3 groups got $6M from state for ads

Their battle over a hurricane campaign brought it to an end.

Published May 15, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Three capital city groups squabbling over a half-million dollars in business to produce a hurricane awareness campaign have been paid nearly $6-million by the state over the past three years, most of it to the Florida Association of Broadcasters, state records show.

Late last week, Gov. Charlie Crist canceled a $450, 000 contract awarded to Ron Sachs Communications after it was contested by the Florida Association of Broadcasters and Mike Vasilinda Productions.

The contract would have been a big breakthrough for Sachs, who has worked largely in the private sector - winning 11 state contracts the last three years worth $94, 289.

Vasilinda's company has earned $276, 600 with 48 contracts during that period, not including what he receives as subcontractor on a lucrative contract with the Lottery Department.

The big player is the Florida Association of Broadcasters, created as a not-for-profit trade organization and headed for the past two decades by Pat Roberts, who has five full-time employees at the Tallahassee headquarters. Its 120 television and 500 radio station members pay dues based on their market size.

After Crist yanked the contract, Sachs, Vasilinda and Roberts engaged in a name-calling contest and said the controversy ruined some longtime friendships.

"I don't enjoy this fight, " Roberts said Monday. "I think everybody ought to chill out a little bit."

Roberts said the money initially awarded to Sachs' multimillion-dollar public relations company came from an earlier set-aside.

"For some reason the people in the midlevel decided to change what they might want to spend it on, " he said. "We're part of the state emergency plan. We have specific roles. Ours is public education."

In the last three years the Department of Financial Services has paid the broadcasting group $5.6-million, the largest portion coming from 29 contracts from the Department of Community Affairs and 14 with the Corrections Department for its 10-20-Life advertising campaign, which outlines sentencing guidelines for crimes committed with a gun.

"Most of that is for air time, " said Roberts, noting that the broadcasters provide roughly four times the amount of air time than what they've been paid for.

Roberts said a more fair comparison would include the cable and outdoor advertising as well.