St. Petersburg Times Online: News of Florida
Place an Ad Calendars Classified Forums Sports Weather
  • Shuttle Disaster: A goodbye to their bird
  • Professor will write Corleone sequel
  • Study links cancer risk, pressure-treated playsets
  • Speaker spends $600,000 on PR
  • Fed-up Cubans dock patrol boat in Key West
  • Around the state: Carnival Cruise employee arrested on sex charge
  • W.D. Childers' bribery trial to be moved
  • Priest, 80, suspended over '50s sex charges
  • FAU plan for Brogan: $290,000 salary, perks
  • Partner threatened to shoot kidnap victim, suspect says
  • Lucy Morgan: Democrats, be careful what you ask for

  • From the state wire

  • Hurricane Jeanne appears on track to hit Florida's east coast
  • Rumor mill working overtime after Florida hurricanes
  • Developments associated with Hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne
  • Four killed in Panhandle plane crash were on Ivan charity mission
  • Hurricane Frances caused estimated $4.4 billion in insured damage
  • Disabled want more handicapped-accessible voting machines
  • USF forces administrators to resign over test score changes
  • Man's death at Universal Studios ruled accidental
  • State child welfare workers in Miami fail to do background checks
  • Hurricane Jeanne heads toward southeast U.S. coast
  • Hurricane Jeanne spurs more anxiety for storm-weary Floridians
  • Mistrial declared in case where teen was target of racial "joke"
  • Panhandle utility wants sewer plant moved to higher ground
  • State employee arrested on theft, bribery charges
  • Homestead house fire kills four children, one adult
  • Pierson leader tries to cut off relief to local fern cutters
  • Florida's high court rules Terri's law unconstitutional
  • Jacksonville students punished for putting stripper pole in dorm
  • FEMA handling nearly 600,000 applications for help
  • Man who killed wife, niece, self also killed mother in 1971
  • Producer sues city over lead ball fired by Miami police
  • Tourism suffers across Florida after pummeling by hurricanes
  • Key dates in the life of Terri Schiavo
  • An excerpt from the unanimous ruling in the Schiavo case
  • Four confirmed dead after small plane crash in Panhandle
  • Correction: Disney-Cruise Line story

    printer version

    Speaker spends $600,000 on PR

    With a budget crisis looming, House Speaker Johnnie Byrd's staff defends the publicity costs.

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 8, 2003

    TALLAHASSEE -- House Speaker Johnnie Byrd is spending $600,000 in salaries to promote the House at a time when the governor is proposing deep cuts in services.

    Six of the 13 House communications staffers are former Republican Party operatives.

    The Plant City Republican also is spending tens of thousands more on several Tampa-area companies, including photo studios in Tampa and Plant City and a video production firm in Crystal River, to handle a variety of publicity work. One company charges the state $600 a day.

    Byrd's image-making operation may be the most lavish state government has ever seen.

    By comparison, Gov. Jeb Bush employs eight people at an annual cost of $359,000, and Senate President Jim King has one $44,000-a-year spokeswoman who shares a student intern with other Senate staffers. Eight of Byrd's staffers make more than that.

    The latest details on Byrd's publicity operation were released at a news conference by his staff Friday in response to mounting press requests from reporters for records. Byrd was not at the news conference; aides said he was on his way home to Plant City.

    The disclosures come as Bush is asking the Legislature to raise college tuition, reduce services for troubled children and shut down the state library.

    When Byrd became House speaker three months ago, he offered a vision of less government, lower taxes and "living within our means." He also vowed to take communication "to the next level."

    Aides could not provide a price tag for the most expensive and controversial of Byrd's public relations contract: a telemarketing operation to place recorded phone calls to voters and conduct opinion surveys on issues.

    Byrd staffers said he has not added to the House payroll, but merely shifted jobs from other areas, mostly from the majority office.

    Byrd's communications director, Todd Reid, said the staff is nonpartisan and will help Democrats. But the staff has strong ties to the Republican Party and two of Byrd's closest political allies.

    Sam Rashid, a Valrico businessman who has been a loyal supporter and fundraiser for Byrd, recommended four of the employees and Mike Corcoran, a lobbyist and political consultant on the House campaigns last fall and a former aide to Byrd, also recommended four.

    Michael Manley, who is paid $39,000 a year as a researcher in the communications office, attended a community college and two universities but he did not graduate. From 1996 to 1999 he was a sports referee in the Plant City recreation department.

    On his resume, Manley listed his previous job as an employee for the Republican Party of Florida, as a House liaison to "aid and assist House representatives in campaigning, fund raising, etc."

    Democrats say Byrd's media operation is an effort to promote his name in preparation for a statewide campaign in 2004, and to make sure Republican incumbents are re-elected in two years.

    House Democratic Leader Doug Wiles, D-St. Augustine, said most Floridians would rather see the money spent for student financial aid or to increase teacher salaries.

    "I think that sends the wrong message, when we have tight budget times and have to make some very difficult decisions, that we would choose to spend our dollars on an advertising campaign for politicians in Tallahassee," Wiles said.

    Byrd sent a memo to House members on Jan. 29 outlining his plan for an "Enhanced Member Communication Program." The components include TV and radio news feeds, streaming video and audio on the Internet, a new House Web site,, and automated phone calls.

    He cautioned lawmakers: "Because we are moving toward the ability to communicate directly with our constituents without the 'filter' of the media, there has been some expected media criticism about the prospect of better communication with constituents. It is important to remember that there are certain interests that wish the process to remain mysterious, such as the media . . . and the lobbyists, who wish to be the only access to the people's process."

    He added: "I believe that a well-informed electorate is vital to the strength of our democracy."

    Back to State news
    Back to Top

    © 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
    490 First Avenue South • St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • 727-893-8111
    Special Links
    Lucy Morgan

    From the Times state desk