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210 posts from June 2009

June 30, 2009

Common ground for Sink and McCollum: the ethics defense

Attorney General Bill McCollum "misused his public position in violation of the law'' by using the state plane to divert flights from Tallahassee to the Sanford airport, close his to Longwood home, according to Ken Quinnell, a Democratic activist who filed an ethics complaint against the Republican AG today.

The arrival of the complaint Tuesday now makes it even. Chief Financial Alex Sink, a Democrat who is running for governor, drew an ethics complaint Monday from Republican activist Jose Blas Lorenzo, Jr.

Both complaints accuse the cabinet officials of wasting taxpayer money. Both complaints cite the plane logs that show that each of them had planes diverted to their hometown airports on the way to or from official business. And both provide copies of their appointments calendar.

According to the Herald/Times review Sink diverted the plane 44 times, and had state business 30 of those times. McCollum diverted the plane 53 times, almost always to and from state business. 

Given that the ethics law appears to apply to each of them for the similar allegations, does this mean these two rivals now have one thing in common: their ethics defense?  Download Ethics Complaint Sink Download Ethics Complaint McCollum

Sink hires a lawyer and McCollum draws an ethics complaint

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has hired lawyer Mark Herron to represent her in her ethics complaint on charges that she used the state plane to transport her family and to commute to her Tampa home. Tallahassee lawyer and Republican activist Jose Blas Lorenzo filed the complaint against Sink.

Meanwhile Democratic activist Ken Quinnell brags today on his Twitter page that he's just filed a complaint against Attorney General Bill McCollum ''for misuse of the state plane.'' No word back from Quinnell, but stay tuned.

The Herald/Times reported today that as far back as February state auditors began examining the state aircraft manifest and found numerous examples of possible commuting by state officials. The investigation seems to have avoided any review of Gov. Charlie Crist's flight logs but it gave a detailed review of Sink's trips to Tampa and McCollum's trips to Sanford, raising questions about whether they were traveling home for official business or personal convenience.

The audit was prompted after the Sun-Sentinel broke the story that Lieutenant Gov. Jeff Kottkamp had used the state plane to travel to his Fort Myers home with his wife and family, and the state never billed him for reimbursement.

Crist signs bill to close off public input in water decisions

Gov. Charlie Crist today disappointed environmentalists and signed into law a bill that removes from public input the of water management district boards on surface water and consumptive use permits. Environmentalists had urged Crist to veto SB 2010 arguing that by allowing those decisions to be made by the water management districts executive director, instead of the elected board, they will be shielded from public input and debate.

They also warned that the bill carves out special exemptions for certain large land holders to get 50-year permits to use Florida water with no public review.

Crist said he was sensitive to those concerns and, in a letter accompanying his signing of the bill, urged the WMDs to continue to make their water permit decisions in the open. "I am asking the governing boards and executive directors to continue to include surface water and consumptive use permits on all board meeting agendas or other public meetings for discussion and transparency purposes.''

Eric Draper of Audubon of Florida said they will fight to get the language repealed next year. "In the past at least we've had a chance to get in front of those people and say, 'Hey, this isn't a good idea,'' he said. "We didn't always get the votes...but this takes a decision about resources and puts it behind closed doors, eliminating the opportunity for a public hearing.''

Federal Election Commission closes complaint against Diaz-Balarts, Ros-Lehtinen

The FEC closes a complaint against the trio, finding that there was so little money spent to host the event, "it is appropriate to dismiss the complaint."

At issue: a May 2008 fundraiser in which Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen participated, requesting that contributors write separate checks to each campaign. The South Florida AFL-CIO filed a complaint, arguing that such joint fundraising events "must either establish a new political committee...or select a participating political committee to act as the fundraising representative."

The three Republicans told the FEC, however, that the event qualified for a "volunteer exemption," which allows individuals to contribute up to $1,000 for invites and food and beverage. Read the decision here..

Brogan, pondering chancellor job, exits search committee

FAU president Frank Brogan, interested in the chancellor's job leading Florida's state university system, was until very recently on the Board of Governors committee working to select the next chancellor.

He resigned that post June 1, according to to this very brief letter: Download Brogan letter

Sen. Haridopolos picks up Dean support for 2010 presidency

Count Sen. Charlie Dean in the Haridopolos for Senate Prez 2010 camp.

Dean is endorsing Sen. Mike Haridopolos for the Senate presidency, the two just announced in a press release. Dean's support comes on the heels of an endorsement by Sen. Mike Bennett, who announced last week he is giving up jockeying for the presidency to support fellow Republican Haridopolos.

"It is my honor to endorse Senator Haridopolos," Dean said in a prepared statement.  "Mike is a good friend and you can always count on Mike to follow through with his commitments, lead by example and I have gained great respect for him."

No word yet on who will get leadership spots under Haridopolos, but their support probably helps.

"Charlie brings both insight and vital leadership in helping ensure our success in the future," Haridopolos said. "He will play an important role in the Senate.”

