April 06, 2016

Patrick Murphy: Alan Grayson unfit to hold office

via @adamsmithtimes

A day after details became public on an ongoing congressional investigation into U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, his rival for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination called on Grayson to shut down his controversial hedge fund and declared Grayson unfit for public office.

"I believe that, quite frankly, he's disqualified himself from being a public servant. You've got a member of Congress who's more concerned about making money for himself than solving ... very, very real problems in our country," U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, said in a telephone press conference. "I believe he needs to disclose what he's invested in, who his investors are, and he needs to close his unethical and illegal hedge fund."

Murphy also denied allegations from Grayson that anyone in Murphy's office had spoken with or colluded with the Office of Congressional Ethics, which recommended the House Ethics Committee continue investigating Grayson for what it said appeared to be multiple violations of federal law and House rules.

"There is no conspiracy here against Alan Grayson," Murphy said. "This is a very clear example of being caught red-handed. And oftentimes the truth hurts."

The independent, bipartisan Office of Congressional Ethics found that Grayson appeared to have improperly run a hedge fund while serving in Congress, kept financial ties to a law firm and other businesses either involved in ongoing litigation against the federal government or doing business with the federal government, and that Grayson improperly used his congressional office to do work on his Senate campaign and hedge fund.

Grayson denies any wrongdoing and on Tuesday declared a victory of sorts in the matter, because the House Ethics Committee opted not to start a investigative subcommittee. It would be unprecedented for the committee to punish a House member without starting such a committee, Grayson said.

That's not true, however. In 2011, the Ethics Committee ruled, without an investigative subcommittee, that former Ohio Rep. Jean Schmidt improperly accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal help and ordered her to repay $500,000. In other cases, the ethics committee has started further investigation the way it has with Grayson and later decided to convene an investigative subcommittee.

April 05, 2016

Investigators find numerous potential ethics violations by Alan Grayson

via @adamsmithtimes

Congressional investigators have found a litany of potential violations in the business and political dealings of U.S. Rep Alan Grayson, a leading Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.

The Office of Congressional Ethics recommended the U.S. House Ethics Committee launch a full scale probe into Grayson’s management of a hedge fund and other business interests that may have improperly overlapped with his congressional duties. The Ethics Committee will further pursue the matter, which does not indicate violations necessarily occurred but ensures that a large ethics cloud hangs over Grayson as he campaigns to succeed Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate.

Among the likely or potential violations cited by the Office of Congressional Ethics:

-- Grayson ran a hedge fund that improperly used the congressman’s name, gave him a fidiciary responsibility to undisclosed investors and at least once appears to have been compensated

-- "OCE found evidence that from January to June 2014, Representative Grayson managed a Virginia-based corporation that used the Grayson name and provided legal services involving a fiduciary relationship."

-- "OCE found evidence that Representative Grayson agreed to receive contingent fees in cases in which the federal government had a direct and substantial interest, that were pending during his time in Congress."

-- Investigators found numerous "significant" omissions from Grayson's financial disclosure forms, including many "related to other alleged violations highlighted in this report concerning the Grayson Hedge Fund and Representative Grayson’s interest in law firms and pending litigation."

-- "The OCE found that Representative Grayson was a limited partner in three energy-sector limited partnerships, all of which had agreements with the federal government through their subsidiaries." 

-- A staffer in Grayson's congressional office, who also worked for his hedge fund, used "official time and resources to work for the hedge fund."

-- Grayson "participated in multiple press interviews focused on his campaign for the U.S. Senate from his congressional office, and in some cases used campaign resources, including a campaign computer and campaign staff, to facilitate these interviews."

Grayson's denies any wrongdoing, and his lawyer released a blistering response to the OCE report that accused investigators of leaking information to Grayson's Democratic U.S. Senate opponent, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy.

"The referral itself verges on the demented, in all of its Captain Ahab attempts to spear the white whale by coming up with something - anything - with which to try to argue that some unethical conduct has occurred. Acting upon detailed legal advice at every tum, Rep. Grayson has gone all out, at great expense, to adhere to all of the rules. Not only were the rules never broken; they were never even bent. And this is precisely the kind of witch-hunt that the aCE should not be engaged in," wrote Brett G. Kappel, Grayson's attorney.

