Plantation resident Lauren Book, 31, has raised about $1.3 million for her state senate campaign, though she's running unopposed. Her charity was also awarded a million dollars by the state legislature this session.
Book is the daughter of powerful Florida lobbyist Ron Book, and after suffering horrific abuse by a nanny in her teen years, she founded Lauren's Kids, which raises awareness about childhood sexual abuse and advocates for legislation affecting sex offenders.
She has designed an educational curriculum and written two books, Lauren's Kingdom, and It's OK to Tell. Every year, Book walks across the state during an annual "hope and healing tour." The walk passed through South Florida this past week. During portions of it, Book was joined by Miami Heat staff and hundreds of survivors of sexual abuse.
Despite the phenomenal support, Book has faced criticism that due to her father's influence, her charity and, in turn, her candidacy get "outsized" benefits not typically afforded to a small non-profit or novice candidate. The Florida Legislature this year awarded Lauren’s Kids $1 million for “school and instructional enhancements." In 2014 and again in 2015, the charity received $3.8 million from that part of the state budget, far more than most other groups that were awarded funds in that category. Billboards with her face on them promote her charity but have the side effect of increasing her visibility as a candidate.
Book had initially drawn an opponent, former Walmart worker Emmanuel Blimie, but due to redistricting she is now unopposed in District 32, which includes Cooper City, Coral Springs, Davie, Plantation, Southwest Ranches, Weston, and parts of Miramar, Pembroke Pines, and Sunrise. As of February 29, she had raised $529,484 via 735 small campaign contributions (up to $1,000 each), including donations from pro athletes Dan Marino, Alonzo Mourning and Shane Battier.
In addition, a political action committee called Leadership for Broward had raised $761,950 for Book. That includes donations from major Florida companies (like $20,00 from Autonation and $10,000 apiece from U.S. Sugar Corporation and Florida Crystals), plus $100,000 coming from the Miami Dolphins and $65,000 from the GEO Group — her father’s former or current clients. In the past, some have expressed concerns that if she were elected, Lauren's votes would be influenced by her father's work. (He is president of Lauren's Kids, and the charity is headquartered in the same office building as his firm.)
This year, Derek Logue, a convicted sex offender who runs a website critical of the Books, says, “I’d love it if someone challenged Lauren Book on collecting GEO Group money considering the fact GEO group’s track record of allowing rampant physical and sexual abuse within their walls. I guess Lauren doesn’t care about abuse when it is about juveniles in facilities.” (A Department of Justice investigation into the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, which is run by GEO Group, found that it was “deliberately indifferent to staff sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior with youth. The sexual misconduct we found was among the worst that we have seen in any facility anywhere in the nation.”)
Book's campaign manager, Steve Vancore, said Book was too busy to comment due to her annual walk. But in the past, she has deflected criticism with characteristic sweetness, saying she wished critics “would speak directly to me so I can show them the amazing work we are doing on behalf of children.”
Lauren's Kids boasts of having helped pass some two dozen laws to stop childhood sex abuse, such as mandating the placement of a red “P” on the driver’s licenses of sexual predators. Some groups have argued that laws created as a result of the zeal to punish sex offenders have had unintended consequences like breaking up families, and may not necessarily be effective in stopping abuse. A new documentary called Untouchable will explore how the Books’ efforts to regulate where sex offenders could live meant that some had nowhere they could reside legally except under a bridge (something Ron Book has publicly regretted). Filmmakers were not available this week, but promotional materials say the film "argues for a new understanding of how we think about and legislate sexual abuse." The film will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, April 13 to 24 in New York.
Lauren's Kids spokesperson Claire Van Susteren, said Book “is keeping a wall between her Foundation work and the campaign. Regarding the Untouchable film — neither Lauren nor Ron have seen the full version yet but I am sure would be able to comment once it’s officially been released.”