June 11, 2011

Kriseman urges Bondi to prosecute travel companies based on new documents

Armed with fresh documents (links below) that show online travel companies may have conspired to avoid paying more than $440 million in taxes in Florida, a state legislator is urging Attorney General Pam Bondi to force the travel giants to pay up.

The issue has been the focus of legal and political fights for years as counties and hotel companies have fought the online companies that sell unused hotel rooms to travelers looking for deals. Counties argue that the companies should pay tourist development taxes on the total cost of the room charged to customers. The online travel companies say they should only pay taxes on the negotiated rate they pay the hotels — not on what they keep in profit.

Former Attorney General Bill McCollum sued Expedia and Orbitz in 2009 for unfair trade practices. But Bondi, who succeeded him in January, put the lawsuit on hold during the legislative session as lawmakers attempted to exempt the travel companies from paying the additional taxes, said Bondi spokeswoman Jennifer Krell Davis.

The bill died, but Bondi has neither revived the stalled lawsuit nor started her own investigation.Download Fla+Atty+General+Bill+McCollum+lawsuit+vs+dot+coms[2]

In a May 17 letter to Bondi, Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, urged her to prosecute the companies based on newly-discovered company documents. The documents show that lawyers for the companies advised their clients since 2003 to “make it as difficult as possible for any state to require us to collect occupancy tax” until they could change the laws to exempt them from paying it. Download Kriseman_letter_to_Atty_Gen_Bondi_-_online_travel_resellers[1] 

Full story here.

Internal company documents and special masters reports here: Download 2003 01 28 Memo to USA Interactive; Download 2003 01 31 Memo to Expedia[1]; Download 2003 07 28 MSB Occupancy Tax Analysis; Download 2006 03 30 Pennsylvania DOR response to John Allan; Download 2008 10 02 Georgia DOR letter; Download 2008 12 03 Columbus GA (Orbitz) Report of Special Master crime fraud order; Download 2009 08 21 EXPEDIA - Report of Special Master.

December 07, 2010

McCollum sues the feds over new water rules

Flanked by the incoming attorney general and incoming agriculture commission, Attorney General Bill McCollum announced Tuesday that the state is suing the federal government for imposing an "unfair" and "capricious" water quality rule.

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Pensacola, alleges that the rule by the federal Environmental Protection Agency is "not based on scientifically sound methodology" and were adopted "just to settle a lawsuit" by environmental groups and citizens.

Attorney General-elect Pam Bondi and the newly-elected Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said they will continue to lawsuit because they view the newly announced rules a violation of Florida's rights.

The federal government announced in November new water pollution standards that set specific numeric caps on pollutant levels for Florida lakes and rivers. Earthjustice attorney David Guest, who filed the original lawsuit against the federal government for failing to enforce the federal Clean Water Act, said the challenged by the Republican attorney general on behalf of landowners and agricultural interests was expected.

Continue reading "McCollum sues the feds over new water rules" »

December 02, 2010

POTUS weighs in on LeBron James's return to Cleveland

"It's going to be brutal," President Barack Obama said of Miami Heat star LeBron James' return tonight to Cleveland -- the town he spurned for Miami.

The remarks came as about a dozen reporters waiting for a background briefing on tax issues bumped into POTUS and VPOTUS outside the Oval Office.

Obama knows brutal: he got 12 stitches in the lip when he took an elbow to the face during a post-Thanksgiving Day basketball game. He returned to the court Sunday with two players less likely to throw an injurious elbow: his daughters, Sasha and Malia.

October 22, 2010

Just as McCollum gets ethics ok to lobby gov, he endorses Rick Scott

Call this a convenient coincidence. On the same day that Attorney General Bill McCollum received Ethics Commission approval to lobby the next governor's staff when he leaves office in January, he broke his silence and endorsed his former Republican rival Rick Scott in the race for governor.

McCollum, who lost to Scott in the primary, said in a statement posted on his web site today that he was supporting Scott because "our state needs conservative leaders who will grow our economy and create jobs.''

"We need merit pay and an end to teacher tenure in our public schools, major litigation reform, smaller government, low taxes and a repeal of Obamacare,'' the statement continues. "With this in mind, I will cast my vote for Rick Scott for Governor. It’s the better choice for Florida.”

Since the Aug. 24 primary, McCollum had until now refused to endorse his primary rival for governor. He had, however, asked if he could lobby the next governor, seeking an advisory opinion from the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Continue reading "Just as McCollum gets ethics ok to lobby gov, he endorses Rick Scott " »

McCollum backs off gay adoption ban, pulls the appeal

Attorney General Bill McCollum today announced that he has decided not to appeal the ruling that has thrown out the Florida's ban on the adoption of foster children by gay couples, putting an end to the law that has been on the books for 33 years.

The decision comes after McCollum's office spent years the constitutional challenge to the law, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Martin Gill, a Miami man who wanted to adopt two foster children he and his partner have been raising for almost six years. McCollum even got personally involved in the selection of an expert witness to defend the state law.

Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Department of Children and Families had already announced that they would not appeal the decision. McCollum made clear in his statement that he hopes for a future case to uphold the constitutionality of the law.

"The constitutionality of the Florida law banning adoption by homosexuals is a divisive matter of great public interest,'' McCollum's office said in a statement. "As such, the final determination should rest with the Florida Supreme Court, not a lower appellate court.  But after reviewing the merits of independently seeking Supreme Court review, following the decision of our client the Department of Children and Families not to appeal the decision of the Third District Court of Appeal, it is clear that this is not the right case to take to the Supreme Court for its determination. 

"No doubt someday a more suitable case will give the Supreme Court the opportunity to uphold the constitutionality of this law."

ACLU called McCollum's decision a welcome relief.

"This law, by baselessly branding gay people unfit parents, was one of the most notorious anti-gay laws in the country, and we are delighted that it has been ended once and for all,” said Leslie Cooper, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project, who argued the case before Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal. “This victory means that the thousands of children in Florida who are waiting to be adopted will no longer be needlessly deprived of willing and able parents who can give them the love and support of a family.”

October 12, 2010

McCollum softens stance on Scott endorsement

Attorney General Bill McCollum -- currently the senior statewide Republican official -- said today that he just might support his party's nominee for governor. At least he's leaning that way. Asked if he would cast a vote in the race, he had this to say:

“I don’t know yet, but I probably am. And if I do, I’m leaning toward voting for Scott. But I haven’t made that decision formally yet. I’m weighing it right now. I have not endorsed and I have not yet decided if I would endorse. I’ve offered to meet with Rick Scott more than once and none of those meetings have occurred to this point."

But McCollum is sure about one thing, he won't vote for fellow Cabinet member Alex Sink: “I have my big differences with Alex Sink,” he said, ticking off issues such as his federal health care lawsuit, tort reform and the teacher tenure bill. “I’m not supporting her for governor, I’m not going to support her for governor.”

October 07, 2010

McCollum explores a possible return to lobbying

One week after he lost the Republican nomination for governor, Attorney General Bill McCollum asked Florida's ethics watchdogs whether he could lobby the Cabinet -- yes, a Cabinet that could include the man who defeated him, Rick Scott.

McCollum's Sept. 3 letter acknowledged the fact that under state law, he can't lobby his former agency, the attorney general's office, for two years after leaving. But he asked "what entities" are also included under the post-employment restriction. The advisory opinion, to be acted on at the ethics panel's Oct. 22 meeting, concludes that the lobbying ban applies to the governor and Cabinet as a group as well as the governor's office and each Cabinet member individually "for a period of two years after leaving office."

McCollum, who earned $400,000 a year as a lobbyist at Baker & Hostetler between two of his earlier statewide campaigns, asked that his name be withheld from any published opinion. But it wasn't. His letter appears in the agenda materials along with the opinion (File No. 2532) placed online earlier today by the Commission on Ethics.

-- Steve Bousquet

September 17, 2010

Scott selects black Broward chairman

Rick Scott, the Republican running for governor, has selected Fort Lauderdale attorney Levi Williams as his Broward County chairman.

Williams is one of the few visible black Republican activists in Broward -- a county where only about 8,000 of the more than 1 million voters are black Republicans.

Williams will play a key role in helping the Broward GOP establishment -- which mostly backed Bill McCollum in the primary -- make nice with Scott.

Williams said that he backed McCollum -- who he had known for many years -- in the primary but that during the primary met with Scott at Scott's request. On Wednesday, Scott met with several dozen Broward GOP activists at Wings Plus in Coral Springs -- a popular Republican hangout. Williams said the crowd included club presidents and Cindy Guerra, the Broward GOP chair who works for McCollum's Attorney General office and backed her boss.

"There were some Republicans who walked in voicing concerns ... by the time Scott was done he got resounding applause," said Williams.

Williams, who is originally from Jamaica, said he doesn't think Scott chose him because of his race. Scott chose a black state legislator, Jennifer Carroll, as his running mate.

"With all the differences I may have with [President Barack] Obama on policy, the one thing he did and did well was run a campaign and a presidential administration that is not race focused,'' Williams said.  "While there may be issues specific to the black race that we need to resolve, the issue is really can you get the job done given the opportunity?" 

Williams is a former Broward College trustee and was interviewed by Gov. Charlie Crist to replace Joe Eggelletion who stepped down amid corruption charges that landed him in prison. Crist chose Al jones, a former Dania Beach mayor, instead and Jones lost the primary in August.

Scott selects black Broward chairman

Rick Scott, the Republican running for governor, has selected Fort Lauderdale attorney Levi Williams as his Broward County chairman.

Williams is one of the few visible black Republican activists in Broward -- a county where only about 8,000 of the more than 1 million voters are black Republicans.

Williams will play a key role in helping the Broward GOP establishment -- which mostly backed Bill McCollum in the primary -- make nice with Scott.

Williams said that he backed McCollum -- who he had known for many years -- in the primary but that during the primary met with Scott at Scott's request. On Wednesday, Scott met with several dozen Broward GOP activists at Wings Plus in Coral Springs -- a popular Republican hangout. Williams said the crowd included club presidents and Cindy Guerra, the Broward GOP chair who works for McCollum's Attorney General office and backed her boss.

"There were some Republicans who walked in voicing concerns ... by the time Scott was done he got resounding applause," said Williams.

Williams, who is originally from Jamaica, said he doesn't think Scott chose him because of his race. Scott chose a black state legislator, Jennifer Carroll, as his running mate.

"With all the differences I may have with [President Barack] Obama on policy, the one thing he did and did well was run a campaign and a presidential administration that is not race focused,'' Williams said.  "While there may be issues specific to the black race that we need to resolve, the issue is really can you get the job done given the opportunity?" 

Williams is a former Broward College trustee and was interviewed by Gov. Charlie Crist to replace Joe Eggelletion who stepped down amid corruption charges that landed him in prison. Crist chose Al jones, a former Dania Beach mayor, instead and Jones lost the primary in August.

September 13, 2010

McCollum still mum on gov race endorsement

Reached after an event at the Capitol today, Attorney General Bill McCollum was still mum on whether he will endorse anyone in the governor's race: "There's no update." McCollum, who lost an expensive (and bitter) primary battle with Rick Scott, also would not comment on who he plans to vote for. He said he is focused on getting Pam Bondi elected as the next attorney general and on tomorrow's initial arguments in the lawsuit challenging the new federal health care law.