July 27, 2017

American Express lawsuit dogs Taddeo going into Miami Senate election


Democratic Florida Senate candidate Annette Taddeo and her translation business owe American Express nearly $38,000, according to a lawsuit the credit card company filed last month.

American Express sued Taddeo and her company, LanguageSpeak, in Miami circuit court June 29, seeking payment for an unpaid balance of $37,794 due since December. In a statement, Taddeo said she was "blindsided" by the lawsuit and said she has "disputed" some $15,000 in charges.

She claimed the suit, first reported by Politico, was politically motivated. She won the Democratic primary Tuesday for Senate District 40 -- and was served with the lawsuit Wednesday.

"My team was working to get this resolved in short order prior to the lawsuit, and believe it will be by the end of the week," she said. "I have no doubt that this suit is timed with my campaign for state senate given the over $300,000 in attacks waged by Tallahassee special interests against me over the last five weeks."

Taddeo has campaigned -- in this race and her past candidacies -- as a successful small-business owner. She faces Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in the Sept. 26 primary. Democrats have already started to attack Diaz as a lackey of President Donald Trump, despite Diaz's reputation in Tallahassee as a moderate. The lawsuit gives Republicans fresh fodder to go after Taddeo.

Taddeo's May 24 state financial disclosure lists LanguageSpeak's value at $1 million. She drew a salary of $17,111 from the business in 2015 but listed none in 2016, when she was campaigning for Congress. Her federal financial disclosure from May 2016 also reported 2015 income of between $100,001 and $1 million from her husband's psychology practice.

Taddeo hasn't loaned herself any money for the special Senate race. But she is still owed nearly $400,000 from her 2016, congressional campaign, in which she lost the Democratic primary to Joe Garcia. Taddeo says she written off that money as a loss.

Republicans pump $100,000 into Senate committee to help Diaz in SD 40 race -- but is it insurance or worry?

DiazAndTaddeoInsurance money or concern? That is the question after the Republican State Leadership Committee sent a $100,000 check late Wednesday to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, run by state Senate leaders, to boost the chances of Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in the Miami District 40 special election. 

A Democratic poll conducted in June and released on Wednesday found that Democratic nominee in the race, Annette Taddeo, edged Diaz 42-38 percent. According to the memo by pollster Anzalone Liszt Grove Research for the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, Taddeo was also ahead by 16 percentage points among voters without party affiliation who couldn't cast primary ballots.

But, as the primary turnout showed, ensuring voter enthusiasm in the district for the Sept. 26 general election is going to be a challenge -- and margins will matter.

On Tuesday, only 10.4 percent of the district's registered Democrats showed up to vote and 13.5 percent of the registered Republicans. Diaz collected more total votes against his two rivals, 7,678, than Taddeo -- who got 7,101. 

The poll also suggests that Diaz's allegiance with Donald Trump could spell trouble in the district. Hillary Clinton beat Trump in SD 40 but the same voters also preferred Republican Marco Rubio over Democrat Patrick Murphy in the U.S. Senate race and elected Republican Frank Artiles over Democrat Dwight Bullard for the Senate seat that's now open as a result of Artiles' resignation.

Diaz, a former contestant on Trump's "The Apprentice" reality TV show, did not distance himself from the president in the primary and included pictures of himself with Trump in campaign materials. He has, however, removed all but one photo from his Facebook and Twitter feeds of him attending inaugural events, including one of him posing with the president. He cited “aggressive trolling” from enemies as the reason.

Diaz, an attorney and lobbyist who was the favorite of Tallahassee Republicans, spent more than $2 million between his campaign and political committee, Rebuild Florida -- much of it after the poll was taken. Taddeo, by contrast, spent $60,000.

The Republican State Leadership Committee has raised and spent much in Florida in recent election cycles. In February it gave $125,000 to the Florida Republican Party. It's chair is former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum and former Republican House Speaker Will Weatherford sits on its board of directors. 

