June 24, 2010

527 cash pours into the GOP governor's race

Expect more negative hits on Rick Scott as groups tied to Bill McCollum, his GOP rival in the governor's race, look to spend more big bucks.

The Florida First Initiative bought nearly another million in TV time for a June 24 to July 2 bombardment -- in the political group's largest salvo to date. The $900,000 buy brings the group's total spent on TV advertising to $1.9 million.

This comes as a new 527 backed by McCollum supporters, Citizens Speaking Out Committee, appears poised to launch its own attacks on Scott. One of the group's top benefactors: incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a key McCollum ally. (He follows his House counterpart, future Speaker Dean Cannon, who put money into Florida First.)

Haridopolos' political committee, Freedom First, sent the Citizens Speaking Out $435,000 in the last month after receiving three $500,000 from three Broward County donors who support McCollum, according to the News Service of Florida.

June 23, 2010

Another Democrat for Crist

A Tampa lawyer and Democratic fundraiser who worked as finance director of Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink's successful 2006 campaign, Jeff Lieser, is telling donors that he has put his law practice on hold to oversee Gov. Charlie Crist's "Democratic fundraising efforts." 

Crist has been stepping up his Democratic outreach since he left the Republican party two months ago to run for the U.S. Senate as an independent.

Lieser is circulating an invitation to a fundraiser Thursday in Parkland at the home of Howard Dvorkin, founder of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services, who has been linked to indicted fundraiser Alan Mendelsohn. Download Parkland

June 21, 2010

New memo links McCollum campaign to shadow political group

UPDATED: Attorney General Bill McCollum continues to distance himself from two shadowy political committees running negative advertisements against his opponent, Rick Scott, but more evidence is surfacing about his campaign's close ties to the groups.

The latest is an email obtained by the Times/Herald that asks McCollum campaign manager Matt Williams "for final approval" of the attack ad run by the Alliance For America's Future.

Dated May 25, the memo was sent from a Philadelphia area media producer to Williams, John McLaughlin (McCollum pollster), Arthur Finkelstein (McCollum consultant), two McCollum media producer staffers and Mary Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney who runs the Alliance, a 501(c)4. It asks for approval before the ad is sent by Marianne Campbell, McCollum's media buyer.

The memo is not the first link between McCollum and the Alliance. McCollum is also intimately connected to The Florida First Initiative, a 527 group also airing attack ads against Scott.

Continue reading "New memo links McCollum campaign to shadow political group" »

June 14, 2010

Documents show McCollum's ties to shawdowy political group

UPDATED: Attorney General Bill McCollum is using his name to solicit contributions for the Florida First Initiative, which is airing attack ads against rival Rick Scott (see below),despite his campaign's suggestion that they are not affiliated.

New documents obtained by the Times/Herald show that McCollum's name is being used in the political group's fundraising pitch and his campaign finance director, Carrie O'Rourke, is involved in the solicitation. "Bill McCollum asked that I forward this information to you," the email solicitation reads, followed by the group's M&S Bank in Gainesville account number.

McCollum, who prides himself on his public disclosure record, could not be reached for comment because he is fundraising in South Florida. His campaign spokeswoman Kristy Campbell wouldn't answer questions other than to say Florida First Initiative "is not run by our campaign."

As it appears now, the political group -- called a federal 527 under IRS tax code -- is unregistered in Florida, which flies in the face of the new campaign finance law, but does not violate it.

When a Cabinet official who solicits directly (or indirectly) on behalf of a 527, he or she must file a disclosure with the Department of State. McCollum has filed no such disclosure.

See the attack ad, "Refused," here.

June 03, 2010

Who is Jim Greer's mystery benefactor?

One of the most mysterious elements of the affidavits in the Jim Greer case is the unnamed Republican Party donor who gave the indicted chairman $10,000 for 18 months. Greer apparently "pleaded for financial help" given his debts, which at one point hit $25,000, investigators said.

The Florida political world is abuzz with speculation about the identity with typical guesses fingering convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein and major GOP donor Harry Sargeant III, who was named in a federal criminal indictment. (Sources tell us Rothstein is not the donor.)

Gary Lee, a Florida GOP committeeman, told the Times/Herald that this is a key point for federal authorities investigating the finances surrounding Greer and the Republican party. "I know the bureau is keenly interested in that," Lee said Thursday.

He said FBI agents questioned him on the matter recently but he didn't know the identity of the donor. He said authorities are looking at possible charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and possibly campaign finance law violations. "They aren't done yet," Lee said.

