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Couriel's latest mailer criticizes Margolis, but it's not what it appears

Photo (2)The latest campaign mailer sent out by supporters of Republican John Couriel’s state Senate campaign has a bit of a Through the Looking Glass feel to it because things really aren’t as they appear. 

For starters, the ad by a political committee backing Couriel attacks his opponent, Democrat Sen. Gwen Margolis of Miami, of being so close to lobbyists that “she travels on a lurxurious private jet to the State Legislature in Tallahassee…paid for by an H.M.O. special interest lobbyist and the taxpayers.” 

Then, it repeats the misleading claims that as a state senator Margolis had something to do with the Affordable Care Act and the $716 billion by claiming it’s a cut to Medicare, which it isn’t. 

Margolis supporters confirmed she does travel on a private plane, usually the one owned by Scott L. Hopes, who also happens to be a candidate for state Senate. Hopes, a Republican, is running against Rep. Dwight Bullard in the Democrat-dominated Miami district.

But Hopes considers Margolis a “very good friend” and said his aviation company has escorted Margolis, and several other state lawmakers, to and from Tallahassee on his Cessna 421 twin turbo-prop for years. He emphasized, however, "it is not a jet'' and they always pay their way.

“She has never, never flown without paying,’’ Hopes said of Margolis. “It’s all logged. It’s all collected.”

To suggest otherwise, he said, is misleading. “I would question the accuracy of their information,’’ he said. “If they’re talking about me, I have not ever represented an HMO in my entire life and Gwen Margolis has never flown on a jet of mine.” 

Hopes, who owns a health care technology company and has his pilot’s license, said he usually charges the cost of the trip – between $450 to $550 per flight. Margolis then uses state per diem dollars, paid for by taxpayers, to reimburse him. 

Until Hopes became a candidate for state Senate, he also lobbied for several health care clients and traveled to Tallahassee frequently where he has an office and as a member of the Republican Party of Florida’s executive committee, he said. 

“If they’re in Tallahassee during session, I’m in Tallahassee,’’ Hopes said. “It’s not a private charter service. If I’m not going, they’re not going.” 

David Custin, the Miami political consultant who runs Tell the Public the Facts, the electioneering organization that is supporting Couriel, stood by the claims of the mailer. 

“It’s clean,’’ he said, adding that Hopes has “represented HMO management companies in the past.”

As for calling a plane a jet and showing a picture of an commercial airliner, Custin said, “They can mince words all they want,’’ he said. “Go tell it to a voter. The average voters doesn’t know the difference between a jet and a turbo prop.”