September 29, 2010

Atwater: Ausley has a free lunch problem

Only a day after Loranne Ausley called for the Legislature to follow the law and audit lobbyist expendiature reports, Jeff Atwater's campaign is hitting Ausley for a bill she sponsored that they say would undermine the lobbyist gift ban. The bill in question would have allowed lobbyists to pay for up to $19 in meals for a lawmaker at a meeting where governmental issues or items in the public were being discussed.

“That reform (requiring the lobbyist audits) included a very matter-of-fact gift ban,” said Atwater spokesman Brian Hughes. “Just a few years after that, she sponsored this legislation which undermined the gift ban. That’s hypocrisy.”

Ausley spokesman Kevin Cate e-mailed over a response that did not address her bill: “It’s nice to welcome Jeff Atwater to the campaign, if only to defend his refusal to follow the law and audit lobbyists. Now if only he had a platform, or a defense of his $2 billion in tax hikes, or his votes for the $48 million Taj Mahal, or the $110 million private prison to nowhere, or his RPOF AmEx card. I’m sure this will all be explained in detail at the debate that he refuses to have with the real fiscal watchdog in the campaign, Loranne Ausley. ”

September 27, 2010

Ausley: Follow the law and audit lobbyist reports

CFO candidate Loranne Ausley is once again hitting opponent Jeff Atwater for decisions by the Legislature on his watch. This time, it's the Legislature's failure to audit annual lobbyist disclosure reports -- as required by law. Passed in 2005 (and supported by both Ausley and Atwater), the law requires lobbyists to say how much they are getting paid, and by whom. The law also requires audits, but as the Sarasota Herald-Tribune noted, none have been performed.

“There is absolutely no excuse for not following the law,” Ausley said. “Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in this building influencing legislators and legislation in Tallahassee, and Floridians have a right to know the whole story.”

Senate staffers have said there aren't enough Florida auditing firms without ties to lobbyists and that the audits could cost between $750,000 and $1 million. Atwater campaign spokesman Brian Hughes noted that lawmakers submitted a request for proposals calling for 10 auditing firms to compete for the job -- one firm replied.

Hughes also hit on the cost in a statement: "Where does Ausley want money for this new bureaucracy to come from? Is she ready to cut $1 million from our schools or services for our most vulnerable kids or seniors?"

September 23, 2010

Ausley wants Atwater to look into DLP issue

Democratic CFO candidate Loranne Ausley called on her Republican opponent, state Senate President Jeff Atwater, to investigate the connection between Senate Majority Leader Alex Diaz de la Portilla and a disgruntled contractor with the Department of Corrections.

Standing outside Diaz de la Portilla's office minutes before a torrential downpour in Miami Thursday, Ausley also called on Atwater to produce any records of any meetings he or his staffers may have had with representatives of the Miami Beach-based Orion Medical Enterprises, a kidney dialysis company.

"The most important and critical challenge facing this office and the entire state of Florida is putting an end to the pay-to-play culture of corruption that is crippling our state and our economy," Ausley said, citing the Diaz de la Portilla letter as "what looks to me like a classic example of pay-to-play politics."

Last week, Atwater's spokesman said he could not find any records of the company meeting with anyone on the Senate president's office, and added that Atwater did not know about Diaz de la Portilla's letter on behalf of the company to DOC. Diaz de la Portilla sent the letter a week after his brother Miguel received a $15,000 campaign contribution from the contractor.

Alex Diaz de la Portilla and the company have denied any link between the campaign cash and the letter.

Jeff Atwater's 'Budd' still drawing $150k Senate salary

Outgoing Senate President Jeff Atwater is running almost full time for Chief Financial Officer, has cleaned out his office in Tallahassee and appears to have turned the reins of the Upper Chamber over to his successor, Mike Haridopolos, who has hired a few Senate staffers and fired many more.

Except for one: Budd Kneip, Atwater's longtime friend and Senate chief of staff who is continuing to draw his $150,000 annual salary at a rate of about $12,500 a month. That's more than Gov. Charlie Crist ($130,273) earns.

But there's another chief of staff doing all the staff chiefing these days: Steve MacNamara, hired by Haridopolos to be his right-hand administrator and part-time chief legal counsel for $175,008, or about $14,500 monthly.

So is Kneip working?

"Sen. Atwater has a district office and I was informed Mr. Kneip is working out of it," said Senate spokesman David Bishop.

We checked the district office in West Palm Beach and were told Kneip wasn't working out of there, but was "in the district." But then, when we noted this to Bishop, he clarified that Kneip was in the district office in the state Capitol. When we checked (c. 4 p.m.), Kneip wasn't there. Two aides were and insisted Kneip had been there earlier.

Bishop noted the Senate has saved a bottom line dollar figure of about $657,000 (including benefits) due to recent resignations and terminations.

The latest: Marta Hardy, a longtime health appropriations staffer who earned $109,356 and is one of the only Hispanic women in the Senate's upper management. Here's the tally from last week. Meantime, numerous staffers are preparing to get fired or are looking for work elsewhere because they feel they'll be in the unemployment line. Not Kneip. Assuming Atwater continues to cruise in his race, Kneip's a likely pick to be the top administrator for the CFO, where he stands a good chance of being paid more than his boss again.

