By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org
In the waning days of the most recent Florida legislative session, it appeared the nonprofit agency founded and run by Plantation State Sen. Lauren Book would walk away with only half-a-million dollars in taxpayer funding after consecutive years of receiving seven-figure sums.
Then came the April 30th meeting of the budget conference chairs. That’s when Lauren’s Kids got sprinkled.
The so-called “sprinkle list” is used to describe how legislators shower favored organizations with additional dollars near the end of session.
Toward the end of the hearing, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Rob Bradley, R- Green Cove Springs, announced that the children’s cancer awareness foundation Live Like Bella and Book’s organization, Lauren’s Kids, had been erroneously left off the list. He said each would receive an additional $500,000.
With a stroke of a pen, Bradley made sure his colleague’s nonprofit walked away with $1 million for its educational outreach program aimed at preventing sexual and physical abuse against children, as well as encouraging the reporting of child-abuse cases. Book later voted to approve the budget bill containing the allocation for Lauren’s Kids.
But according to ethics watchdogs, the large allocation of public funds to a senator’s nonprofit raises concerns about whether Book, a Democrat, properly disclosed her ties to Lauren’s Kids. Likewise, they question the legislative practice of doling out public dollars to private groups after legislative committees have already voted on how much money the groups should receive.
Peter Cruise, executive director of Florida Atlantic University’s LeRoy Collins Public Ethics Academy, said the sprinkle list subverts the committee process. “It becomes more concerning if it involves a legislator and the organization has her name on it, even if it’s for helping abused kids,” said Cruise, who is also a Palm Beach County ethics commissioner. “Things like this should not happen, no matter how worthy the cause is.”
Ben Wilcox, research director for the watchdog organization Integrity Florida, said legislators only have to disclose a possible conflict of interest if the appropriation directly benefits them. “She can argue that it is not a direct benefit to her because the allocation is to the nonprofit,” Wilcox explained. “But it is a really gray area. If I were her, I would err on the side of full disclosure.”
Furthermore, Book should have sought an opinion from the Senate’s general counsel before voting on the state budget, Wilcox said. “If you don’t take some steps to fully disclose what could be a potential conflict, it doesn’t look good to the public,” he said.
Since its inception in 2007, Lauren’s Kids has sought and received grant funding from the state, collecting more than $13 million in the last five years alone. The senator, a rising Broward Democrat whose father is powerhouse lobbyist Ron Book, receives a $144,250 salary as Lauren’s Kids CEO, according to the nonprofit’s 2016 tax return, the most recent available. The same document shows that government grants represented 68 percent of Lauren’s Kids 2016 $4.1 million revenue. Book’s Senate salary is $29,697.
In a 2017 interview before the start of her first year in office, Book told Florida Bulldog that she consulted the Senate’s general counsel about voting on issues relating to Lauren’s Kids. She said she was advised “that I do not abstain on these matters unless the funding directly inures to my benefit, which it will not.” Book insisted that her CEO salary was restructured so that is not paid with state funds and that she derives no personal benefit from public tax dollars.
During her first term, Book has quickly risen up the ranks in the Republican-controlled Legislature. She is chairwoman of the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee and is a member of the Appropriations Committee and two appropriations subcommittees that oversee education, health and human services. However, she has been mostly ineffective in passing her own legislative agenda.
According to her Senate website, 37 of 45 bills Book sponsored died at the committee level, including measures to establish trust and compensation funds for victims’ families of the Feb. 14, 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High mass shooting.
A ‘scrivener’s error’
As a member of the Appropriations Committee and subcommittees, Sen. Book was at the April 30th budget conference. When Bradley said a ‘scrivener’s error’ had mistakenly left off funding for Live Like Bella and Lauren’s Kids, Book was a few feet away from the Senate appropriations chairman, according to video footage of the meeting.
“As an appointed member of the overall Joint Budget Conference Committee and a member of both the Education and the Health and Human Services Budget Conference Sub-Committees it was my duty to be there,” Book said in an emailed statement. The senator said the $500,000 sprinkle for Lauren’s Kids was requested by Democratic Sen. Bill Montford of Leon County, who also is the CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. Bradley and Montford did not respond to phone messages and emails requesting comment.
Book said she became aware of the scrivener’s error during the budget conference, but that she did not discuss Lauren’s Kids funding with any of the legislators or Senate staff in attendance.
Lauren’s Kids spokeswoman Claire VanSusteren told Florida Bulldog that Book has not been involved with any legislative funding requests related to the nonprofit.
“She does not lobby her colleagues on the budget, and does not participate in foundation-related legislative updates as she is no longer a member of the Lauren’s Kids board of directors,” VanSusteren said. “The only exception has been to vote on a final state budget as is required of her as a state senator.”
Cruise, the ethics commissioner, said having a colleague like Montford sponsor funding for Lauren’s Kids puts some distance between the senator and her nonprofit, but that the sprinkle list subverts the vetting process undertaken by the legislative committees.
“The appropriations process is extremely political,” Cruise said. “It is hard to get on an agenda and organizations can get knocked out at the last minute. To have something come out of left field is not the way the process is supposed to work.”
Truth about Lauren Book / May 22, 2019 10:11 am
Lauren Book needs to be kicked out of the Senate and incarcerated for abusing her power. Her charity is nothing but a financial black hole and the most egregious example of using victims as chattel the US has ever seen.
