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    Florida Lottery's ad company is big GOP contributor

    When the contract was up for bid, other firms viewed the current holder's tightness with the party and concluded, why bother?

    By ADAM C. SMITH, Times Political Editor
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 26, 2002


    Numerous possible contenders took a pass when state officials invited advertising companies to bid for the Florida Lottery's $30-million marketing contract.

    The chances of winning it away from the well-connected firm already handling lottery advertising was not worth the effort, some concluded.

    "The betting men said it's not going to move, and when I hear that from people who have a good sense of the politics and the relationships, I don't need to probe that to be convinced," said Peter Yesawich of Yesawich Pepperdine & Brown of Orlando, who briefly considered bidding until he asked around.

    The betting men proved right. In March, Florida Lottery officials decided that for the next six years the contract will stay with Cooper & Hayes, whose president had given more than $300,000 to the state and national Republican Party in the past four years.

    Lottery officials say the bidding process was competitive and none of the other four bidders challenged the results.

    "They've done an outstanding job for us," lottery spokesman Sam Oliver said of Cooper & Hayes of Coral Gables, noting that lottery revenue has risen while the Coral Gables firm held the contract.

    Still, the contract offers a reminder of how often state business intersects with state politics. Five Florida advertising executives noted Cooper's political ties to the Bush administration when asked why they didn't compete for the new contract.

    "It is well known that there are very strong relationships between the existing agency and Florida Lottery," said Sandy Tinsley of Miami-based Tinsley Advertising.

    Ric Cooper, chief executive officer of Cooper & Hayes, inherited the lottery account in 1997 when he moved to Florida to become president of the firm that won the contract in 1996 under then-Gov. Lawton Chiles. Cooper became a generous Republican contributor, starting during the tail end of Jeb Bush 's successful 1998 gubernatorial campaign, when he gave the Florida GOP $35,000.

    All told, Cooper has given more than $336,000 to the state and national GOP since then, including $25,000 to the Republican National State Elections Committee six days after winning the new lottery contract this year and $25,000 to the Florida GOP eight days after winning the contract. In September Cooper hosted a fundraiser for Bush in Miami.

    Democrats have seized on examples of big donors getting state assistance or contracts to paint Jeb Bush as a "pay to play administration."

    "This is the latest issue in the last two or three weeks where it appears contracts let by the Bush administration appear to be connected to campaign contributions," said Alan Stonecipher, spokesman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride , who also questioned the timing of lottery TV ads touting education improvements in the midst of the campaign.

    Oliver, the lottery spokesman, said nearly identical ads have run throughout the year and have nothing to do with the campaign.

    A Florida Republican Party spokesman also dismissed the connection between Cooper's political support and the lottery contract.

    "Anybody that looks at Florida's contract bidding process can tell that it's very open and fair," said spokesman Towson Fraser. "Obviously, there's no connection between contributions to the party and any contracts awarded by the state."

    Cooper, who did not return phone calls seeking comment, also has contributed to some of Bush's pet causes, as has his biggest client, Carnival Cruise Lines.

    While lottery officials were evaluating firms bidding on the marketing contract this year, the governor's office issued a press release praising Cooper & Hayes and other firms for supporting the governor's family literacy grant program.

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