June 24, 2016

Pam Keith qualifies for Democratic U.S. Senate primary in Florida


The first major party candidate to launch a 2016 campaign for Florida's U.S. Senate seat was among the last to get on the ballot ahead of Friday's noon deadline.

Labor attorney and former naval officer Pam Keith, a Democrat from Miami, dropped off her candidate oath and her $10,440 check at about 10:15 this morning at the Florida Division of Elections' office in Tallahassee.

Keith first launched her U.S. Senate campaign in November 2014 and has been campaigning full-time across the state. But she's struggled to gain name recognition and campaign funds in the Democratic primary against U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy, of Jupiter, and Alan Grayson, of Orlando.

The party establishment -- and its donors -- strongly backs Murphy, and Grayson has support among progressives in the party. Keith is painting herself as an alternative who, she says, can "energize voters to the polls" and offer something "new, outsider, fresh, solutions-oriented" that voters in this election cycle want.

"Recent revelations have shown some of the very significant weaknesses in my opponents," Keith said Friday, after she filed her paperwork. "This season, more than any, voters are really looking for substance, authenticity and relatability -- and I think, by far, I'm the candidate who satisfies those needs the best."

Both Murphy and Grayson have vulnerabilities.

Grayson has an active congressional ethics investigation against him into once-offshore hedge funds he operated out of the Cayman Islands while in office. There's been no new developments on that ethics case since early April, when the Office of Congressional Ethics released its findings that Grayson might have violated ethics rules and federal laws. It's up to the U.S. House Ethics Committee to continue investigating, if it chooses to.

Meanwhile, Murphy -- who is viewed as the frontrunner in the primary -- has been plagued for the past month by media investigations exposing embellishments and contradictions in his professional and academic credentials. That was capped off most recently by a blistering two-part report this week by Miami Herald news partner WFOR CBS-4 Miami, which garnered national attention. The CBS Miami investigation built off and echoed previous reporting by the Miami Herald, the Tampa Bay Times and Politico Florida.

Some questioned whether Keith would even qualify for the race this week, because she had just $13,400 in the bank, as of March 31 (the end of the last campaign finance period).

"I have a mission and a purpose, and I stay focused on what I'm doing," Keith said. "Naysayers exist in every industry and in every endeavor, so you just learn overtime that that's just not something you need to pay much attention to."

Also this week, two other Democrats joined the primary race and qualified for the ballot: Jacksonville attorney Reginald Luster and California businessman "Rocky" Roque De La Fuente of Orlando.

*This post has been updated.

Anitere Flores does have a Democratic challenger, so does Rene Garcia

Miami dade districts@ByKristenMClark

Of course, Democrats wouldn't have just let Miami Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores coast to re-election.

After some re-shuffling this week when Flores' previous Democratic challenger qualified in a neighboring district instead, Democrats were under the gun to find a candidate to put up against Flores in District 39. The deadline for candidates to file for this year's primary and general elections is noon today.

They found one: Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.

Mucarsel-Powell, of Pinecrest, filed her candidacy for District 39 on Thursday, but it doesn't appear - as of 9 a.m. - that her qualifying papers have been processed yet by the Florida Division of Elections. (That's not uncommon; there's usually a lag between when candidates submit their papers and when their affirmed to be "qualified" in the candidate list online.)

According to Miami Herald archives and her LinkedIn page, Mucarsel-Powell was named senior vice president of development at Jackson Health Foundation in November 2014. Before that, she spent more than eight years working at Florida International University -- first as director of development from 2003-2007, then as associate vice president for advancement for FIU's Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine from 2007 to July 2011.

Mucarsel-Powell helps run her own business, D. Mucarsel-Powell & Associates, LLC -- which was registered with the state in 2012. According to state records, she and her husband, Robert Powell, are managers of the business. Mucarsel-Powell's LinkedIn page lists her as current president of the firm, also known as DMP Associates.

The District 39 seat, newly redrawn because of redistricting, leans Democratic and Hispanic. The seat spans western and southern Miami-Dade County and Monroe County, including the Florida Keys.

A write-in candidate, Brent Artz of Big Pine Key, also qualified Thursday. An independent candidate, Sheila Lucas George, filed previously in the race but had not yet qualified as of 9 a.m. today.

