May 10, 2016

Payday lenders have given millions to Florida politicians

Payday lenders have donated about $2.5 million to Florida politicians and and both political parties in recent years, according to a new analysis by a liberal group.

Allied Progress has drawn attention to the issue of payday lending in Florida by attacking U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic national committee chair, and other politicians who have taken money from the industry.

The group gave the Miami Herald an advanced copy of its new report, “A Florida Plan: How Payday lenders bought Florida’s political establishment.” The report lists donations given to federal and state candidates as well as the state’s Republican and Democratic parties since 2009.

Overall, Republicans received $1.6 million and Democrats received about $890,000, while $29,000 went to independents. But the top individual recipients were South Florida Democrats.

Keep reading from the Miami Herald.



March 18, 2016

South Florida Republicans break with GOP in deportation vote

@jamesmartinrose

Only five Republican lawmakers stood up to their party leader in voting against allowing House Speaker Paul Ryan to file an amicus brief opposing President Barack Obama's decision to withhold deportation for more than 5 million undocumented immigrants.

All three Cuban-American representatives from South Florida -- Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Marco Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo -- were among the five Republicans who voted against a resolution that the House passed Thursday almost entirely along party lines.

The Supreme Court next month will hear a case brought by Texas, joined by Florida and 24 other states, arguing that Obama's bid to shield about 5.2 million illegal aliens from deportation imposes unaffordable health-care, education, law-enforcement and other costs on them.

Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who replaced Ohioan John Boehner as speaker in October, acknowledged that House intervention in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court was unprecedented, but he insisted it was necessary to prevent executive overreach by Obama.

With no Democrats voting for the bill, Ryan and other Republicans said Obama's executive orders dating to 2012 amount to the president legislating immigration reform without going through Congress.

"I recognize that this is a very extraordinary step," Ryan said on the House floor. "I feel it is very necessary, though. In fact, I believe this is vital."

In a joint statement Friday, Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart said that although individual members of Congress have the right to file briefs supporting court cases, the House as a whole should not do so.

"All amicus briefs should carry the same weight, and beginning this pattern may signal to the Supreme Court that Congress is prioritizing certain cases over others," the two Miami Republicans said.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a first-term Republican from Kendall, went further. He accused Republicans of playing politics with the important issue of immigration.

"For two long, both parties have preferred to score petty political points using the immigration issue rather than passing meaningful reform to secure the border, reform our visa system and find a fair solution for the undocumented," Curbelo said.

"The surest and most constitutionally solvent way to end the president's executive overreach is to pass meaningful immigration reform, not by employing empty tactics that ignore the root cause of the problem," he said.

The two other Republicans who voted against the House resolution were Reps. Richard Hanna of New York and Robert Dold of Illinois. Rep. Alex Mooney, a West Virginia Republican and one of five other Cuban-Americans in Congress, voted for the measure, which passed by a 234-186 margin.

Among Florida's 24 other U.S. House members, 22 voted along party lines, with Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel and Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan failing to vote.

Nine other Florida Democrats voted against the measure, among them Reps. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

Two lower courts have ruled in favor of the states, most recently the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals based in New Orleans.

With only eight justices on the Supreme Court since Justice Antonin Scalia's death last month, a 4-4 decision after the scheduled April 18 arguments would uphold the lower courts' rulings and overturn Obama's executive orders protecting millions of undocumented parents and their children from deportation.

Obama on Wednesday chose Merrick Garland, a former federal prosecutor and current judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to replace Scalia on the high court, but Senate Republican leaders are refusing to take a vote or even hold hearings on the nomination, saying Obama has only 10 months left in office.

Immigration has become perhaps the most divisive issue in the presidential campaign, with Republican front-runner Donald Trump vowing to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat of Puerto Rican descent, ridiculed Republican lawmakers, many of whom he said have disingenuously tried to distance themselves from Trump's hardline stance on immigration.

"They keep saying, 'Well, Trump doesn't represent us, he doesn't (represent) our views, he doesn't represent our values,' and now they want to know where Trump gets all of his anti-immigrant, xenophobic views from," Gutierrez told reporters. "Try the House of Republicans."

In a speech Friday on the House floor, Gutierrez accused his Republican colleagues of "stoking anti-immigrant fears and mass-deportation fantasies."

"The vote is a political stunt disguised as a legal brief because the Republican majority sees a crass political opportunity to stand with the anti-immigration wing of their party," he said.  