Grayson's senate campaign noted that the Ethics Committee did not refer the matter to an investigative subcommittee and suggested that makes it less likely the committee will recommend expulsion, censure, or reprimand. 

"The larger picture here is that the Washington political establishment has decided who their favored candidate is, and it’s not Rep. Grayson," his campaign said in a statement. "This Murphy-instigated fishing expedition is just like the Benghazi Committee witch hunt, another taxpayer-funded political inquisition which Patrick Murphy voted with Republicans to set loose. Patrick Murphy and his DC Establishment allies are using this new political witch hunt to try to distract Florida voters."

Alan Grayson braces for Ethics Committee report on his Caymans hedge funds

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Florida Rep. Alan Grayson is bracing for the release Tuesday of a House Ethics Committee report into a Cayman Islands-based hedge funds he started, a development that could shape an already heated Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

The committee in February moved to extend the probe and said it would announce a course of action by today.

The Tampa Bay Times first reported last year that Grayson ran a hedge fund based in the offshore tax haven of the Cayman Islands. Grayson said all his investors were "friends and family,” later describing it as only family.

But conflict of interest questions remain given Grayson’s position as a lawmaker. Background on the case here.

Grayson, a hard-charging liberal from Orlando, is running in the Democratic primary against fellow Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter, who has drawn the support of the party establishment.

Murphy’s campaign did not wait for the ethics announcement, issuing a news release with “five questions for unethical hedge fund manager Grayson.”

March 23, 2016

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown under investigation by House Ethics Committee

via @learyreports

The House Ethics Committee today said it has opened an investigation into Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville.

A letter released Wednesday states that the investigation includes “allegations that she engaged in improper conduct relating to certain outside organizations, including allegations that  she may have conspired with other persons in connection with fraudulent activity, improperly solicited charitable donations, used campaign funds for personal purposes, used official resources for impermissible non-official purposes, failed to comply with tax laws and made false statements, and/or failed to make required disclosures, to the House of Representatives and Federal Election Commission."

Read the notice here.

Federal investigators issued a subpoena to Brown in January and earlier this month the head of an organization tied to Brown pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

January 26, 2016

Secret voter data bill, on shaky ground, gets tabled again

Facing likely defeat, a Republican senator tabled his own bill Tuesday to make most public information on Florida voters secret. It was the second time that Sen. Thad Altman's bill was pulled from consideration before a vote in the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee.

Altman's bill (SB 702), a priority of county election supervisors, would make all 12 million Florida voters' home addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers and email addresses secret. The information has been public for decades, but supervisors say that because of the Internet, voters are shocked to find that the data is all over the web, making them potential targets of identity theft. The voter data is also used by Tom Alciere, a former New Hampshire legislator, who has for-profit websites that display states' voter databases.

"Whatever party you choose to join, whether you choose to vote or not vote, or when you were born is your personal information," Altman told senators. "The public doesn't need to know your voter history."

Individual voter histories that show in which elections they voted or didn't, or when a voter changed parties, is public information but it is not on the Internet. It must be provided in response to a public records request.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said the news media has a legitimate use for the information, and Altman's bill was headed for serious trouble when Republican Sen. John Legg of New Port Richey joined the opposition.

The Senate panel has six Republicans and four Democrats, all four of whom were expected to vote against the bill. But one Republican was absent, which made Legg's vote pivotal.

Legg said he was troubled by what he said was "too broad a swath" of exemptions in Altman's bill. For example, under the bill, candidates could still access the voter data, so Legg suggested someone could be a write-in candidate for public office, get the data and then withdraw from being a candidate. Legg's hometown election supervisor, Pasco's Brian Corley, is a strong supporter of the bill. The ACLU and Common Cause registered their opposition.

Altman said he plans to modify the bill and seek a vote at the panel's next meeting.

January 13, 2015

Ethics deadbeats: Debt collectors seek $500K in outstanding fines from Florida public servants

@cveiga

Under Florida law, public servants have to submit financial disclosure forms every year. And every year, there are elected and appointed officials who blow deadlines and ignore mounting late fees to file them.

It’s gotten this bad: The state ethics commission has hired debt collectors to chase $487,549.96 in late fees that have accumulated, in some cases, for more than a decade.

“I think it reflects poorly on the people who have been fined for not complying with the law,” said Ben Wilcox, research director of Integrity Florida, a nonprofit government watchdog.

