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210 posts from June 2009

June 25, 2009

Did Sink use the state plane to start her vacation travel?

Wading through the rich travel logs of the state plane manifest, we've gotten some answer to more questions. We've have Bill McCollum and Alex Sink's video responses, taped on Monday and Wednesday of this week, and we've also got a correction to a detail that was first reported in today's story:

Example 1, Alex Sink:

* On Friday, March 7, 2008, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink traveled to Miami to see the Florida International University's Wall of Wind exhibit, spoke to the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and then had the plane take her and one staff member from Miami to Fort Lauderdale where she caught a Continental flight to the Bahamas. Sink's husband, Bill McBride, owns a condominium unit with Republican real estate mogul Gary Morse and the couple spent a long weekend there. Sink's calender reads: "Alex time.'' The staffer returned to Tallahassee. The total cost of the flights: $3,135. The cost of diverting the plane to Fort Lauderdale: $248.

Was this an official use of the state plane? The Department of Management Services did not directly address the question of whether those Sink trips were legal. DMS cited language in state law that allows the spouse or children or state officials to travel "when such official is traveling for official state business and the aircraft has seats available."

As for the trip to catch a flight to the Bahamas, DMS again cited statutory language that says only agency heads, like Sink, can authorize plane use. It likely would be up to the Commission on Ethics, acting on a complaint, to determine if Sink strictly followed the law.

Sink was asked if she thinks it's legit if she's in Miami and they stop on the way back to Tallahassee. Her answer was yes:  "We're heading in the right direction.''

Example 2, Alex Sink: 

On Friday, Jan. 9, 2009, seven Sink staff members flew from Tallahassee to Miami to meet Sink. The CFO had breakfast with the Palm Beach County state attorney and attended a meeting of her Safeguard Our Seniors (SOS) Task Force. Then the group everyone flew to Tampa where the plane picked up Sink’s husband, Bill McBride, before they flew on to Tallahassee. Cost: $10,150. Cost of the Tampa diversion: $2,461. The state charged her $273 for her husband's flight.

Example 3, Bill McCollum:

On Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2009, an empty plane flew from Tallahassee to Sanford and picked up McCollum, who then flew to Miami. He spoke to the Coral Gables Bar Association and met with executives of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, which his office says led to a $21 million settlement for overcharged cruise passengers. The plane took McCollum back to Sanford before going empty to Tallahassee. Cost: $9,841. Cost of the diversion to Sanford: $1,200.

Correction, Alex Sink:

Our Thursday story incorrectly stated that the state plane on which Sink traveled was diverted twice to Tampa to drop off and pick up her son at a cost of $2,925 to taxpayers. In fact, the plane was diverted once to pick up Bert McBride on June 13, and the extra cost to taxpayers was $324. Sink
reimbursed the state for the cost of her son's travel. Bert McBride took another flight to Tampa on the state plane with his mother June 15, but Sink had an event in Tampa and the plane would have flown there anyway, so there was no extra cost to taxpayers.

Continue reading "Did Sink use the state plane to start her vacation travel?" »

Another Sink donor with checkered past

Democrat Alex Sink's decision to reject ex-Miami City Commissioner Johnny Winton as a co-host from an upcoming fundraiser -- see Miami Herald story here -- raises questions about where candidates draw the line when vetting donors.

One of three co-chairs of the fundraiser slated for Monday in Miami Beach is George Lindemann, who was sentenced to 33 months in prison in 1996 for insurance fraud. He collected $250,000 on his show horse after it was electrocuted by a hit man.

Another co-chair of the Sink reception, publicist Seth Gordon, was removed as a volunteer campaign advisor to Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle in 2000 after police told her he was a suspect in the 1975 death of his first wife. Gordon has denied murdering his wife and never been charged.

"We strive to vet all hosts and co-hosts, but there was a breakdown in this particular case,'' said Sink spokeswoman Tara Klimek. "We're going through this invitation now."

Klimek declined to go into specifics about how these decisions are made, saying "It's on a case-by-case basis."