Here's the RSLC announcement: 

Continue reading "Republicans pump $100,000 into Senate committee to help Diaz in SD 40 race -- but is it insurance or worry?" »

July 26, 2017

Democratic poll: Taddeo edges Diaz in Miami Senate matchup


A poll conducted last month by Florida Democrats found Annette Taddeo edged Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in a special general election race for a Miami state Senate seat.

Taddeo led Diaz by 42-38 percent in the June poll, released Wednesday after both candidates won their respective primaries Tuesday. The survey, by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research for the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, also found Taddeo ahead by 16 percentage points among voters without party affiliation who couldn't cast primary ballots, according to a memo from the pollsters summarizing their results.

"The poll also shows a generic ballot currently favors a Democrat, and Donald Trump continues to be toxic in this seat that he lost by roughly -17 points in 2016," Josh Weierbach, the FDLCC's political director said in a statement.

According to the poll, the Republican president is viewed unfavorably by 56 percent of respondents. Forty percent view him favorably.

While Trump did lose the Senate district to Democrat Hillary Clinton, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio fared much better, besting Democrat Patrick Murphy there. And the district was represented by a Republican, Sen. Frank Artiles, until he resigned in April.

Diaz is a former contestant on Trump's "The Apprentice" reality TV show. Faced with GOP opponents who tried to tie themselves to Trump as much as possible, Diaz also campaigned in the primary displaying his photo with the president -- a move Democrats hope will be a liability in the general election. Diaz, however, is expected to outraise Taddeo, which should help him campaign as his own man separate from the White House.

The Anzalone firm interviewed 400 likely voters by phone from June 21-26 in English and Spanish. The poll, which used a GOP-leaning sample, has an error margin of plus-or-minus 4.9 percentage points. Democrats did not publicly release the full poll results, including what the questions were and how results broke down for each. That's likely because the poll included questions intended to test future campaign messages.

The survey is a month old, which matters because during that period Diaz spent serious cash campaigning in the Republican primary, eventually overtaking his chief rival, former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla. Diaz acknowledged Tuesday night early polls had him trailing Diaz de la Portilla, whom he ultimately crushed by 32 percentage points.

The GOP primary drew 3,251 more voters than the Democratic primary -- which Republicans argue suggest more excitement in their candidate and perhaps better turnout in the Sept. 26 general election. Special elections in Florida consistently draw low turnout.

Read the poll memo here.

July 25, 2017

Perez defeats Mallea in special Miami House GOP primary

Dan26 DPerez NEW PPP
@PatriciaMazzei @CrossingBordas

Daniel Perez won a special Republican primary in a GOP-leaning Miami state House district Tuesday — meaning the attorney and political newcomer is now the heavy favorite to head to Tallahassee in a few months.

Perez defeated brewery owner Jose Mallea in the race for House District 116, a Southwest Miami-Dade County seat that is unlikely to switch to Democratic hands. Perez will nonetheless face Democrat Gabriela Mayaudón, herself a first-time legislative candidate, in the Sept. 26 general election.

“I’m very humbled, and I’m very thankful, that the residents of District 116 have trust in me, as one of their own, to represent not only the Republican Party but the district moving forward,” Perez told the Miami Herald. He was leading Mallea by 55-45 percent in unofficial, and still incomplete, results late Tuesday.

The fresh-faced Perez, 30, won despite being outraised in the campaign by Mallea, a former aide to Jeb Bush and former U.S. Senate campaign manager for Marco Rubio

More here.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, Miami Herald

Diaz, Taddeo notch easy victories in special Miami Senate primaries

Diaz and Taddeo
@PatriciaMazzei @CrossingBordas

Two Miami state Senate candidates who raised and spent the most in their respective primaries — Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and Democratic businesswoman Annette Taddeo — notched easy victories in a special election Tuesday night.

Taddeo and Diaz will now face off in the Sept. 26 general election for Senate District 40, a competitive seat in the heart of Southwest Miami-Dade County.

