Broward County School Board records show that on October 10, 2008, then-School Board Member Stephanie Kraft and lobbytist Neil Sterling exchanged four phone calls in the afternoon.
On that same day it was announced that the insurance committee on which Kraft was sitting had chosen Vista Healthplan, one of Sterling's clients, as the sole provider of health insurance to all school board employees, a contract valued in school board records at $1.7 billion.
Kraft sat on the Insurance Advisory Committee, where she helped steer the contract to Vista. The committee met first on September 25 to discuss the contract and go over bids that came in from several different companies. Cell phone records obtained from the board show that Kraft and Sterling had a 17-minute conversation on the day before that meeting. Interestingly, it was Kraft who initiated the conversation with a call to Sterling, which he then returned to chat.
On September 27, Kraft and Sterling had a six-minute conversation initiated by the lobbyist. Two days later the insurance committee met a second time and again on October 1. On October 2, the lobbyist and politician connected again on Kraft's school board-issued cell phone.
The final meeting occurred on October 8. In all five companies were being considered. Kraft scored Vista a rout over other companies on her card, giving it a 95 out of a possible 100. Kraft's gave her second-rated highest rated company, Humana, just 81. Vista won the contract.
What was an iron-clad secret at the time was that Sterling had Stephanie Kraft's husband, Mitch Kraft, on the payroll of one of his companies at the time. Stephanie Kraft never disclosed that fact as she voted not only on Vista, but numerous Sterling clients, including several lucrative school-building contracts.
Kraft and her husband have since been charged with bribery and other felonies for allegedly providing a half-million-dollar favor for dirty developer Bruce Chait, who paid Mitch Kraft $10,000. But little has been talked about Kraft's relationship with Sterling, who in addition to putting her husband on his payroll raised tens of thousands of dollars for Kraft's campaigns.
If you wondered how much access that bought Sterling with Kraft, her cell phone records provide an answer: a whole lot.
The records reveal that Kraft and Sterling were in regular
contact. In a three-year period beginning in November 2006, they rang each other up a total of 150 times.
The calls, not surprisingly, often came on days of school board meetings, and the conversations ranged from very brief to a half-hour or more. Two involved Sterling's home phone, the rest his cell.
I do not have Kraft's cell phone records for 2010 or the end of the 2009. The last call on the obtained records was made on August 11, 2009. It was at the end of August 2009 that I learned that Sterling had hired Kraft's husband Mitch Kraft to work at one of his companies, SRG Technology (I first wrote about it on September 4 of that year).
And here's the sad part: This kind of co-dependency between policymaker and lobbyist is commonplace (at least in terms of the interaction). All too often politicians rely more on their favorite lobbyists than they do their staff to make decisions. One lobbyist who relishes that role, for instance, is Judy Stern, who forges very tight and personal alliances with many of the politicians she counts on for votes for her clients.