The two-page disclosures — which list net worth, sources of income, real estate holdings and debts — have been the repeated source of trouble or controversy for politicians over the years.

Last election cycle, for instance, Gov. Rick Scott was sued by an opponent who claimed the governor’s disclosures hid $200 million in assets. For not listing interest he made on a loan to an infamous Ponzi schemer, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez faces a $1,500 fine over his financial disclosure. And in a notorious Miami-Dade case that ended with a federal criminal trial, financial disclosures recently helped unravel ringer candidate Justin Sternad’s run for congress.

More here.

July 30, 2014

Rep. Grant the winner in Florida ethics commission ruling

In a closed-door session, the Florida Commission on Ethics ruled in favor of Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, after an investigation into whether he misused his position to benefit a company that allegedly funded a grant awarded to his personal business venture.

The nine-member panel also decided there was no probable cause concerning an allegation that Grant had a conflict when he voted on legislation that related to excise taxes on phosphate mining.

The decision was announced Wednesday after the commission's investigator spent more than a year examining a complicated case stemming from complaints filed by Henry Kuhlman, a retired military pilot from Hardee County.

"My reaction is that they missed the mark and politics are involved," Kuhlman said.

Continue reading "Rep. Grant the winner in Florida ethics commission ruling" »

March 26, 2014

Senate passes bill banning local officials from moonlight as legislative lobbyists

Former Senate President Ken Pruitt is among an elite group of people.

He is not only one of a handful of legislators who have held the coveted job of Senate president, he is also one of a handful of people being targeted by a high-priority ethics bill passed unanimously Wednesday by the Florida Senate.

Pruitt served as Senate president from 2006 to 2008 but, like many former legislators, parlayed his clout as a top-dog lawmaker into a high paying career as a lobbyist. He has 15 clients, including Florida Crystals Corp. and the Palm Beach County sheriff’s office, and his firm has reportedly earned as much as $150,00 a year in lobbying fees from Florida Crystals alone.

Pruitt’s full-time job, however, is serving as St. Lucie County’s elected property appraiser, a position that increases the value of the retirement benefits he earned as a long-time legislator.

Under the bill (CS/SB 846) the Senate passed, Pruitt and other constitutional officers – such as sheriffs, state attorneys and property appraisers – would be banned from lobbying for compensation. The restriction does not take effect until after the next election so Pruitt buys some time. His term ends in 2016.

Continue reading "Senate passes bill banning local officials from moonlight as legislative lobbyists " »

February 07, 2014

Special districts handle millions but lobbyists are shielded from disclosure rules

By Dan Christensen

Nearly 1,000 special-purpose governments across Florida that raise and spend billions of dollars in public funds every year do not require lobbyists who appear before them to register, pay fees or disclose any information about themselves or their clients.

Lobbyist registration and disclosure has been mandatory for years in Tallahassee and in many city and county halls across the state, where lawmakers found it necessary to preserve the integrity of the decision-making process. Violators can be fined and barred from lobbying for up to two years.

But Florida’s independent special districts are a separate class of government — a hodgepodge of obscure taxing and other authorities that, with few exceptions, offer the public no information about lobbyists or what they’re up to at their agencies.

BrowardBulldog.org, supported by a grant from the Washington-based Fund for Investigative Journalism, spent months documenting that sweeping lack of government accountability, a free ride enjoyed by lobbyists at independent special districts around Florida with the power to tax, assess fees and/or sell low-interest bonds to finance government spending. Story here. 

 

 

September 20, 2013

Lobbying group wants a say in auditing process

With a joint legislative committee planning to discuss auditing lobbying firm compensation on Monday, the organization that represents Florida lobbyists has asked to add its voice to the discussion.  

In a letter to Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, the board of directors for the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists, requested that the group be allowed to "provide input and offer our assistance."  Download FAPL lobby comp ltr-4 (1)

The letter also states that the association's 350 members "have gone above and beyond what is required by Florida law and created and pledged to abide by a self-imposed code of conduct that is signed by and adhered to by each member of our organization." 

State law requires lobbying firms to file quarterly reports that list dollar ranges for how much they pay each client , but a requirement that reports get audited has never been enforced.

Continue reading "Lobbying group wants a say in auditing process " »