Diaz defeated two opponents, former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and attorney Lorenzo Palomares. The testy rivalry between Diaz and Diaz de la Portilla — who released a pair of polls early on boasting about his broad name identification — suggested the race could be close.

But Diaz, who along with his political committee spent more than $2 million on the campaign, won decisively Tuesday: He took 58 percent of the vote, compared to Diaz de la Portilla’s 26 percent and Palomares’ 17 percent, according to unofficial results that were still incomplete late Tuesday. 

Diaz, who is known as Pepi and is a beloved figure among most Tallahassee Republicans, resigned his House seat to run.

“When this race started and we looked at the numbers, they weren’t wrong: We were losing by a lot,” Diaz told supporters Tuesday at the Latin American Cafeteria in Kendall. Some of them celebrated by playing bongos and singing “Guantanamera.”

More here.

Rep. Dan Raulerson of Plant City to step down from House on Aug. 15

Dan Raulersonvia William March, Tampa Bay Times

After missing much of this year’s legislative session because of severe back problems, and after hints of his estrangement from Republican legislative leadership, state Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City, has announced he’ll resign from his seat effective Aug. 15.

It’s expected Gov. Rick Scott will set a date for a special election to replace him, but the timing of the vote could be tight. With the 2018 session starting in January because of the election year, pre-session committee meetings will start in September. 

Raulerson’s announcement follows unusual public comments he made a month ago that were critical of House leadership. 

He said few weeks later that he had experienced no negative feedback as result of those comments. But he also said as recently as three weeks ago that he planned to have surgery for his severe back problems, then participate fully in the next legislative session, and run for re-election in 2018, his last term under state term limits laws. 

But Raulerson told the Times on Tuesday he’s changed his mind. 

“I need to focus on my health and my business,“ he said. He still intends to have back surgery soon, and to continue his practice as a certified public accountant, which he sought to maintain while in the Legislature. 

“My job was my career,” rather than politics, he said. 

Raulerson missed seven of the 63 House floor sessions in the 2017 session and 17, or nearly half, of the 36 meetings of his committees, according to House records. 

Long a prominent political and civic leader in Plant City, the heart of his House district, he has spinal stenosis, a painful disease that causes compression of the spinal cord within the spine. 

Raulerson said he intended to send a formal resignation letter to Corcoran’s office this week.  

He said he doesn’t intend to be involved in the campaign to choose a successor. 

“We’ll leave that up to the constituents and whoever they select will be their representative,” he said. “I’m going to stay out of it. I’m not even sure who it would be.” 

Raulerson has been known as something of a maverick within the GOP legislative caucus, and expressed dissatisfaction in a recent political forum with the performance of the Legislature and Republican leadership. 

“As a citizen I’m embarrassed about the performance of our legislature over the last three or four years,” he said in an interview following a post-legislative session forum last month. “I think everybody’s upset.” 

He cited several failures by the Legislature in recent years and blamed the problems largely on term limits, which he said have resulted in too much power in the hands of legislators without adequate experience and institutional knowledge.  

“It’s become blatantly obvious to me that we have bred incompetence in the leadership” because of term limits, while putting too much power into the hands of the staff and the legislative leaders," he said.  

“We crossed the pond 300 years ago to get away from monarchy,” he said of the power of the House speaker.  

Such critical comments by a House member are unusual in a body where the leadership team, topped by the speaker, has near absolute power over legislation. Corcoran in particular is known for strong opinions and isn’t reluctant to enforce his views on House members. 

In his five years in office, he has used his auditing background to strengthening the state's inspector general laws, working to provide agency inspectors with more autonomy so they can provide more independent oversight of state agencies.  

Raulerson said one of his main goals in the Legislature has been to use his accounting background to help increase accountability in government. 

He helped passed legislation to increase the independence of government inspectors general, and had hoped to continue that process with further legislation already drafted by his staff for the coming session. 