Jeff Weinberger / May 22, 2019 11:57 am
The lack of ethics here is horrendous but hardly the latest from the Book camp. The proverbial old block from which Lauren was chipped is far worse.
One other note, to the writer, regarding “Book would walk away with only half-a-million dollars in taxpayer funding after consecutive years of receiving six-figure sums.” Actually, half-a-million IS a six-figure sum. Perhaps you meant seven-figure there?
Derek Logue / May 22, 2019 1:20 pm
Wow what a shock, crooked pol Lauren Book gives herself more taxpayer funds to ride in gaudy tour buses and run a charity that actually does very little.
City activist Robert Walsh / May 22, 2019 2:52 pm
Everybody from the State on down to local governments(yes).I see your point here in reference to the Books.Her non-profit gets a million dollars.Is it for a good cause- absolutely.It gives me some hearburn her father is pulling in almost 150G a year but it’s rapid all over the State inc.local cities.For example this CRA monies.First the concept is they take taxes property etc from slum and blight neighborhoods and the concept is to put that monies(alot) back into these slum and blight neighborhoods so they are not classified as slum and blight.Sounds great.Put that monies back into these neighborhoods with monies for inerstrucure,roads,up grades etc.Ft Lau here seems to think CRA monies should go to developers,parties and for well connected residents to use CRA monies for restaurants ( wait).For developers to build hotels( Atty.Bob Locherie making a fortune representing these developers- good for u Bob- however u look like u stepped out of GQ magazine but proceeds from these developers-u think they pay u mucho dinero without this money grab with CRA monies ( 3million ring a bell).Yes Ft Lau Comm just gave a developer 3 million dollars towards an 18 million dollar project .That’s not all.10 million for a YMCA etc.Then they gave almost a 1/2 million dollars( get this) to a former state senator( Smith) for a chicken wing restaurant.It goes on and on.CRa monies we’re never intended for greedy developers- and restaurants etc.They all go belly up guess what the monies down the drain.No way to recoup monies.Who cares.Its not your money( CRA).It’s residents monies that is taken from tax rev from slum and blight.So no monies go back in to slum and blight neighborhoods where they took the monies to begin with.So slum and blight stay slum and blight but guess what u get an 18 million dollar hotel( Sistrunk) with 3 million of your monies.What do slum and blight neighborhoods get out of it.Noise from construction.traffic congestion.But it will produce 30 jobs.Wow( that pay 10 bucks an hour). Unreal…
Ben / May 22, 2019 3:07 pm
Imagine that, the Book crime syndicate continues to milk the taxpayers. What a dirty, underhanded way to reappropriate taxpayer funds.
City activist Robert Walsh / May 22, 2019 3:13 pm
Make no mistake this land use atty Bob Locherie sharper than a tack but do u really think u would look like u stepped out of GQ without these elected officials giving your clients in this case 3 million dollars.Yes Bob here delegates and litigates in front of the Commission and by the time the night is over Atty.Lockerie hands u a check from Ftlau for 3 million dollars.I would have charged them 5 grand an hour for those results Bob..Assuming Bob laughs all the way to the bank.Where Robbie,Bobbie,slobbie works 80 hrs a week for 2G..Envoius,jealous naturally…( Wink,wink)…
Dan Christensen / May 22, 2019 3:14 pm
Fixed. Thanks, Jeff
Sharon Robb / May 23, 2019 10:28 am
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it?
Family of deceiving people.
What a shame. As usual, nice piece of investigating and journalism!!!
City activist Robert Walsh / May 23, 2019 10:41 am
It’s 68 hrs/ per week( work) but who’s counting.Suckerboy day in day out( and did I tell u I’m used as a pawn- ps.to bad I’m not used in the bedroom).Back to Send.Book.They r all watching how much the State gives u for your organization.She is making people aware of sex tracking and minors that r molested.My.take.Hand over day to day operations to someone else.Take your Dad off payroll.And yes recuse yourself in the Senate when monies r appropriated to Lauren’s Kids.U made a difference in the tragedy u expierenced.And for that I thank u.
An American / September 12, 2019 11:34 am
This is pure theft and nothing else. Government has no business giving away taxpayer money. If they do, I want it given to my “non profit” where I make a healthy six figure salary.
The $EX Offender Registries ($ORs) are a complete failure. They have never protected anyone and never will. Well known.
We also know that $ORs are not needed at all. They are also not significantly beneficial. So why do we have them? I think we all know why.
An interesting thing about the criminals Ron and Lauren Book is that they SUPPOSEDLY think that people who are listed on their failed $ORs should not live near schools, parks, etc. but they have no problem at all with people who have shot people with guns living there. They apparently want shooters in schools. I guess they’ll get their wish.
“People” who support “residency restrictions” have no credibility at all. They are nothing but harassing terrorists who cannot mind their own business or leave other families alone.
All “people” who support $ORs deserve a bullet between the eyes. Let’s make Amerika hate, as it always has.
Derek W. Logue of OnceFallen.com / May 9, 2021 11:29 am
Fuck Lauren Book, her dad, and all her supporters. After all they’bve put me through, I’m ready for those millions to come to me. I’m planning on suing the everliving shit out of these corrupt fuckers.