September 22, 2010

Cabinet debates at UF canceled

The upcoming debates for the three Cabinet positions have been canceled, according to Florida Press Association president Dean Ridings. He said the campaigns of Pam Bondi and Jeff Atwater never confirmed their participation in the debate. “There’s not much of a debate without either of those two,” Ridings said.

Atwater's press guy Brian Hughes e-mailed this: "The schedule in these final weeks of the campaign is packed with candidate forums, grassroots organizing, and travel around the state. There are countless requests of Jeff's time and we simply can't be everywhere all the time." Bondi had a similar statement.

Scheduled for Oct. 5 at the Bob Graham Center at the University of Florida, the other four Cabinet candidates had said they would debate, including Dan Gelber, Loranne Ausley and both Agriculture Commission candidates, Adam Putnam and Scott Maddox.

Ridings said his group, along with Leadership Florida, declined to just produce the Ag Commission debate because of logistics. The two groups are still on to produce debates for the governor's race and the U.S. Senate race at Nova Southeastern University.

September 16, 2010

Florida GOP hits Ausley on tax votes

RPOF is out with another update to its "Costly Ausley" website, hitting Loranne Ausley for six votes against three bills to reduce the so-called intangible personal property tax. The last bill finally eliminating the tax was approved in 2006. It cost $130 million in the first year and $160 million the next year.

"With a long record of raising taxes, increasing the size of government, and stifling Florida's economy, there is much more to reveal about Loranne Ausley," RPOF Executive Director Ronnie Whitaker. "Today is just the latest disturbing example of Ausley's job-killing tax hikes for Floridians to know about." (Of course, the vote was against cutting the tax, so "tax hike" isn't exactly correct -- she voted for keeping the tax rate the same.)

Ausley spokesman Kevin Cate sent out a pre-rebuttal to the attack: Senate President Jeff Atwater has raised more than $2 billion dollars in taxes and fees and accepted nearly $10 billion dollars in stimulus funding, but he seems to have amnesia about his own record. Atwater is hiding behind the disgraced Republican Party of Florida, whose own financial oversight was so poor that it has led to arrests, indictments and now potential law suits, to try and attack Loranne Ausley.

September 09, 2010

Sink creates a no-limit political committee

Asked earlier this month about establishing a political committee to raise unfettered contributions, Alex Sink said this: "If my campaign decides to set up a 527, then the contributions will be fully transparent."

But her answer on Sept. 2 was less than transparent. State records show two days earlier, on Aug. 31, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate signed a form to solicit contributions and manage a 527 called Hold Them Accountable, Inc.

The committee was established two weeks earlier by the Sink campaign's lawyer, Ron Meyer, and lists a longtime Sink family friend, Liana Fox, as the chairperson. It received one contribution -- a $500 check -- from the campaign finance chairman, Richard Swann, an Orlando lawyer.

Asked about the misleading statement, Sink spokeswoman Kyra Jennings would only say "the campaign has followed the rules."

September 07, 2010

RPOF attacks Ausley for opposing TABOR-like bill

The attacks are stepping up in the CFO's race. The Republican Party has just set up a new website to attack Loranne Ausley for her record in the Legislature. First up is an attack on her 2004 vote against a TABOR-like measure or "smart cap" that would restrict state spending to the previous year's budget plus inflation. The party says that makes her "Costly Ausley." (An eagle-eyed reader notes that the site adds an extra "r" in Ausley's name.)

The proposal went nowhere in the House in 2002. It passed that chamber 74-43 in 2004. Her CFO opponent Jeff Atwater was in the Senate at the time, but he never got the chance to vote on it -- it died in committee in the waning days of session. (Another one of those "just ran out of time" bills?) The late Jim King was leading the Senate at the time.

Most Republicans are a big fan of the proposed constitutional amendment, but they just can't seem to get it passed in the Legislature, even with huge majorities. Whose fault is that? (Here's more on a similar proposal in 2009, during Atwater's tenure as president.)

Ausley spokesman Kevin Cate e-mails this in response to the site (without directly addressing the bill in question): "Senate President Jeff Atwater's latest attack is pathetic, and just shows Floridians how hard he is trying to hide from his tax-raising, big spending record. Floridians know that Jeff Atwater has a reputation for being weak, but for him to throw punches from behind the shelter of the scandal-riden Republican Party of Florida, tell us everything we need to know."

September 01, 2010

Ausley hits Atwater for SB 6 support

Ah, it seems so long ago -- Gov. Charlie Crist was a Republican and he spurned his party by vetoing the teacher merit pay bill, SB 6. Afterward, he was showered in support from teachers and many in the education community.

Well, Loranne Ausley, the Democratic candidate in the down-ticket CFO race, is trying to catch lightning in a bottle again. She called out her opponent, Senate President Jeff Atwater, for allowing the bill to go through on his watch and for supporting efforts to bring it back next year. (Education isn't a central role of the chief financial officer, but the issue is a distinction between the candidates.)

"“We’ve heard Jeff Atwater and others say that SB 6 is coming back,” Ausley said. “There is no discussion of coming to the table and having a discussion. Everything we’ve heard is shoving it down our throats again. That is not acceptable."

Flanked by about 10 PTA members, principals and the VP of the state's largest teacher union, Ausley said she is not opposed to accountability or reform, but "we want reform that we all are at the table discussing."