Raulerson also worked on strengthening the state's whistleblowers statutes. Next year, he would have been chairman of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, which oversees the financial troubles surrounding the City of Opa Locka in Miami-Dade County. The city, which has been under investigation by the FBI for the last four years, has received numerous extensions for turning in its financial review documents to the committee before facing sanctions.  

He introduced a bill last year to provided a city in such a financial emergency with more resources and also strengthen the governor’s authority to force changes in the city, and had hoped to re-introduce it in 2018.  

Miami Herald's Mary Ellen Klas and Tampa Bay Times' Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. 

Special Miami House, Senate primaries to be decided Tuesday


Late July is hardly peak election season in Miami-Dade County. But the polls in some parts of town will nevertheless open Tuesday for voters to cast ballots in a pair of special primary elections featuring campaigns as heated as the season.

Republicans will pick among Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and attorney Lorenzo Palomares to represent Senate District 40, a competitive Southwest Miami-Dade district where Democrats will choose between former Rep. Ana Rivas Logan and businesswoman Annette Taddeo. The winners will face off in the Sept. 26 general election.

Diaz, the only sitting lawmaker of the bunch, had to resign to seek the seat — requiring another election for the Republican-leaning House District 116, also in Southwest Dade. GOP voters there will select between brewery owner Jose Mallea and attorney Daniel Perez. There is no Democratic primary because only one candidate, Gabriela Mayaudón, qualified to run. She and either Perez or Mallea will take each other on in September. Both districts are majority Hispanic.

The elections stemmed from the April resignation of Sen. Frank Artiles, a Republican forced to step down after making offensive comments to a pair of legislators. He was also dogged by revelations that he hired questionable political consultants, including a former Hooters “calendar girl” ahead of last year’s election.

Last November, Artiles bested Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard. Democrats hope to win back the seat to get a better shot at blocking legislation in the GOP-controlled Capitol. Republicans outnumber Democrats 24-15 in the 40-member Senate.

More here.

Photo credit: El Nuevo Herald file

July 24, 2017

Committee attacking Taddeo paid rival Rivas Logan's political consultant


State Senate candidate Ana Rivas Logan asserted earlier this month that she had no connection to a political committee attacking her Democratic opponent, Annette Taddeo.

Rivas Logan claimed she'd even try to call the managers of the Floridians for Accountability committee after they mentioned Taddeo's 11-year-old daughter in a campaign flier, but "they don't answer their phones," Rivas Logan said in a televised July 16 exchange.

But two days later, Floridians for Accountability spent $250 buying photographs from a source Rivas Logan knows well: Her campaign's political consultant, Pedro Diaz.

A campaign-finance report filed by Floridians for Accountability last Thursday lists a $250 expenditure to "Diaz Campaigns" on July 18 for "photos." The Miami P.O. Box address listed is the same Rivas Logan has listed in her own report to pay "Diaz Consulting."

Asked about the payment Monday, Diaz described the transaction as "just some photos that they wanted to us to take care of for them for another project." He declined to offer specifics, insisting the photos in question were unrelated to the campaign.

"We tried reaching them, but they don't answer our calls," he maintained about the flier attacking Taddeo.

Rivas Logan said Monday she was unaware the committee had paid her consultant: "I didn't even know that had happened."

Floridians for Accountability recently produced a flier touting Rivas Logan's candidacy, but Rivas Logan said the two photos displayed on the piece "are public." One of them is her campaign head shot, featured prominently on her candidate website.

The committee is run by a Broward County Democratic consultant, Amy Rose, but its recent funds have come from Associated Industries of Florida, a business lobby that has endorsed Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in the Senate District 40 race, and from Big Sugar, an industry Taddeo has repeatedly criticized during the campaign.

Rose said the payment to Diaz was for photography but did not elaborate.

Former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and attorney Lorenzo Palomares are also running on the Republican side. The primary is Tuesday. 