The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and 60 individual business leaders, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, filed an amicus brief supporting Obama last week.

Before the vote Thursday, Democratic Rep. Linda Sanchez, head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said "the Latino community is being used for political purposes."

Sanchez added: "We are being demonized, we are being marginalized, and we see a frightening level of hateful rhetoric and vile hate speech aimed at our community, and nobody is standing up within the Republican Party to say that this is unacceptable."

America's Voice, a pro-immigration advocacy group, said the vote Thursday was the eighth "anti-immigration" vote taken by Republicans in the current session of Congress.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 223 other Democrats filed an amicus brief backing Obama earlier this month, but there was no vote on the brief and it represents them as individuals.

In still another amicus brief, almost 120 cities and counties across the United States on March 8 expressed support for Obama, among them Pembroke Pines, Tampa and Sunrise.

 

November 24, 2015

Miami for-profit college owner goes to prison, had ties to U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings

@MrMikeVasquez

Miami for-profit college operator Alejandro Amor had a 54-foot yacht, a $2 million waterfront home, and his own private plane.

Now he’s headed to prison.

On Tuesday, a Miami federal jury convicted Amor of 12 counts of theft of government money, and one count of conspiracy. He will be sentenced on Feb. 3.

Before being raided by the FBI in 2012, prosecutors say FastTrain admitted roughly 1,300 students who didn’t have high school diplomas — using fraud to make the government think the students were eligible for financial aid.

In return, FastTrain received $6,560,000 in Pell grants and student loans for those students. For-profit colleges are known for aggressive recruiting, but FastTrain turned it up a notch. Ex-employees told investigators that Amor boosted enrollments by hiring former strippers as recruiters, some of whom wore “short skirts and stiletto heels” to work.

Amor allegedly told one employee to “hire some hot mommas” and “hire the sluttiest girls he could find.”

When it came to high school diplomas, FastTrain took advantage of lax federal rules that are vulnerable to abuse. A college that wants to enroll non-eligible students can accept diplomas from a “diploma mill” school — and there is no federal or state of Florida list that identifies known diploma mills.

Some accreditors allow their colleges to simply take a student’s word that they finished high school. The student signs an “attestation” that they have a diploma, and no further verification is done.

More here.

August 13, 2015

Alcee Hastings on Iran: 'I cannot support this deal'

via @learyreports

Another Florida Democrat, U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, has come out against the Iran nuclear deal.

“After careful review, I have decided that I cannot support this deal," Hastings said in an op/ed in the Palm Beach Post.

“The goal of the recently concluded negotiations was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The negotiators worked diligently, but in the end, the JCPOA allows Iran to remain a nuclear threshold state while simultaneously reaping the benefits of relief from international sanctions.

“Under the JCPOA, Iran is limited to approximately 6,100 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges for a period of 10-15 years. However, after this time passes, Iran will again have the ability to pursue its nuclear program with more advanced centrifuges. Iran simply needs to be patient and it will once again have the ability to enrich uranium."

Last week, Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton said he opposed the deal as well.

One to watch: Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston. The DNC chairwoman is undecided and facing enormous pressure on both sides.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

May 20, 2015

Roll Call: Broward Democrat wants raise for members of Congress

From Roll Call (published Monday):

Rep. Alcee L. Hastings made the politically tone-deaf case for raising salaries for members of Congress Monday, pointing to the high cost of living in the District of Columbia.

“Members deserve to be paid, staff deserves to be paid and the cost of living here is causing serious problems for people who are not wealthy to serve in this institution,” the Florida Democrat said at a Rules Committee meeting, referring to the average member’s $174,000 annual salary. “We aren’t being paid properly,” he later added.

The committee was considering the fiscal 2016 Legislative Branch appropriations bill, which sets the spending levels for Congress and legislative branch agencies. The bill includes a freeze on member pay, continuing one that has been in place since 2010 — and last year drew the ire of then-Rep. James P. Moran.

More here.

March 09, 2015

Alcee Hastings claim about dildos and Marco Rubio claim about ISIS were among PolitiFact Florida's top 5 in February

In February, the long list of GOP presidential contenders -- including Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush -- dominated the political scene in Florida. We also saw state legislators hold hearings in advance of the March session where they are wrestling with controversial topics, including school tests and whether to allow firearms on college campuses.

Turn to PolitiFact Florida to read about our most popular fact-checks in February including a claim by U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings about a dildo law in Texas and a claim by Rubio about ISIS.