Mucarsel-Powell fills the void left by Miami Democrat Andrew Korge, who left the District 39 race on Wednesday for what he viewed as better prospects in District 40, which is in central Miami-Dade County.

Korge set up a three-way Democratic primary there between sitting Sen. Dwight Bullard and former state legislator Ana Rivas Logan.

A fourth Democrat entered that race on Thursday: Missalys Perez, of Hialeah. (Her qualifying papers have not yet been processed.)

Unless there are any more late-filing candidates today, the winner of that August primary among those four will take on Miami Republican Rep. Frank Artiles in the fall. Independent Mario Jimenez also qualified for the November election.

Korge is under fire this week -- accused of offering Bullard money to move to a different race. Rivas Logan says Korge also approached her last month about swapping races (but offered no money). Both say they declined Korge's offers. Korge denies he offered Bullard "$25,000 cash," but wouldn't say whether he, instead, might have offered campaign help or fundraising support.

Elsewhere in Miami-Dade County, Republican Sen. Rene Garcia, of Hialeah, also drew a last-minute challenger. Until yesterday, he'd been the only candidate to file for the District 36 seat -- which meant he would've been re-elected without opposition.

But Democrat Anabella Grohoski, of Miami Springs, filed her candidacy, setting up a general election campaign.

District 36 includes north-central Miami-Dade County, including Doral and Hialeah.

Miami-Dade Senate candidates say challenger tried to get them out of District 40 race


Miami Democratic state Senate candidate Andrew Korge is so ambitious for public office that he’s willing to go to extremes, his primary opponents say.

In the past month, Korge tried to pay a state senator to switch districts in Miami-Dade County, and he tried to persuade his other competitor to swap races with him, Korge’s two Democratic opponents in District 40 each told the Herald/Times.

Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, said Korge approached both him and his political consultant within the past two weeks and offered $25,000 if Bullard left the District 40 race for the open, coastal seat in District 38 — now being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis.

In a campaign statement, Korge — who on Wednesday switched from the District 39 race to the District 40 contest — said: “I unequivocally deny the accusation that I offered Dwight Bullard $25,000 cash to move to the District 38 Senate race.”

But he wouldn't say whether he offered Bullard the money in campaign support or fundraising help.

And the other Democrat in the August primary -- former state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan -- says Korge also tried to persuade her not to run in District 40, by offering to swap with her for the District 39 race he was previously in.

More here.

June 23, 2016

CBS Miami, part 2: More questions raised about Patrick Murphy's environmental company


After sending shockwaves through Florida and national political circles with its first report on Wednesday, Miami Herald news partner WFOR CBS-4 Miami aired Thursday evening the second installment in its two-part investigation probing deeper into Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy's résumé inflation.

The 4-minute report on Thursday focused on the oil-skimming boats that Coastal Environmental Services -- under Murphy's direction -- owned, developed and operated, which the company promised would "leave conventional skimming vehicles in its wake."

Murphy was vice president of the company for no more than six months after the BP oil spill in 2010 and touts the experience repeatedly on the campaign trail as part of what makes him a "small business owner." (Whether Murphy actually owned the company -- a subsidiary of his dad's construction company -- is unproven, despite his campaign's assertions to the contrary.)

CBS Miami investigative reporter Jim DeFede found that the skimmers Coastal owned weren't actually "tested and proven" the way the company claimed and that other marketing materials it distributed in 2010 inflated the company's experience.

Here is the second part of the investigative report:

The first installment, which aired Wednesday evening, sent the Jupiter congressman's campaign into damage-control and spin mode well into the night and much of Thursday. The Murphy campaign released Thursday morning a detailed point-by-point rebuttal, alleging the CBS Miami report was "deeply false" and "misleading."

While CBS Miami did clarify small aspects of its initial report, the key conclusions of the story are true -- that Murphy never "worked" as a CPA and isn't a "small business owner."

The CBS Miami investigation built off and echoed previous reporting by the Miami Herald, the Tampa Bay Times and Politico Florida, which in recent weeks exposed embellishments and contradictions in Murphy's academic and professional credentials -- including his time at Coastal Environmental and as a CPA.