Rivas Logan reports 'You are dead' Facebook post to police


The comment appeared on state Senate candidate Ana Rivas Logan's official Facebook page at 7:08 p.m. Sunday night.

"Michelle Obama sucked!!!!" a user named Minerva Rodriguez wrote. "If you are a democrat, then you are for raising taxes and flooding this country of illegal immigrants. Guess what? You are dead!!!@"

After consulting with her attorney, Rivas Logan said she telephoned Miami-Dade police, who took a report by phone and assigned her a case number, as is routine.

But no detective had followed up by Monday morning, prompting Rivas Logan to question how seriously police took the case. 

"What upsets me is, I just think it's unequal treatment," said Rivas Logan, a Democrat running against Annette Taddeo in Tuesday's primary. "Somebody threatens Jose Felix Diaz, everybody goes to help him. You know, I have kids, too. I have family, too. Nobody cares. It's like, ho-hum. The guy said to me, 'There's no imminent danger.' There is imminent danger. I'm a public person. They can recognize me." 

Police said a copy of their report would be available after 3 p.m., but it wasn't.

Rivas Logan was referring to another Senate District 40 candidate, Republican Rep. Diaz. Last month, police arrested Steve St. Felix the day after he wrote on Diaz's Facebook page, "I'll kill your ass and you better not show up to the next REC meeting," apparently referring the Republican Executive Committee, the official name of the Miami-Dade GOP.

Unlike the Rivas Logan case, news of the Diaz threat didn't come out until police had investigated and St. Felix was in police custody.

St. Felix, 34, who was charged with written threats with intent to do bodily injury. One of Diaz's primary rivals, attorney Lorenzo Palomares, then offered to represent St. Felix, free of charge. Former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla is also running on the Republican side.

The message aimed at Rivas Logan was in response to a July 6 post in which the candidate quoted former First Lady Michelle Obama's presidential campaign line, "When they go low, we go high."

Rodriguez's Facebook page lists her as working at Miami Dade College. An MDC spokesman couldn't find a listing of Rodriguez as a college employee Monday. Rodriguez did not immediately respond Monday to private Facebook messages seeking comment.

"I have no idea if what she meant was, you're dead politically," Rivas Logan said. "I have no idea. But someone should at least call her.... Obviously they're trying to intimidate me. They're trying to scare me. I don't know what the purpose is, but I'm scared." 

 --with Charles Rabin

July 22, 2017

Diaz de la Portilla loans himself $443K in special Miami Senate campaign


Former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, running against a far better-funded opponent, loaned himself $393,500 since June 9 to campaign for Senate District 40 ahead of Tuesday's special primary election, according to a campaign-finance report filed Friday. That brings the total amount Diaz de la Portilla has put into his campaign to $443,500.

Diaz de la Portilla told the Miami Herald in a text message he poured his money into the race "to fight against the $3 million nasty defamation campaign waged by my opponent with dirty special interest money."

"I will owe my victory this Tuesday to the hardworking men and women of District 40 and not to influence peddlers who have bought Jose Felix Diaz," he said of his chief rival, a sitting state representative. "Self funding gives me the freedom to fight for the people and answer only to them."

Diaz questioned the source of Diaz de la Portilla's money. Diaz de la Portilla, who works as a political consultant, reported in a May 30 financial disclosure form a net worth of about $618,000, with annual $98,000 income from his consulting firm, First Stone Management. He listed his sole ownership of the firm as an asset with a "fair market value" of $300,000.

He has a $386,000 mortgage on a home valued at about $603,000 that is under foreclosure -- a step Diaz de la Portilla has described as necessary to modify the mortgage after he and his ex-wife divorced.

"Alex's hypocrisy knows no bounds," Diaz said in a statement. "The only income he has comes from lobbying and running campaigns funded by special interests. The real story here is where did Alex get half a million dollars, all of a sudden, with less than a week to go before Election Day? HIs financial disclosure reports confirm that he doesn't have the money he is supposedly lending himself. The dark money he is spending on desperate attacks stinks far worse than his liberal tax-and-spend voting record."