March 06, 2015

As Obama and nation mark 50th anniversary of Selma's Bloody Sunday, a look back at voting rights fact-checks

This week marks the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday" -- the day police beat voting-rights activists as they attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.

President Barack Obama, former President George W. Bush and nearly one-fifth of Congress will be in Selma this weekend to mark the anniversary.

On March 7, 1965, hundreds of peaceful protesters set out to march for voting rights. But as depicted in the movie Selma released earlier this year, police met them on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and attacked them with clubs, whips and tear gas. Selma became a turning point in the civil rights movement, leading to the passage of the Voting Rights Act just five months later under President Lyndon B. Johnson. The law was designed to prevent the denial of voting rights based on race.

In recent years, PolitiFact has fact-checked a wide variety of claims on voting rights, including statements made by Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, as well as by politicians including Gov. Rick Scott. Here’s a look at some of our fact-checks from PolitiFact Florida.

February 13, 2015

The Alcee Hastings' Truth-O-Meter file: claims about dildos, guns and voting rights

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., recently upped his profile as an outspoken and provocative liberal when he bashed Texas as a "crazy" state.

At a Feb. 2 House Rules Committee hearing, lawmakers were discussing Texas’ decision not to participate in state health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. At one point, Hastings said, "I don't know about in your state, which I think is a crazy state to begin with, and I mean that just as I said it."

U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican, said Hastings’ comment was "defamatory," setting off a battle later parodied on The Daily Show.

Then, on Feb. 5, Hastings gave an interview to CNN in which he cited Texas law to bolster his case that the state is "crazy."

Hastings is a former federal judge who was acquitted by a federal jury of bribery charges in 1983, later impeached by the House of Representatives, and removed from the federal bench in 1989 by the Senate.

Neverthless, he was elected to Congress in 1992 and represents District 20, which includes parts of Broward, Palm Beach and Hendry counties. Hastings, a resident of Miramar, is one of Broward County’s longest serving politicians and plans to seekre-election in 2016.

Turn to PolitiFact Florida for the rest of our story about our fact-checks of Hastings' recent claims and one he made during the 2012 noncitizen voter purge.

February 12, 2015

Alcee Hastings' Pants on Fire claim about shooting bears

Crazy ol’ Texas, a Democratic congressman from Florida said and reaffirmed last week, initially noting the Republican-led Lone Star state left it to the federal government to set up its online marketplace for residents to shop for health insurance in keeping with the Obamacare law.

How crazy? There’s a Texas law, said Rep. Alcee Hastings, who represents a South Florida district, restricting the number of dildos a person may buy; Mostly False, PolitiFact Florida found.

In an interview with CNN, Hastings also let loose that there's a Texas law "that you can't shoot bears out of the second floor of a window." We spotted  the bear comment in CNN’s Feb. 5, 2015, news story; it came from the network’s telephone interview of Hastings.

Whoa (or whatever it is Floridians holler when they’re riding their gators). Turn to PolitiFact Texas for the rest of this fact-check.

February 06, 2015

Texas and dildos and bears, oh my! Alcee Hastings insists Texas is 'crazy,' also bashes Florida

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, enjoying more national press coverage than he has in years, has doubled down on his comment from earlier this week calling Texas "crazy."

In a CNN interview, Hastings elaborated on his remark.

"One of their cities has a law that says that women can only have six dildos, and the certain size of things, and if that ain't crazy, I don't know what is," the Miramar Democrat said. It's unclear what "things" Hastings was referring to.

He also cited a supposed Texas law that says people "can't shoot bears out of the second floor of a window," according to CNN's post.

"I love Texans, but I do not like their policy makers who are in the majority," he said. "The simple fact of the matter is, evidently, I touched a nerve deep in the heart of Texas. And I would ask them to tie a yellow rose around it and do like Frozen and 'Let it go.'"

Hastings has ignored the Texas congressional delegation's request for an apology. He seems to be cherishing the spotlight -- even if it meant CNN noted the former federal judge was impeached and removed from office.

The congressman also revealed that, as it turns out, he doesn't really like his home state of Florida, either. Hastings has represented Florida's 20th District since 1992.

"Consider the fact that I'm a native Floridian, and that I dislike it," he told CNN. "Listen, I wouldn't live in a lot of places. Texas happens to be one of them. I have cautioned about living in Florida, and I'm not so they're I'm going to stay there."