June 09, 2016

Patrick Murphy traded donations for favors, complaint alleges

@ByKristenMClark

A progressive blogger in Los Angeles is ratcheting up criticism against Florida Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy over his ties to political donors who benefit from a visa program that Murphy has supported.

Howie Klein, of the partisan "Down With Tyranny" blog, wrote Wednesday that he'd filed identical complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Federal Elections Commission alleging that Murphy "violated federal law and House (ethics) rules by accepting campaign contributions in exchange for co-sponsoring legislation sought by a contributor."

Read a copy of Klein's six-page complaint on his blog.

Klein and contributors to his blog have been routinely critical of Murphy's bid for U.S. Senate and highly supportive of his main primary opponent, fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando -- whose campaign Klein has encouraged his readers to donate to. (Pam Keith is also running in the Aug. 30 primary against Murphy and Grayson.)

In a statement to the Herald/Times, Murphy campaign spokeswoman Galia Slayen didn't specifically address Klein's accusations but said the complaints were politically motivated.

"This complaint, written by one of Alan Grayson's most prominent fundraisers and supporters, isn't worth the paper it's written on. Congressman Grayson and his allies are just throwing mud at the wall and hoping it will stick," Slayen said, noting Grayson himself remains the subject of a congressional ethics investigation over hedge funds he managed.

At issue in Klein's complaints against Murphy is Murphy's support for the EB-5 visa program -- which fast-tracks foreign investors and their immediate family for green cards when they fund projects that create jobs for U.S. workers.

Continue reading "Patrick Murphy traded donations for favors, complaint alleges" »

June 07, 2016

Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera back in court

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@ByKristenMClark

In the latest development in a years-long ethics case against former U.S. Rep. David Rivera, an attorney for the Miami Republican argued before an appeals court on Tuesday that the speaker of the Florida House has no legal authority to impose penalties on former state lawmakers who violate ethics rules while in office.

Seeking to overturn ethics violations against Rivera, his attorney Leonard Collins argued that it’s unconstitutional for state law to give authority to the House speaker or Senate president in doling out punishment for former lawmakers.

And even if appeals judges rule that that practice is OK, Collins argued that Rivera’s case should still be reconsidered because, he said, the Florida Commission on Ethics violated Rivera’s due process rights by committing “procedural errors” when it handled Rivera’s case.

An attorney for the commission defended how the case was handled but, in a painfully awkward moment, she offered no response when the three-judge appeals panel questioned why it’s allowable for the House speaker to have sole discretion in executing punishments for former House members — but a decision by the full House is needed to penalize current lawmakers.

“I can’t answer that,” assistant attorney general Elizabeth Miller said during the hearing before the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.

Read more here.

June 03, 2016

Patrick Murphy continues attacks on Alan Grayson over his hedge funds

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@ByKristenMClark

Like the monotonous beat of a war drum, Patrick Murphy's U.S. Senate campaign continues to take jabs at his Democratic primary opponent Alan Grayson over a congressional ethics investigation into Grayson's once-offshore hedge funds.

The 74-page report from the Office of Congressional Ethics came out two months ago, and Murphy's campaign has been highlighting tidbits of information from it for weeks -- including each day this week as part of a marketing blitz they've dubbed "What is Alan Grayson Hiding?"

Murphy and Grayson -- both U.S. congressmen -- and Miami labor attorney and former naval officer Pam Keith are running in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary in the competitive race to replace Marco Rubio.

Murphy, of Jupiter, is attacking Grayson today for allegedly combining assets in his U.S. House financial disclosure form -- or what Murphy's Senate campaign described as: "Grayson's failure to distinguish between his hedge funds and his personal assets to hide millions."

"The facts are clear," Murphy's campaign said in a statement. "Alan Grayson failed to report assets and blatantly misreported others in a manner that undermined the entirety of his personal financial disclosure. Floridians deserve the truth." 

Murphy's campaign pointed to examples detailed in the ethics report (pgs. 49-52) to back up its criticism, but Grayson said those examples take his finances out of context and that Murphy was "giving a fictitious version" of what happened.

"There's no 'failure to distinguish' ... That simply didn't happen," said Grayson, of Orlando. He added: "Nothing was hidden, and the OCE report itself doesn't allege that millions were hidden -- or even a dollar was hidden."

Continue reading "Patrick Murphy continues attacks on Alan Grayson over his hedge funds" »

May 04, 2016

Miami Rep. Frank Artiles 'won't be bullied,' might sue over attack ads

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@ByKristenMClark

As part of an ongoing direct-mail campaign to highlight what it deems as unethical behavior by Florida elected officials, the independent advocacy organization FloridaStrong has gone after several Republican Miami-Dade legislators in recent months.

But one is now fighting back.

State Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, says he plans to sue FloridaStrong because the group's organizers refuse to correct claims they made in a mailer that went out to Artiles' constituents recently and which his attorney said depicts Artiles "in an unfavorable light."

(View the mailer here.)

Artiles, a three-term House member, is currently campaigning for a seat in the Florida Senate, where he wants to represent District 40, which includes part of central Miami-Dade County. He faces current Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, and independent Mario Jimenez in that contest.

"My reputation is very important to me and I will not allow any organization or person to defame, slander and libel me because they think nobody’s going to fight back," Artiles told the Herald/Times. "I truly believe these organizations -- which are funded nationally through special interests -- that if you don't stand up or correct them, you're acquiescing to their bullying. I won’t be bullied by some political hacks."

FloridaStrong's most recent mailer against Artiles alleges that he is a "property appraiser by trade," "voted to raise property taxes on Florida families by $427 million," "received thousands in campaign contributions from the insurance industry" and "voted to privatize Citizens Property Insurance and protect insurance industry profits."

But, in a letter dated April 21, a Tallahassee attorney for Artiles said the claims aren't true. Emmett "Bucky" Mitchell offered point-by-point rebuttals and accused FloridaStrong of making "false statements ... that should be corrected." Or else.

(Read the full letter here.)

Continue reading "Miami Rep. Frank Artiles 'won't be bullied,' might sue over attack ads" »

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.