Benacquisto picks up support from future Senate Prez

Sen. Mike Haridopolos, who is slated to take over the Senate presidency from fellow Republican Jeff Atwater in 2010, plans to announce later today he's endorsing Wellington Councilwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto in her bid for the Senate seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Dave Aronberg (who is running for Attorney General against fellow Dem Dan Gelber).

"I think she is the best, most qualified candidate," Haridopolos told the Times/Herald. "We're rallying the troops around her."

She might need troops. Former state Rep. Sharon Merchant, a Republican, has said she plans to run for the seat that runs from West Palm Beach to Fort Myers.

Merchant says she'll launch her own GOP campaign soon for the treadwear-testing West Palm Beach-to-Fort Myers seat of Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, who's running for attorney general.

Benaquisto has already gotten endorsements from Atwater and former Senate President Ken Pruitt, who is next month leaving his Port St. Lucie seat.

Poll: McCollum leads Sink

From a press release:

"A new statewide poll conducted for Ron Sachs Communications shows Attorney General Bill McCollum leading Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink 41 percent to 35 percent in the race for Florida Governor, with 24 percent undecided.

"McCollum enjoys high name recognition from 87 percent of registered Florida voters, while Sink is recognized by 61 percent.

"In the Republican Primary for Governor, McCollum has a crushing lead over Florida Sen. Paula Dockery – 53 percent to 4 percent among likely Republican Primary voters. Dockery’s name is recognized by only 24 percent of likely voters.

"In a hypothetical General Election matchup between Dockery and Sink, Sink leads 43 percent to 18 percent, with 39 percent undecided.

"The poll of 625 Florida registered voters was conducted June 24 – 26 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. Questions relating to the General Election have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. The poll also includes an over-sampling of 300 likely Democratic primary voters and 300 likely Republican primary voters who were asked questions relating to the primary election races. These questions have a margin for error of plus or minus 6 percent.

"In the Democratic Primary for Attorney General, Florida state senators Dan Gelber and Dave Aronberg remain essentially tied, with 11 percent and 10 percent respectively. However, should former state Sen. Rod Smith enter the race, he would lead with 13 percent. Two-thirds of voters remain undecided.

"In the Republican Primary for Attorney General, the poll shows Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottkamp, who has not yet officially announced for the race, leading law professor Jim Lewis 12 percent to 9 percent, with 79 percent  undecided.

"In the G.O.P. race for Chief Financial Officer, Florida Senate President Jeff Atwater leads Florida Rep. Pat Patterson 17 percent to 10 percent, with 73 percent undecided.

" 'These numbers show that even as Florida voters have not yet tuned in to the Cabinet races, we can expect a very tough and competitive race for Florida Governor,” said Ron Sachs, president and CEO of Ron Sachs Communications, who commissioned the poll. “At this stage – 16 months out from Election Day – all five statewide races remain wide open and up for grabs. We can expect this campaign cycle to be the longest, most expensive and potentially the most brutal in modern Florida political history.' "

Sheriff's official who moonlights drops campaign client

Danielle Will, who helped run Republican Al Lamberti's successful campaign for sheriff last year, was hired by Lamberti earlier this year as a $70,000 a year external affairs liasion -- despite the fact that budget cuts were looming.

Will kept her company, DPF Consulting, and agreed to work on David Maymon's campaign for state house in Broward.

But Maymon says that several weeks ago Will backed out.

"She said 'I have other commitments. I am too busy right now,''' Maymon said.

Will couldn't be reached for comment on her cell this morning. It's unclear if Will is keeping other political clients while she works for the sheriff who has vowed that he is not a politician. Maymon said he spotted Will at an event for state Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff and state Sen. Jeff Atwater.

Senate President vanity license plate targeted

Sen. Mike Fasano was surprised. As he looked at the SUV parked at a wedding recently, the Senate's transporation budget chief noticed a vanity license plate that simply said "Senate President." Fasano knew it didn't belong to Senate President Jeff Atwater, who drives a blue Honda Odyssey minivan. So Fasano checked around and found out the specialty plate belonged to former Senate President Tom Lee.

Fasano was even more surprised to find out that, contrary to his suspicions, such plates for former House Speakers and Senate Presidents became legal thanks to a little-noticed provision slipped into a transportation bill in the House in 2006, Lee's last year in the Legislature.

"Someone had to have told the leaders, 'Hey, you can get a specialty plate for the rest of your life,' " Fasano said.

Now, Fasano wants to take Lee's plate away as well as any other license plate that suggests someone is an office holder when s/he isn't. Fasano said he'll try to change the statute to ban such vanity plates next legislative session.

"Tom Lee is a good friend. He was a good senate president," said Fasano. "But this isn't about him. When you are termed out, you have left the system. You leave. You don’t get preferential treatment you don’t get specialty license plates. It sends the wrong message."

Lee couldn't be reached.