Update: This article has been changed to note that lobbyist Ellyn Bogdanoff is a delegation co-chair.
Ensconced among the travel party accompanying Gov. Ron DeSantis to Israel this week is a cadre of lobbyists – people who make their living influencing the executive and legislative branches and whose careers rise and fall according to their proximity to power.
The 98 people making the trip include the governor and Cabinet members, state legislators and mayors, agency chiefs, business and political types, academics, and religious figures. They include some of Florida’s best-connected lobbyists.
“These lobbyists are gaining access and the ability to influence government officials far beyond what is available to a member of the public,” says Ben Wilcox, research director of the government watchdog organization Integrity Florida.
“Each lobbyist has a special-interest policy agenda that they are being paid to pursue with the public officials who are accompanying them on this trip,” Wilcox said. “The public should be concerned because government policies that are in the public’s best interest are seldom included in those lobbyist agendas.”
DeSantis began his journey Saturday and arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday, with business meetings and cultural exchanges extending through the end of the week. An apparently “ceremonial” Cabinet meeting is set for Wednesday and DeSantis is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday.
The governor’s office still hasn’t released trip-related documents sought under a public-records request the Florida Phoenix filed on April 16. A follow-up request Friday regarding the governor’s flight arrangements went unacknowledged. The office has said that the state will pay only for state leaders and agency staff – 24 people.
Aides did post a page on state Enterprise Florida’s website noting that the total expenses for the trip would be available within 60 days following the travel party’s return. That business-development agency has been planning the trip. The office also released this fact sheet on business development missions.
Among the Florida lobbyists and influential business and political figures who’ll be rubbing elbows with the governor and elected Cabinet:
Eytan Laor is a principal in Electoral Strategies Inc., which advises candidates – including DeSantis during last year’s campaign – and political committees. Israeli-born, he’s active in conservative and pro-Israel political circles. He’s executive director of the American Principles Fund, which agitates against LGBT and abortion rights (it once employed Sarah Huckabee Sanders). He is a board member of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, which describes itself as an” unabashedly pro-America and pro-Israel” think tank.
Florida Realtors, the self-described largest trade association in Florida, is sending three principals – CEO Margy Grant, President Eric Sain, and vice president for public policy Danielle Scroggins. DeSantis has signed at least two of the organization’s priority bills for 2019 – reform of “assignment of benefits” insurance agreements and a commercial rent tax cut worth $64.5 million.
Bob Diener is co-founder and president of getaroom.com and, earlier, hotels.com. He is a former corporate lawyer (at the major law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher) and sits on the board of the Development Corp. for Israel, which sells Israeli government bonds in the United States. Mark Rubin, that organization’s executive director, will make the trip, too, as will Melanie Weinstein, interim director for South and Central Florida. Getaroom.com provides hotel and vacation rental services. DeSantis and the Cabinet voted in January to sanction competitor Airbnb following reports it had removed Israeli-owned properties in settlements within the occupied West Bank. Airbnb later reversed that policy.
Alan Becker is founding shareholder of Becker & Poliakoff, a law firm based in Fort Lauderdale that maintains a robust lobbying arm. Becker is a former state House member who sits on the Enterprise Florida board, and who’s been named one of Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite” and South Florida CEO magazine’s “Power Elite.” The firm deploys 15 lobbyists in Florida cities, including Tallahassee. Becker isn’t registered at present to lobby the executive or legislative branches, according to the state’s list of registered lobbyists, but “continues to play an active role in the firm, working closely with the litigation, government law and lobbying, construction and international practice areas,” his firm’s bio says.
Becker & Poliakoff shareholder Ellyn Bogdanoff will also attend, as one of eight co-chairs of the delegation. She has served both in the state House and Senate, and on boards for Jewish organizations including the Holocaust Documentation Center.
Greenberg Traurig, an international law and lobbying firm with roots in South Florida, is sending two people. Fred Karlinsky is co-chairman of the insurance regulatory and transactions department, practicing in Fort Lauderdale and Tallahassee. His client list includes an array of insurance companies and trade groups, plus the Florida Police Chiefs Association, Florida Power & Light Co., the Hemp Industries Association of Florida, and the Holocaust Documentation & Education Center. Robert Grossman chairs the Israeli practice, assisting Israeli and U.S. companies in corporate transactions.
Scott Ross is a consultant with Capital City Consulting, the heavyweight Florida lobbying shop. He specializes in state regulation, with an emphasis on gambling, and is a former deputy secretary of the Department of Business Regulation. He represents a diverse client list that includes big businesses such as insurance companies; gambling interests; the Trulieve medical cannabis provider; and the Israeli-American Coalition for Action, which seeks to bolster the U.S.-Israeli relationship.
Eric Silagy is president and CEO of Florida Power & Light Co., which boasts 5 million customers, and a board member of the U.S. and Florida chambers of commerce. He also serves on the board of Enterprise Florida and the executive board of the Florida Council of 100 – a state government advisory group comprising the state’s corporate elite.
Jason Unger is Tallahassee managing partner for the GrayRobinson law and lobbying firm and a well-connected figure in Republican politics. He represented George W. Bush in the presidential election unpleasantness during 2000, and the Republican-dominated state House during legislative redistricting in 2002 and 2012. He’s served on both the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission and the state Supreme Court Nominating Commission. His client list features municipal governments (including Miami-Dade County and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office); companies including pharmaceutical company Allergan USA Inc., JP Morgan Chase Holdings LLC, Target Corp.; the Orlando Magic; and Shands Teaching Hospital.
Mark Wilson is president and CEO of, and a registered lobbyist for, the Florida Chamber of Commerce. He sits on the board of directors of Enterprise Florida and belongs to the Florida Council of 100.
Update: This article has been amended to correct the spelling of Electoral Strategies principal Eytan Laor’s name.
See previous Phoenix coverage of the Israel trip: Gov. DeSantis to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu next week; 98 people joining Gov. DeSantis and Cabinet on Israel trip starting Saturday – here are the details; Here’s who is going with Gov. Ron DeSantis and Cabinet to Israel Saturday; Gov. DeSantis, FL Cabinet fly out Sat. on 80-person trip to Israel: Who’s paying? Who’s going? His office won’t say; Gov. DeSantis and Cabinet are holding a meeting in Israel in 4 weeks. But still, no details on what it will cost and what they will be doing; Governor’s office releases bare-bones agenda for May 25 Israel trip; Public may be able to “attend” May FL Cabinet meeting in Israel via video, Attorney General Moody says; South Fla legislators joining Gov. DeSantis, Cabinet, 75 others on Israel trip May 25; Gov. DeSantis talks about his God, hypes upcoming Florida Cabinet meeting in Israel; One lawmaker says she will pay her own way for Israel trip with Gov. DeSantis and Cabinet