Gelber v. Aronberg endorsement war heats up

Dave Aronberg Dan Gelber One wins the endorsement of the state's longtime education secretary, the other wins the backing of a longtime property appraiser. The war in the endorsement game is heating up for rival Democratic attorney general candidates Dan Gelber and Dave Aronberg.

Gelber, a state senator from Miami Beach, won the endorsement today of former Education Secretary Betty Castor. Aronberg, a state senator from Greenacres, won the endorsement of Broward Property Appraiser Lori Parrish.

Now the real question: do endorsements ever really matter?

The other airplane hangar Odom tried to build

Earmarkbuzz The $6 million airplane hangar Jay Odom wanted at Destin Airport was not the only taxpayer-funded hangar he tried to build.

In March 2006, the politically astute developer asked the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners to approve a $2.6 million "earmark" request with members of the Florida Congressional delegation. The commission signed off on the request for a 60,000-foot hangar at Bob Sikes Airport near Crestview, but the project never materialized, according to officials. (click image to enlarge)

New poll shows McCollum leads Sink 42 to 34

A new Rasmussen Reports survey shows Republican Bill McCollum ahead of Democrat Alex Sink 42 to 34 percent in the 2010 governor's race. Undecided voters comprised 18 percent.

The poll found male voters leaning toward McCollum and female voters evenly split between him and Sink, who would be the state's first female governor. Incumbent Gov. Charlie Crist received approval from 60 percent of the voters. All the numbers are here.

Rasmussen Reports also looked at the U.S. Senate race, where Crist leads Democratic frontrunner Kendrick Meek by 18 points.

Obama disses the Cuban dissidents?

A statement from the White House today says President Obama "would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and commend the National Endowment for Democracy's 2009 Democracy Award recipients Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, Librado Linares, Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, and Iris Tamara Perez Aguilera and all the brave men and women who are standing up for the right of the Cuban people to freely determine their country's future."

But the award organizer told the Washington Post that unlike in past years, the representative who received the award on behalf of the dissidents was not invited to the White House. (None of the actual awardees were allowed to leave Cuba to accept the award.)

"Message to ... the Castro brothers," the Post opined archly: "We can work with you. Message to Cuba's democratic opposition: We don't have time for you."

Panhandle Republican Jeff Miller backs Rubio

Marco Rubio picks up the backing of Panhandle Republican Rep. Jeff Miller, whom Rubio says will play an "important role in expanding grassroots support for Rubio in the Florida Panhandle."

Miller says of Rubio's Senate bid: "This race has tremendous implications for the future of Florida and the very foundation of conservatism in America."

Ros-Lehtinen: End gender identity discrimination

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is backing legislation that would make it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

''It's about time that working men and women are judged solely on their job performance and not their sexual orientation,'' she said.

Read more here.

On the fly: Sink, McCollum rack up miles

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who is running for governor on a platform of fiscal discipline, has logged hundreds of flights on state planes, often including side trips for her and family members to their home near Tampa.

Attorney General Bill McCollum — also running for governor — has cost taxpayers much less money in travel but frequently dispatches an empty plane to pick him up from the airport in Sanford, 13 miles from his Longwood home, at additional cost to the state.

Sink, a Democrat, and McCollum, a Republican, are rivals for the state's top seat in 2010 and both have used state aircraft to help them maintain regular access to their permanent homes. That has raised questions about whether they are as protective of public money as they claim. (a Herald/Times report here.)

June 24, 2009

Mel Martinez, impeachment manager?

Not exactly. But the Florida Republican has been named vice-chairman of a bi-partisan impeachment committee as the Senate begins the process of putting U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent of Texas on trial.

Kent, according to the Houston Chronicle, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and acknowledged sexually attacking two staffers who continue to work at the Houston federal courthouse. He reported to prison earlier this month to begin serving a 33-month sentence.

The committee -- 6 Democrats and 6 Republicans -- will be led by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, and will gather evidence for Kent's Senate prosecution.