Republicans quickly capitalized on Wednesday's TV story to slam Murphy, including a new pro-Marco Rubio super PAC -- which released an attack ad Thursday afternoon using footage from the first report.

Read and watch Part 1 of the CBS Miami report here and Part 2 of the investigation here.

Patrick Murphy's campaign responds, says CBS Miami story 'deeply false' - but is it?


MurphyThe morning after Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4 Miami aired part one of its blistering investigation into Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy's touted career accomplishments, the Jupiter congressman's campaign responded in force by accusing the station of airing a "deeply false" and "misleading" story.

In a lengthy "setting the record straight" email to reporters this morning, Murphy's campaign cited about a dozen aspects of CBS Miami's story, which it says are "completely inaccurate." The campaign said "overnight, there were already seven corrections" to the story, reported by Jim DeFede.

However, the online written version of the two-part report -- airing last night and tonight -- denotes no such corrections. It does appear, though, some wording has been clarified from what was first posted Wednesday night.

"CBS Miami's sensational claim is completely false," Murphy campaign manager Josh Wolf said in the statement. "While we know dozens of hopeful Republican staffers will be disappointed, CBS Miami's report shows that Patrick Murphy owned an environmental clean-up company, owned skimming vessels, and had contracts to clean up oil."

"In an effort to be as transparent as possible with proprietary corporate records, our campaign shared over 70 pages of corporate records with CBS Miami and submitted over 2,000 words of answers to questions," Wolf said. "Almost none of the information we provided is reflected in CBS Miami's deeply inaccurate reporting, which invents a story about Patrick's life that is unrecognizable to anyone who knows him."

However, some of the points that Murphy's campaign asserts today are false actually aren't -- including the two key conclusions of DeFede's reporting: That Murphy never "worked" as a CPA and isn't a "small business owner."

And much of what CBS Miami reported Wednesday wasn't new. It built off previous reporting by the Miami Herald, the Tampa Bay Times and Politico Florida, and advanced the probe with new revelations about the nuances of Murphy's narrative.

It's become routine for Murphy and his campaign to dismiss questions and media reports, which have highlighted embellishments and contradictions in the congressman's academic and professional credentials.

Among the points Murphy's campaign says are inaccurate in the CBS Miami story:

Continue reading "Patrick Murphy's campaign responds, says CBS Miami story 'deeply false' - but is it?" »

GOP super PAC accuses Patrick Murphy, Charlie Crist of 'straw donation scheme'


A conservative super PAC aligned with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says it has filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission accusing Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy of orchestrating a "straw donation scheme."

The complaint from the Senate Leadership Fund also names former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, because similar donors gave to Crist's 2010 U.S. Senate campaign as gave to Murphy's first U.S. House race in 2012.

The super PAC bases its accusation on connections that several joint donors to Crist and Murphy have in common with a friend and former classmate of Murphy's: Ibrahim Al-Rashid.

The super PAC has attacked Murphy for weeks over donations he's gotten from the wealthy Al-Rashid, who in 2014 pleaded guilty to a domestic assault charge. The revelation of that criminal case prompted Murphy, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and others -- including former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia of Miami -- to return or donate substantial contributions they'd gotten from the controversial donor.

The Senate Leadership Fund is milking that narrative further by now alleging Murphy, Crist and a dozen of their donors "appear to be part of a highly suspicious network of contributors" to the two politicians. The super PAC alleges that Al-Rashid used several relatives and friends as "straw donors" to circumvent federal campaign contribution limits in giving donations to Murphy's and Crist's campaigns.

Murphy's campaign said the allegations are "totally false."

Continue reading "GOP super PAC accuses Patrick Murphy, Charlie Crist of 'straw donation scheme'" »

June 22, 2016

CBS Miami: Patrick Murphy 'made claims that were misleading or outright false'


UPDATE: 12:40 p.m. June 23 -- Murphy's campaign has disputed several points raised in the CBS Miami report, including some referenced below -- that the campaign provided no contracts to the station and that Murphy had to take his CPA exam nine times. As DeFede mentioned in his report, he did see two contracts, and CBS Miami later amended its online story to clarify that Murphy took parts of his CPA exam nine times, not the full exam nine times. Full details here on the Murphy's rebuttal, which was released the morning after the first of CBS Miami's two-part investigation aired.