Diaz de la Portilla dismissed questions about his finances, saying he keeps them "by the book."

"My assets have increased in the private sector and all my financial disclosures reflect that," he said. "My next financial disclosure, when due, will, as always, reflect my financial resources."

Diaz de la Portilla's report shows his most recent payment to himself was for $55,000 Thursday, after a $200,000 payment Tuesday.

Diaz de la Portilla also collected $30,250 from contributors from June 9 through Thursday, bringing his total to $52,750. 

Diaz leads all candidates in the race in fundraising, having collected $531,325 from June 9 through Thursday. That brings his total campaign money to $809,729. He has not loaned himself any money.

Diaz's list of contributors reads like a who's who of Miami business, healthcare and political interests, including from several car dealerships owned by billionaire civic activist Norman Braman. Diaz de la Portilla has portrayed himself throughout the campaign as a candidate willing to buck his party and Tallahassee bigwigs. 

Diaz, who voted for a controversial education bill during this year's session opposed by his GOP campaign rivals, also got contributions of $1,000 each from Charter Schools USA and Fernando and Ignacio Zulueta, the founders of Academica, another charter-school chain. And he received $250 from Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami, and $1,000 from Carlos Migoya, the chief executive of the public Jackson Health System.

In addition, Diaz has been aided by his political committee, Rebuild Florida, which raised $420,500 in June and spent a whopping $1.3 million in July. Among its major contributions were $25,000 from a Florida Medical Association PAC, $25,000 from Publix, $25,000 from a Florida Hospital Association PAC and $25,000 from Coalition for Conservative Leadership, a group linked to Sen. Greg Steube of Sarasota, according to the PAC's website

The third Republican in the race, attorney Lorenzo Palomares, raised $14,4000, bringing his total to $23,400. He's loaned himself a total of $62,500. Diaz has spent $736,434.72, compared to Diaz de la Portilla's $331,886.41 and Palomares' $40,846.69.

Republicans have vastly outraised Democrats since the start of the race. Democratic businesswoman Annette Taddeo's fundraising total far eclipsed the one from her rival, former Rep. Ana Rivas Logan. Taddeo raked in $38,339.75 from June 9 through Thursday, bringing her total to $83,898. During the same period, Rivas Logan collected only $2,835, for a total of $13,260, including $2,500 Rivas Logan loaned herself early in the race. 

Among Taddeo's contributors were Chris Korge, a major Democratic fundraiser who gave her $1,000; former Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant, who gave $250, and the committee for Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House minority whip who's backed Taddeo since her first run for office in 2008 and gave $1,000.

Taddeo has spent a total of $59,618.15, compared to Rivas Logan's $10,790.39.

Taddeo's political committee, Fight Back Florida, has raised a total of $38,650.00. The largest contribution, on June 30, came from Diario Las Americas Multimedia, a Spanish-language newspaper. Publisher Nelson Mezerhane did not respond to emailed questions Friday about the contribution. The committee has spent $24,089.96.

Attorney Daniel Perez, for his part, raised $84,750, for a total of $168,200. He, too, got money from various business associations, including a Florida Bankers Association PAC and a Florida Medical Association PAC -- as well as $1,000 from Coral Gables healthcare executive Mike Fernandez and $1,000 from businessman Jorge Mas, who's considering buying the Miami Marlins baseball team.

In the Republican primary for House District 116, brewery owner Jose Mallea collected $97,600 from June 9 through Thursday, bringing his campaign total to $238,256, including $24,000 he loaned himself this month. Among his contributors were several business interests, including the political committee for Associated Industries of Florida, insurer Florida Blue and Publix. A former Jeb Bush aide who worked on his 2016 presidential campaign, Mallea also reported $100 from former Bush campaign manager Sally Bradshaw of Tallahassee.

Mallea has spent $244,001.40 so far in the race, compared to Perez's $162,531.77.