May 28, 2010

Crist signs elections bill

Gov. Charlie Crist just announced he signed HB 131, which re-regulates shadowy elections groups known as 527s. The bill requires any electioneering group to disclose its source of funds 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election -- so long as they engage in any advertising.

May 19, 2010

Benson gets support from Crist loyalists, others

Republican Holly Benson named her money team Wednesday in her bid for attorney general. Benson, a former agency head in the Charlie Crist administration, attracted some familiar supporters of her previous boss, including uber-lobbyist Brian Ballard and Pinellas County's Paul Jallo. Other bold names: supporting her: Sen. Joe Negron and Sally Bradshaw.

The full list below.

Continue reading "Benson gets support from Crist loyalists, others" »

May 08, 2010

More juicy details from the GOP credit cards

The unprecedented look at Republican Party of Florida spending in its credit card statements is the gift that keeps on giving. Below find some more questionable expenses and interesting factoids:

Delmar's Valentine's Day trip: Former GOP Executive Director Delmar Johnson resigned Feb. 1. So why did his credit card statement include a four-night stay worth more than a $1,000 at a Courtyard Marriott in West Palm Beach over Valentine's Day weekend? It is possible someone else used Johnson's card, which is what he has said happened frequently, but it's interesting that the party would use the card of an official leaving under a cloud of suspicion. (And don't worry, if Delmar didn't go, he still spent $900 for two nights at Fontainebleau Resort in Miami Beach the week before he left the party.)

Continue reading "More juicy details from the GOP credit cards" »

Who spent the most on GOP plastic? Here's the list.

The Republican Party of Florida released 2,452 double-sided pages of credit card statements Friday revealing 31 card holders spent about $7.3 million from January 2007 through March 2010. Below is the list of every card holder and how much they spent. (Do note that the totals only reflect charges starting in 2007, even though many of these officials held American Express cards prior to that date.)

Jim Rimes, former executive director: $2.2 million

Delmar Johnson, former executive director: $1.4 million

Melanie Phister, aide to former Speaker Ray Sansom: $1.2 million

Debbie Bishop, deputy finance director: $694,000

Jim Greer, former chairman: $478,000

Cameron Ulrich, Senate campaigns finance director: $208,000

Carrie Madden, Senate campaigns staffer: $175,000

Ray Sansom, former House speaker: $167,000

Dean Cannon, incoming House speaker: $124,000

Jeremy Collins, special assistant to Greer: $118,000

Continue reading "Who spent the most on GOP plastic? Here's the list." »

April 30, 2010

Billionaire Democrat jumps in senate race

Jeffgreene And you thought Florida's topsy-turvy election year couldn't get crazier.  Now comes billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene of Palm Beach, a Democrat, jumping into Florida's already chaotic U.S. Senate race.
“I am an outsider, the only candidate who isn’t a career politician. I’ve succeeded in the real world of hard work – the others have only succeeded at running for political office after office,’’ said Greene, 55, in a video announcing his candidacy.

Greene said he he will refuse campaign contributions from special interests, and will limit individual donations to $100. That should be no giant sacrifice considering that Forbes last year estimated his net worth at $1.25-billion.<br> His colorful profile - Mike Tyson was best man at his 2008 wedding,  ex-Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss lived in his guest house after prison, and he made many of his millions betting on the housing collapse that killed Florida's economy - normally would make a candidate like Greene a long shot.

But in a race where Democratic frontrunner Kendrick Meek is little known to most voters and Crist non-partisan candidacy means it will be a three-way race, Greene's ability to saturate Florida TV with commercials could make him a major contender.

 "There is a big difference between what I did and what Wall Street did. What Wall Street did was wrong – they were motivated by greed and tried to win either way. That’s why I am a strong supporter of President Obama’s efforts to reform our financial regulatory system,'' said Greene, explaining that he invested in complex credit default swaps to protect his real estate investestments when he saw the real estate bubble look shaky. "Never did I imagine that the subprime mortgage market would implode, and I would make hundreds of millions of dollars."

Greene's pitch is similar to another obscure multi-millionaire candidate who recently popped up suddenly in Florida, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott. Both are touting their outsider status.

“I’m just as frustrated as you are,’’ Greene says in the video announcing his candidacy. “For too long, the career politicians we’ve sent to Washington have played partisan games and have failed us. All of the major candidates for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat have been inside government for the past 10 years. And during those 10 years, things have only gotten worse.’’

Greene only became a Florida resident in 2008, but he touts his longtime connections to the state. As a college student, he says he bussed tables at The Breakers posh hotel in Palm Beach, and his mother lives in Century Village, a modest retirement complex not far from the 12,000 square foot Palm Beach mansion purchased from Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer last year.