ORIGINAL STORY: 9:15 p.m. June 22 --

For several weeks now, various discrepancies and embellishments in Patrick Murphy's resume have come to light, as the Democratic congressman from Jupiter has become more and more of a front-runner in the race for Florida's U.S. Senate seat.

On Wednesday, Jim DeFede of Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4 Miami exposed a few more exaggerations in the first of a two-part scathing report into Murphy's professional credentials.

"For Murphy, the newfound role as the Democrat’s most eligible candidate is extraordinary; and not just because he’s only been a Democrat since 2011," DeFede reports. "Murphy’s rise is extraordinary because of how little he seems to have accomplished to get here."

Building off previous reporting by the Miami Herald, the Tampa Bay Times and Politico Florida, DeFede focused on Murphy's repeated claims that his experience as a certified public accountant and "small business owner" help make him qualified for higher office.

After the CBS Miami investigation, DeFede concluded Murphy "has, in some cases, exaggerated his experience and, in other instances, made claims that were misleading or outright false."

Among those:

-- Murphy has never been a licensed CPA in Florida; he's registered in Colorado and never practiced as a CPA in Florida. This, the Herald/Times has reported -- but DeFede found that Murphy had to take the exam nine times before he got licensed. And without a valid CPA license in Florida, Murphy could not have actually signed off on any audit work he did while at Deloitte & Touche, one expert told DeFede.

-- Murphy's claim that he was tasked with looking for "inefficiencies, waste and fraud" is also misleading, according to experts DeFede talked to. Murphy's title on his application for a CPA license listed him as "audit assistant," an entry-level position one professor told DeFede "is kind of like a gopher."

-- As to Murphy's claims that he was a "small business owner," that's not an accurate claim, either. He was vice president of Coastal Environmental Services, but that was a subsidiary of his father's Coastal Construction Company -- not Murphy's own business and certainly not one he started from scratch. DeFede found that "Murphy, with his father's help, bought a business that was already doing business here in the Gulf of Mexico."

-- Murphy's description of how he "led cleanup efforts" after the BP oil spill continues to evolve. First, from what he told the Times then the Herald/Times in May, and now to what he and his campaign told DeFede and CBS Miami. Most notably, DeFede found Coastal Environmental was "not awarded a single contract for clean-up in the Gulf."

-- DeFede said Murphy's campaign told him it would turn over financial records to prove that Coastal Environmental was successful and "turned a modest profit," but they didn't actually provide a financial statement. And of the documents CBS Miami could review, the Murphy campaign made the station agree not to report any dollar amounts or company names, DeFede said.

-- The four oil skimmers that Coastal Environmental bought in 2010, briefly used and still own now sit in storage in Louisiana and Alabama, DeFede reported, and the company is losing money every month because of it, he said. 

When faced in the past with questions about the discrepancies in his academic and professional resumes, Murphy has been dismissive. (Watch here.)

Watch Part 1 of DeFede's report above. Part 2 airs Thursday evening. Or you can read his full report online now.

*This post has been corrected to indicate the oil skimmers were briefly used.

U.S. Senate poll: Rubio clear favorite in primary, Democrats largely undecided


New internal poll results released this afternoon by a Republican super PAC show that almost two-thirds of Democrats remain undecided in that party's primary for Florida's U.S. Senate race, but incumbent Marco Rubio is -- unexpectedly -- an instant front-runner in the dwindling GOP field.

The Senate Leadership Fund, which is affiliated with Karl Rove's American Crossroads super PAC, commissioned polls in both primaries earlier this week -- before Rubio made his announcement Wednesday morning that he'd seek re-election.

The automated telephone surveys were conducted June 19-20 by Pop Polling.

Out of 530 registered Democrats surveyed, 62 percent said they were still undecided in the August primary contest, according to the polling memo. Among those who weren't, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, of Jupiter, led U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, of Orlando, 19 percent to 15 percent. Miami labor attorney and former naval officer Pam Keith had 5 percent support.

