Miami Beach

Proposed lobbying ban for campaign consultants sends political waves in Miami Beach

The bitterness of this year’s mayoral election in Miami Beach is spilling into City Hall as commissioners consider a politically charged ethics ordinance Wednesday.

The new regulation would ban political consultants from lobbying elected officials whom they assisted for 12 months after the commissioners are sworn in, creating a buffer between campaign managers-turned-lobbyists and their bosses after elections.

The commissioner sponsoring the change calls it necessary ethics reform — even though the same proposal was rejected a year ago by a majority of this same commission when it was proposed well before the heat of election season.

After getting initial approval June 7, with only Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán voting no, the measure is scheduled to come up for a final vote at Wednesday’s 5 p.m. commission meeting.

The new regulation raises the temperature for a sweltering political climate surrounding the high-profile mayor’s race. In recent weeks, commissioner and mayoral candidate Michael Grieco has been dogged by his links to a political committee that raised money from city vendors and lobbyists. That committee, which is closing after a series of Herald articles outlined Grieco’s ties to the group, is currently under state investigation.

The one consultant/lobbyist who stands directly in the crosshairs of the new ordinance, David Custin, is managing Grieco’s campaign. Custin is employed by multiple clients to lobby in the Beach, and he has also managed campaigns for Mayor Philip Levine and commissioners Ricky Arriola, John Elizabeth Alemán and Joy Malakoff.

That is as politically cutthroat as you can get

David Custin, political consultant for mayoral candidate Michael Grieco and Miami Beach lobbyist

Last year, Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez pitched the same ban and received only one strong supporter, Commissioner Micky Steinberg. The rest of the commission settled on forcing consultant-lobbyists to disclose whom they have helped in elections before lobbying during public meetings.

Now, Malakoff has reintroduced the item amid a campaign season where she’s endorsed Grieco’s primary opponent, former state legislator Dan Gelber. Malakoff drew criticism from Grieco and Rosen Gonzalez, who said she is politicizing an ethics issue.

“It was too bad I didn’t get the support when I initially brought it up,” said Rosen Gonzalez, who is co-sponsoring the ordinance.

Malakoff told the Miami Herald this week that her proposal has nothing to do with her preference in the mayor’s race but extends to the broader political atmosphere during an election season, where voters want to know who’s influencing who. She said that with last year’s proposal, the change would’ve unfairly singled out Custin.

“Before, I felt it was targeting only one,” she said. “Now there are several consultants. Whether they are lobbying or not, I don’t know.”

Custin appears to be the only individual who is actively consulting on a campaign while under contract to lobby for private interests in the Beach. In an interview Monday, Custin called the proposal “as politically cutthroat as you can get,” noting that the only change in the last 12 months is he is managing Grieco’s bid for mayor while other commissioners such as Malakoff and Arriola are backing Gelber.

“That doesn’t reflect a proposal being done for public policy,” he said. “That indicates the motivation of the legislation is political vendetta.”

Commissioner Michael Grieco and former state legislator Dan Gelber are running for mayor. A third candidate, Daniel Kahn, is also running. The election is Nov. 7.

If the new law passes, Custin and anyone in his position would be able to continue to lobby under contracts that have already been signed, but they would not be able to take on new lobbying business.

Grieco sharply criticized the ordinance before voting in favor on first reading. He characterized the vote as a political trap set for him to get caught in a vote against ethics reform.

“This is the ‘try to get Mike Grieco in a bad vote’ ordinance, so let’s call it what it is,” he said. “My relationship with my campaign consultant is no different than other lobbyists in this building. There are lobbyists in this building who I went to law school with. There are lobbyists in this building whose homes I’ve been in. There are lobbyists in this building who I consider friends. And you know what I do? I tell them no all the time.”

After opposing the ban just 12 months ago, Levine said recent headlines about the political committee linked to Grieco influenced him to change his vote. He deflected Grieco’s criticism while noting he has not endorsed anyone or donated to a campaign in the mayor’s race.

“I think we need to make the public feel more confident about their government and their elections,” he said.

Malakoff hired Custin twice to run her commission campaigns. She won in 2013 and employed him last year to manage her re-election effort before she backed out of the race in January. She said she has felt uncomfortable when Custin has tried to influence her vote.

“Why should a commissioner have that pressure on them?” she said. “It’s an uncomfortable feeling, and it’s not necessary.”

As he voted in favor of the ordinance June 7, Grieco curtly expressed his thoughts on the matter.

“Yes, and this is a joke,” he said.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech