February 09, 2016

Florida Strong launches ad attacking lawmakers' special interests

@ByKristenMClark

The independent advocacy organization Florida Strong is going after state lawmakers for receiving campaign money from special interests before the 2016 session.

The group debuted a new web ad, called "Agenda," which it said it plans to run on social media and on state news websites. The ad cites data reported by the Herald/Times last month in an article that found special interests gave Florida legislative campaigns more than $28 million in the six months leading up to the start of session.

Florida Strong said the 60-second spot is the first in a campaign, which will later target individual lawmakers receiving special interest money.

The group declined to say how much it was spending on the ad.

 

January 29, 2016

Alan Grayson announces $591,000 in fundraising - including new personal loan - to end 2015

Grayson

@ByKristenMClark

Despite "an army of small-dollar progressive donors," U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson continues to lag well behind fellow U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy in fundraising for the Democratic primary of Florida's high-profile U.S. Senate contest.

Grayson's campaign told the Herald/Times today the Orlando congressman took in $591,000 for the three-month filing period between October and December, with average donations around $28 from 9,300 individuals representing more than 240 Florida communities and all 50 states.

The total includes a new $100,000 loan Grayson gave his campaign, which is in addition to previous personal loans he's made, the campaign said.

Spokesman David Damron said the campaign is still calculating exactly how much Grayson had in cash on hand as of Dec. 31, but Damron said it's around the same amount "or slightly less" than what Grayson had heading into October.

Grayson reported $258,700 in the bank, as of Sept. 30.

Meanwhile, Murphy -- the party establishment's favored candidate -- announced his fourth-quarter fundraising totals last week.

The Jupiter congressman said he raised $1.46 million from October through December -- which, by comparison, is about 2.5 times as much as Grayson said he took in during the same time-frame. Murphy said he had nearly $4.3 million on hand in his U.S. Senate campaign, as of Dec. 31.

Fourth-quarter fundraising reports are due to the Federal Election Commission by Jan. 31. Senate campaigns typically file paper copies through the secretary of the Senate, so specific details on Grayson's and Murphy's most-recent fundraising aren't yet available.

Grayson's campaign expressed optimism for 2016, saying it "already set a new, one-month record for contributions in January" and has new, continuing pledges that total $60,000 a month going forward.

“This campaign is fueled by retirees and veterans, and people who work in classrooms or drive buses, not wealthy lobbyists and special interests," political director Mario Piscatella said in a campaign statement.

North Palm Beach attorney Pam Keith is also seeking the Democratic nomination. Her fundraising has been nominal.

The Murphy-Grayson contest is drawing a lot of national attention, as Murphy has built momentum off support from key Democrats and union groups, while Grayson has picked up endorsements from notable progressives and grassroots supporters, including both the state and national Progressive Democrats of America.

Florida's U.S. Senate race is seen as one of the pivotal seats for both Republicans and Democrats to win, because it could decide which party controls the upper chamber of Congress next year.

Four candidates are running in the Republican primary: U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami, and Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox.

Photo credit: AP

December 02, 2015

Miami-Dade commissioner wants to crack down on PAC $$$ in local races

@MrMikeVasquez

In her first-ever run for office last year, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava experienced the shadowy world of campaign finance firsthand — thanks to political action committees that supported her opponent.

“It was very difficult, if not impossible, to trace exactly where that money was coming from,” Levine Cava told the Miami Herald on Tuesday, after introducing a proposed county ordinance that would require greater PAC disclosures.

Levine Cava’s legislation is similar — though not identical — to existing state law, which requires state lawmakers, the governor and Cabinet members to disclose if they are affiliated with certain types of political action committees.

“It’s like a local loophole to not have the same requirement be in place for county officials and local municipal officials,” Levine Cava said.

If approved next year, Levine Cava’s new rules would require local political candidates to file reports for any political action committees for which they are fundraising. Those reports would have to “identify each contribution solicited, directly or indirectly, by the candidate, the name of the person or entity contributing the funds … the amount of the contribution, and a description of the relationship between the candidate and the political committee.”

More here.

October 31, 2014

Scary thought for candidates: Fundraising gates shut at midnight. Here's what we know

Gates AP photoBoom, clang, lock.

If there had been a sound associated with the end of the campaign finance season it would be that. At midnight Thursday, the gates closed on what has been the most expensive political season in Florida history.

Have citizens united to rejoice yet? 

They should. Donors can't be haunted by fundraising calls from the candidates and their surrogates any more and, in four days, the public will see the end to the incessant bloodletting of the television ad war. 

What have we learned so far? 

Through Monday, $206 million had been raised in state campaigns this election cycle, more than half of it on the race for governor.

If that fact is not enough to scare you about the fate of union, consider this: the poor accountants at the Republican Party of Florida and Florida Democratic Party have until midnight tonight, yes Halloween, to compile their reports detailing how much they raised and spent in the last three months. Talk about turning into a zombie. 

We also know that Scott’s political committee, Let’s Get to Work, raised a whopping $45.7 million while Crist’s raised a stunning $30 million through Wednesday.

Think about it. We thought it was a big deal when Crist raised $24.6 million to get elected in 2006 -- as a Republican. Now, as a Democrat, his political committee has topped that. He is expected to top the $43 million raised by the Democrats four years ago for Alex Sink, who lost to Scott by 62,000 votes -- and Scott's $85 million.

As expected, the fundraising continued into the final week. Crist’s political committee raised $624,000 through Monday, most of it from lawyers going back to the well.

Scott’s Let’s Get to Work committee would have been dry this week if it hadn’t been for the Republican Governor’s Association stoking another check for $500,000 into the campaign. The RGA total: $18.3 million.

Both candidates have steered much of their money to the political parties, which gets better rates on the massive television ads the candidates have financed. Those numbers are due at midnight. 

Another take-away: the Senate race for president in 2016 has bitterly divided the GOP. We're even watching traditional GOP backers like Disney steering money to the Democratic Party in the hopes of perhaps defeating some of the pro-casino advocates, like former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, and protecting incumbent Democratic Sen. Maria Sachs who faces Bogdanoff in Broward. 

More to come. We'll be digging into the crypt for more details. 

Photo: Courtesy of the Associated Press

February 11, 2014

Waldman's Justin Timberlake event is not 'N Sync

Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, had an idea to raise money for his 2016 Senate campaign: Hold a fund-raiser as a tie-in with an upcoming concert appearance by Justin Timberlake at BB&T Center in Sunrise. There's just one problem: Timberlake is performing there on March 4, the opening day of the 2014 legislative session.

Legislators are forbidden from soliciting or raising campaign money during regular sessions. But lobbyists all over Tallahassee got solicitations from Waldman's campaign, seeking $1,000 checks to an event that lists Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter as a host.

Waldman says it was a mistake. "It went out in error. I hadn't given clearance," the lawmaker said. "I hadn't approved the invite."

Waldman said he received a verbal opinion from Tallahassee lawyer Mark Herron, an expert in campaign finance laws, that it would be legal to hold the event on March 4 as long as all contributions were received before that date and no fund-raising took place at the event. (Waldman himself couldn't attend because he has to be in Tallahassee).

Herron confirmed that version of events, and said he was not aware of another candidate who has arranged a fund-raiser in the same manner.

Waldman joked that Timberlake, former lead singer of the boy hand 'N Sync, wouldn't re-schedule his concert tour to accommodate fund-raising rules of the Florida Legislature. Waldman is a candidate for the Northwest Broward Senate seat that will be vacated by the term-limited Democrat Jeremy Ring in 2016.

As questions swirled about the suspect timing of the event, campaign strategist Jeff Ryan sent an email to lobbyists. "Please disregard the flyer e-mailed today for the concert fundraiser," the Monday email read. "The scheduling of this event is not set."

February 07, 2014

Next step in campaign finance reform could be web site overhaul

When Florida lawmakers raised campaign contribution limits last year, they said the goal was to make the money in politics more transparent. There was one problem: the state’s campaign finance web site.

The 9-year-old system is difficult and cumbersome and it has no provision for tracking the explosion in soft money checks to the candidates and issues the money is intended to target. Campaign finance watchdogs, the National Institute on Money in State Politics, gave the state a D grade for that oversight in a report last year.

Lawmakers proudly touted the reforms they passed last year: raising the minimum contribution limits for legislative campaigns from $500 to $1,000 and to $3,000 for statewide candidates, and increasing the frequency of reporting, making the web site data more current. But the law did nothing to make the independent expenditures, or soft money, easier to track or to make the web site more user-friendly.

Now there is new momentum to address that issue. The new law included a little-noticed requirement that the state submit a proposal for replacing Florida’s outdated web site with a statewide electronic filing system for all state and local campaign finance data.

In a December report to House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, the Division of Elections recommended the state require all state and local candidates to submit their campaign finance information to a statewide web site, and offered two pricetags and timelines to do it: The state could use existing staff and spend three years and $534,000 or hire a private contractor and, according to estimates from 10 companies, the cost would be $1 million and time frames would range from three to 18 months. Story here.   Download SEFS Final Proposal_11272013 Full Version

July 15, 2013

Blue Cross is top donor in Florida politics but its investment has produced mixed results

Health insurance giant Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida gave more money to Florida campaigns than any other single entity in the 2012 election cycle — $4.8 million — and the company is already the largest contributor in the current cycle, a Herald/Times analysis has found.

Company officials say the contributions, which include $867,000 sent to Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-controlled Legislature since January, are an investment in like-minded candidates as Blue Cross works towards implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

But when it comes to the company’s top priority — the expansion of Medicaid to cover one million more uninsured Floridians — the health care giant’s out-sized investment has fallen flat.

Legislators walked away from extending Medicaid coverage to Florida residents at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level after House leaders fiercely resisted the option. Blue Cross and Blue Shield, doing business as Florida Blue, contracts with the state to run a Medicaid managed care program, which was expected to get $50 billion over 10 years through Medicaid expansion.

“With regard to Medicaid, we do have a difference of opinion with a lot of the folks we have supported in the past,’’ said Jason Altmire, vice president of public policy government and community affairs for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, and a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania. He said the company hopes to come back next session and renew the pitch for Medicaid expansion.

But Blue Cross and Blue Shield is not the only company to invest heavily in the political process, only to have its top legislative priority thwarted in the past year, according to the Herald/Times analysis.

Hospitals, nursing homes, and the ill-fated Internet cafe industry, all made heavy investments in the governor and legislators this year but went home empty.

Meanwhile, other large donors, such as U.S. Sugar, the Florida Optometry Association and the Florida Medical Association saw their political investments pay off as lawmakers passed long-sought legislation to make it easier for them to do business in Florida. More here. Here's the top 10 lists for the first two quarters of this cycle and the 2012 cycle:

Continue reading "Blue Cross is top donor in Florida politics but its investment has produced mixed results" »

June 12, 2013

Glitch in new law to abolish CCEs sets up a summer dead zone for fundraisers

Florida’s attempt to outlaw political slush funds has created a fundraising snafu that could inadvertently put political committees out of business for three months this summer – and potentially complicate fundraising for Miami’s mayoral race.

The new law, which took effect May 1 (HB 569), prohibits Committees of Continuous Existence from accepting contributions after July 31, allows unlimited amounts of money in the defunct CCE to be transferred to a political committee, but it doesn’t allow political committees to accept contributions of more than $500 from any contributor until Nov. 1.

It’s the law of unintended consequences and it is giving political activists heartburn.

“Most of what happens between Aug. 1 and November is going to be dead time,’’ said John French, a Tallahassee lawyer and expert on elections law. “There’s a very Zen-like nature to this bill. It’s really unfortunate.”

But what may be dead time for most elected officials is heavy duty campaign season for the Nov. 5 election for the City of Miami mayor and commission seats.

Continue reading "Glitch in new law to abolish CCEs sets up a summer dead zone for fundraisers" »

April 09, 2013

Senate committee rejects raising campaign contribution cap

The Florida Senate sent a message to the Florida House Tuesday that it will gladly eliminate political slush funds but it won't raise campaign finance limits to do it.

The Senate Rules Committee passed its version of the House priority, a rewrite of the state’s campaign finance laws, but only after stripping out a provision that would have raised the campaign finance limits from $500 per election to a tiered system up to $3000 per election for statewide candidates.

The committee was the last stop for SB 1382 and the amendments added to the bill by its sponsor, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, and Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, were clearly intended to influence the Senate’s bargaining position with the House. The position also bows to Gov. Rick Scott, who repeated his opposition to raising the cap on campaign contributions in Miami on Tuesday.

"No one’s explained to me why they want to do it. That’s the first thing,'' Scott told reporters. "I want to keep as many people involved in campaigns as possible....No one’s giving me a rationale."

The House passed HB 569 with a 75-39 vote along mostly party lines on March 22. It is a top priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford and it is intended to end the abuse of political committees known as Committees of Continuous Existence, or CCEs, by legislators who raise unlimited funds, write checks to other candidates and finance personal entertainment, travel, meals and other lavish expenses.

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March 11, 2013

As debate lingers on CCEs, Cannon keeps his alive; newcomers open new ones

Former Speaker Dean Cannon is among the former legislators whose use of his political committee is raising the hackles of both his former colleagues and lobbyists.

Cannon, who left politics after being term limited out of office in November, has opened a lobbying firm in Tallahassee to lobby the executive branch but has never shut down his CCE that raised $1.1 million while Cannon was in office and spent $830,000. 

The CCE, Florida Freedom Council, spent $8,068 on personal expenses in 2012. The expenses included $2,678 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa and $2,675 on travel from GK Aviation, both in September; $485 at Shula’s 347 in Tallahassee on Nov. 12 and $2,230 on Crown Awards on Nov. 19.

In the final days of the 2012 election cycle, Cannon’s CCE gave $25,000 to the CCE of Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Ormond Beach, $25,000 to the Florida Enterprise Fund, a federally-regulated electioneering and communications organization, and $50,000 to the Republican Party of Florida.

Cannon said he is not the only person authorized to raise and spend money on the account but has asked the chairman, Scott Thomas, to shut it down.

“I have been supportive of that CCE but I do not have now, or ever had, complete control of it,’’ he said Monday. “I have asked the chairman to disperse the remaining funds to the Republican Party of Florida.” 

While Cannon hasn't closed his, the talk of abolishing CCEs hasn't stopped a few from getting into the game.

In the last two months, since legislators have begun the discussion of closing CCEs, three legislators have started new ones while dozens of others have kept theirs active. The newcomers to the table are Reps. Katie Edwards, D-Sunrise, and Sens. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach and Kelli Stargel, R- Lakeland. Reps. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, are two legislators who have closed their CCEs in 2013.