The poll of the Democratic field had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

On the Republican side, only three candidates' names were included in the survey: Rubio, Manatee County developer Carlos Beruff and Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox. (Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, of Ponte Vedra Beach, were not included in the poll; although, they didn't drop out of the race until earlier today after Rubio announced his decision.)

Rubio earned 57 percent support among the 487 registered Republicans surveyed, according to the polling memo. Beruff got 5 percent support and Wilcox got 4 percent support, while 34 percent of respondents said they were undecided.

The Republican survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Although the polls were from a partisan source, the strength of Rubio's candidacy reflected in the Senate Leadership Fund's results somewhat echo what the latest Quinnipiac University poll of the race showed when it was released early this morning.

Rubio fared well in both -- but the two polls can't be compared because the Q poll didn't survey each party primary. Rather, it looked at potential head-to-head general election match-ups in November. It signaled that Republicans' best shot to win the election would be with Rubio.

The Senate Leadership Fund's poll did not survey head-to-head general election possibilities, but the leader of the super PAC expressed confidence based on both the Q poll and its own internal polling.

"These numbers confirm that Marco Rubio is the Democrats’ worst nightmare in their dream of putting this Florida Senate seat in Hillary Clinton’s pocket," said Steven Law, former chief of staff to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and president of Senate Leadership Fund. "Not only is Rubio a clear favorite in the Republican primary, but the Democrats' primary is a dogfight between two scandal-tainted politicians, the resume-puffing Patrick Murphy and the unethical hedge fund manager Alan Grayson."

Both Grayson and Murphy have said they welcome Rubio's entry into the race; they're eager to take him on and confident in their prospects.

Florida's U.S. Senate race will be a grueling fight in the months ahead, because the seat could decide which party controls the Senate in 2017. The party primaries are Aug. 30.

Grayson, Murphy join fellow House members in sit-in over gun bills


Several Florida Democrats -- including U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy, the two main contenders in the Democratic primary for Florida's U.S. Senate race -- are among the dozens of members of Congress participating in a sit-in protest this afternoon on the U.S. House floor to persuade Republican leaders to take up "no fly, no buy" legislation.

The protest began before noon, led by Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

Both Grayson and Murphy support the "no fly, no buy" bill, which would prevent people on the FBI's terrorist watchlist from buying guns. A Senate vote on the issue failed earlier this week.

Just after 2 p.m., Murphy stepped away from the sit-in for about 15 minutes to speak with state and national reporters on a conference call arranged by his U.S. Senate campaign for Murphy to comment on Republican Marco Rubio's decision today to seek re-election. Murphy said gun control reform "is going to be one of the defining issues of this Senate race," and he blasted Rubio for voting against reform proposals.

Many members of Congress, including Grayson and Murphy, shared pictures of themselves on social media to capture the sit-in, since the official House cameras were turned off amid the disruption. (As an alternative, CSPAN was airing a live Periscope feed from U.S. Rep. Scott Peters of California.)

Continue reading "Grayson, Murphy join fellow House members in sit-in over gun bills" »

Andrew Korge switches Florida Senate races in Miami-Dade

@ByKristenMClark & @MaryEllenKlas


In a major shake-up for two of Miami-Dade’s closely watched state Senate races, Democrat Andrew Korge is once again switching which public office he wants voters to elect him to in November.

Instead of challenging Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores in District 39, Korge will now run for the District 40 seat, he told the Herald/Times, confirming rumors that have swirled in South Florida political circles for the past couple weeks.

His decision sets up a three-way Democratic primary in District 40 against former state representative Ana Rivas Logan and current state Sen. Dwight Bullard and all-but-hands Flores her re-election unless Democrats can produce a viable replacement to challenge her with two days left in the qualifying period.

Korge planned to announce his decision Wednesday afternoon, when he filed his qualifying papers in Tallahassee. Candidates have until noon Friday to qualify and thereby secure their places on the August primary or November general election ballots.

“As a third-generation Miamian, it has long been a dream of mine to serve my community as a member of the Florida Senate, to create a better future for our children, to improve public schools and protect college students, and create high-wage jobs for hard-working, middle-class families,” Korge said in a statement. “District 40, where I grew up and spent half of my life, offers the best opportunity to do that.”

More here.