THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA: Lottery TV contract questioned

Dec 17, 2009

THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA published this article on December 17, 2009.


THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Dec. 16, 2009…..The Florida Lottery has tentatively awarded a five-year, $3.7 million contract to Mike Vasilinda Productions, the video production firm owned by the veteran Capitol newsman and spouse of Democratic Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda.
Vasilinda has had the Lottery contract since 1995, but the latest award is the first since his wife was elected to the Legislature last fall as a Democrat from Tallahassee.

With the contract pending, Rep. Vasilinda had sought an opinion from House general counsel Karen Camechis who effectively blessed the marriage of government business and politics, a union not unheard of at the Florida Capitol.

“As previously discussed, you must vote on every measure unless you know or believe the measure will inure to your personal special private gain or loss,” Camechis counseled.

She added, “If you know or believe that Mr. Vasilinda or MVP will realize a special private benefit…you must vote on the measure and disclose your interest.”

Rep. Vasilinda serves on a pair of policy committees and the Government Operations budget committee, which has a role in approving Lottery funding.

“I’m very, very aware that I have to do the right thing,” Rep. Vasilinda told the News Service of Florida on Wednesday. “Mike has had the contract for all these years and he won the bid fair and square.”

For his part, Vasilinda, who also covers the Capitol for television stations from Miami to Pensacola, said he has not reported on the state Lottery since his company first won the contract for televising the nightly drawings.

Vasilinda also has done work over the years for a variety of state agencies, but says he has always maintained a credible news operation separate from his client work.

“We’ve found a business model that works,” Vasilinda said. “There’s not a lot of money that can be made from news these days, and I think we found something that more people are going to be looking at.”

Indeed, a pair of former Vasilinda employees have been left on the outside of the contract for the Lottery production.

Lottery officials gave Vasilinda’s company higher marks than rival Evolution Media, Inc., in announcing late Tuesday that it planned to award the production contract. Evolution’s two principles, both former Vasilinda employees, say they are still considering whether to file a challenge to the tentative award by a Friday afternoon deadline.

“I don’t like the decision, no question about that,” said Charles “CB” Lorch of Evolution Media, who left Vasilinda’s company five years ago. “But as far as it going to the husband of somebody whose wife is on the appropriations committee that oversees the agency’s budget, yeah, that raises a flag for me.”

Vasilinda said Lorch’s criticism is sour grapes. Only two companies bid for the production contract and, he added, the Florida Lottery is clearly satisfied with the service they’ve received.

“The fact that these guys are crying foul is wrong, because the real reason they didn’t get the contract is that they don’t have the experience the Lottery wants,” Vasilinda said.