If you live in the world of Florida politics, chances are you already had an opinion of Lauren Book even before the fresh-faced advocate announced her run for state Senate earlier this month. And if you read this blog, you also already know I am a big fan.
There is no doubt that she has done an impressive job creating change around an issue that few wanted to look at or talk about until she and her dad decided to put some purpose behind their family’s pain.
But I also think there are some legitimate questions she should answer as she moves from her role as Foundation CEO to Foundation CEO-slash-Senate hopeful. (And in case you’ve been living under a rock, Book’s charity, Lauren’s Kids, has received millions of dollars in state funding to prevent child sexual abuse.)
You’re wondering it. I’m wondering it. The Capitol Press Corps is wondering it.
So let’s ask the questions…
How will she keep a firewall between her two worlds?
Can she be both a candidate and a foundation CEO?
And what about her salary?
State records show that as CEO of Lauren’s Kids, Lauren drew part of her salary from state dollars. Fine, there is absolutely not even a question about a CEO of a foundation drawing a salary. She was paid for work she was doing.
But now that she is a candidate, Book says she will no longer derive any of her salary from state funding. Yes, you read that first here on Florida Politics.
Any funds that she draws down for her work with Lauren’s Kids will, going forward, come exclusively from private donations and not from tax dollars.
“This isn’t something we are required to do,” Book said, “but it feels right and we are always going to bend over backwards to cross our Ts and dot our Is.”
Continued Book, “In that spirit, now that I am a candidate, I chose to forego those state dollars for my salary.”
Book explained that they’ve taken the extra step of retaining an attorney who not only specializes in campaign law, but nonprofit law, to ensure she as candidate and also as a foundation executive respects and complies with rules surrounding both aspect of her life.
And let’s remind ourselves of the very fact that the Florida Legislature is today and has always been filled with citizen lawmakers who hold jobs outside of the Legislature – from university presidents to government and association leaders to educators and nonprofit heads.
State Sen. Bill Montford works for a not-for-profit trade association that has a great deal of business before the state and has done an admirable job of toeing both lines. State Sen. Dwight Bullard is a public school teacher who is not only paid with state funds, but also advocates for increases in funding for public education. And state Sen. Thad Altman – like Lauren – also works for a non-for-profit foundation. Needless to say, the list goes on.
And how is she going to handle the 800-pound gorilla in the room: lobbyist father Ron Book?
Again, she is swimming in well-charted waters and won’t be the first lawmaker with a family member who is a registered lobbyist. We currently have a Speaker Designate whose brother is a prominent lobbyist, and we know too well that Will Weatherford’s brother Drew was a registered lobbyist while Will was Speaker, as was Allan Bense’s daughter, Courtney. On the Senate side, we had John and Michelle McKay (husband and wife, and Michelle is still a lobbyist – a good one) as well as Ken Pruitt and his brother Will.
So it’s not like this is the first time this path has been crossed. But as with the Corcoran, Weatherford, Bense, McKay and Pruitt families, the Book family will be closely watched.
“I welcome and understand the questions and I am fairly certain I will sometimes vote for the things my dad likes and there will be times I will work against his interests as well,” said Lauren Book. “But we have to get there first and I am working very hard to make that happen.”
Book is quick to point out that anyone who has spent even a few minutes with her and her father know they often (and quite vocally) disagree on some pretty important issues. She even tells the story of her first big-time adult decision – which career to choose – and while Ron wanted her to pursue a law degree, she chose to become a teacher instead.
“Yeah, he was kind of mad about that, but in the end he understood my passion for the classroom and for kids and I guess he still loves me,” said Book.
How about going after state funding for the Foundation after she gets elected? Book answered that question via email:
“One step at a time, Peter. I am making no presumptions – it is a long way from today to actually being in office. But if I am lucky enough to be elected, we will take every step necessary to ensure full and complete compliance with both state and federal laws. But make no mistake, Lauren’s Kids will continue and will continue in its mission of protecting children as we work to educate, raise awareness and bring about systemic change along the way.”
So the tough questions of Lauren Book have been asked — and answered.