasdin, it wasn’t until later in November that Beckham’s group began asking about putting a stadium on publicly owned land at PortMiami. They also have short-listed five other potential sites.

Ethics investigators have asked Gimenez’s administration and at least one county commissioner for details on their meetings with Beckham and representatives of his local corporate entity, Miami Beckham United. Most of the representatives have registered under Beckham’s global company, Beckham Brand Limited.

The ethics investigation was first reported by the local Spanish-language blog Nelson Horta Reporta.

Kasdin said that no investigators have contacted Beckham’s group. To Kasdin, that means the ethics board is making preliminary inquiries and at least not yet probing the matter more seriously.

The ethics commission doesn’t confirm or comment on open investigations, a spokeswoman said. A case only becomes public once it’s closed or if the full commission finds there is enough probable cause to file ethics charges.

Mayor Gimenez and Commissioner Diaz toured FIU with Beckham on June 1. The potential investors were looking for temporary locations where a soccer team might be able to play.

The first Beckham representatives to register as lobbyists — T. Spencer Crowley, Javier Fernandez and Kasdin, all of Miami’s Akerman law firm — filed their forms about five months later, on Nov. 6.

Gimenez dined with Beckham at Claure’s home on Nov. 12. The mayor has said they discussed Beckham’s and MLS’ wish for a downtown stadium location. At the time, Beckham’s group had a list of about 30 sites, Kasdin said.

Two other Beckham representatives — John Alschuler and Cary Hirschstein of HR&A Advisors, a New York-based development firm — registered as lobbyists on Nov. 21. Another Akerman lawyer, Jose Villalobos, registered on Dec. 6.

At least two commissioners have since met separately with Alschuler. But those meetings took place in December and January, with Commissioners Xavier Suarez and Juan C. Zapata, after Alschuler had registered.

Suarez said ethics investigators have asked his office for information about the meetings. Zapata said he had not been contacted. The mayor’s office also said it has been asked for records.

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