April 18, 2016

National, state teachers unions endorse Patrick Murphy for U.S. Senate

@ByKristenMClark

The state's largest teachers union and its two national affiliates are endorsing Democrat Patrick Murphy in Florida's U.S. Senate race.

The Florida Education Association threw its support behind the Jupiter congressman with an announcement Monday morning in Palm Beach County. The FEA represents over 140,000 teachers and school support professionals in the state.

President Joanne McCall said, at the FEA's recommendation, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers back Murphy's U.S. Senate bid, too.

"We support Patrick Murphy for U.S. Senate because he has proven time and time again wholehearted commitment to education and Florida’s teachers and education staff professionals," McCall said. "Patrick has stood with our teachers, education staff professionals, parents and students when it mattered the most. He knows that there is nothing more important to Florida's children's futures than a high-quality education."

Murphy said he'd continue to support fully funding education including Title I and Head Start programs, better teacher pay and universal access to pre-K education, as well as backing away from high-stakes standardized testing.

"We’re setting back an entire generation. We’ve got to make sure we’re moving toward debt-free education," Murphy said during his remarks.

Murphy has racked up establishment endorsements during the course of his bid for Marco Rubio's open U.S. Senate seat. Other union support includes the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Florida Teamsters, among others.

His primary opponent -- fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando -- has also gotten support from some unions, including the Communications Workers of America.

Rep. Lake Ray interested in Ander Crenshaw's congressional seat

@ByKristenMClark

An outgoing state House member from Jacksonville says he's exploring a bid to replace Ander Crenshaw in the U.S. Congress.

Republican State Rep. Lake Ray announced his plans on Twitter this morning to campaign for Florida's Fourth Congressional District seat.

"We need to make sure NE Florida is well-represented," Ray wrote. "This congressional race will be about experience. We can't afford to have someone learn on the job."

Every hour for 10 hours today, Ray plans to tweet accomplishments "that will demonstrate why I am exploring this run."

Ray was first elected to the Florida House in 2008; he faces term limits and can't run for re-election. Before his time in the Legislature, he was on the Jacksonville City Council from 1999-2007.

Crenshaw, 71, announced last week that he wouldn't seek re-election to Congress after serving eight terms in office.

Several Jacksonville-area legislators have been named as possible candidates in the race to replace him.

As of Monday morning, only one person had filed with the Federal Election Commission for the open seat: St. Johns County Commissioner Bill McClure, a Republican who runs a health care technology company in St. Augustine.

April 14, 2016

Florida Strong goes after Miami Sen. Anitere Flores with mailers

@ByKristenMClark

An independent advocacy organization is highlighting Sen. Anitere Flores' former ties to Doral College in a direct-mail campaign in the Miami Republican's district.

The mailers from Florida Strong are part of an ongoing "Got Ethics?" campaign that the group launched earlier this year to call for ethics reform and to highlight lawmakers' ties to special interests.

Florida Strong said the mailers started arriving in Flores' constituents' mailboxes today. The group declined to say how much it spent for the mailers, which accuse Flores of being "part of the problem" of lawmakers accepting money from special interest groups. View it here.

"This in-district communication is a continuation of our statewide program to hold Florida legislators accountable and educate concerned citizens about policies that impact their lives," Florida Strong executive director Charly Norton said. "This past session, Senator Flores had an opportunity to pass real ethics reform legislation, but chose not to. Instead, she has kept open the loopholes that allow for the kinds of potential conflicts we see her personally benefiting from on the backs of Miami-Dade taxpayers. Senator Flores ought to answer these lingering questions and take action to address the rampant corruption and cronyism here in Florida."

From 2011 until last July, Flores was president of Doral College, which is run by Academica -- a for-profit company that's believed to be Florida's largest charter school operator. A few Miami-Dade Republican lawmakers, such as Flores, who have voted in support of charter schools have connections to Academica.

Florida has broad voting conflict laws for state officers. Legislators are only required to abstain from voting in narrow situations where they will be directly affected by new law or regulations. If a proposal could affect a them indirectly — through a family member or an employer — they can still vote.

Flores has defended her work with the college, which is still seeking accreditation.

"Doral College is an independent non-profit college that I did help establish with the mission of offering college access to low-income students at no cost to them or their families," Flores said in a text message last month, after a national Democratic advocacy group lobbed similar complaints of corruption against her through a web ad.

The attacks against Flores come as she faces a contentious battle for re-election to the Florida Senate in November.

In the District 39 race, she's competing against Democrats Andrew Korge and Daniel Horton, who are poised to square off in the Aug. 30 primary. The race is shaping up to be the most expensive Senate contest in the state, with $1.2 million raised by the end of March.

April 11, 2016

Alan Grayson raises $800K in first quarter, loans another $200K to U.S. Senate campaign

Grayson

@ByKristenMClark

Democrat Alan Grayson reports having had his most successful fundraising period to date since entering the race for Marco Rubio's U.S. Senate seat last July.

But with a crowded slate of candidates, the latest fundraising numbers for the Orlando congressman continue to fall short of his competitors.

Grayson announced this afternoon that he'd raised about $800,000 during the first three months of 2016, of which $700,000 came from online contributions.

His campaign emphasized continuing grassroots support from small-dollar donors -- noting that Grayson has gotten more than 81,000 individual contributions since entering the race and that his first-quarter haul "arrived largely from average online donations of about $16."

“This is what real democracy looks like, when thousands of average citizens give what small amount they can to help elect a true progressive, someone who’s proven he gets things done,” Grayson political director Mario Piscatella said in a statement.

But there are signs that Grayson continues to burn through money.

Grayson, who has historically helped self-fund his political endeavors, reported giving his campaign a $200,000 loan last quarter. That's on top of two $100,000 loans Grayson gave his campaign during the latter half of 2015 and a $50,000 loan he gave about two weeks before officially diving into the Senate race.

His campaign also reported entering April with about $400,000 in cash on hand, about double what he had in the bank going in to 2016 but a modest amount compared to his competitors.

By contrast, his Democratic opponent in the August primary -- fellow U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter -- announced this morning he'd raised $2 million during the first three months of 2016. Murphy also reported having $5.6 million in cash on hand, about 14 times more than Grayson says he has.

Among Republicans, Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, said last week that he'd raked in $1.1 million between January and March and had $3.2 million in cash on hand.

The other four Republican candidates have yet to release numbers. They are: U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami, Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox and Sarasota home-builder Carlos Beruff.

Democrat Pam Keith, a North Palm Beach attorney, also hasn't announced her figures. Her fundraising in previous quarters has been nominal.

First-quarter campaign finance reports are due to the Federal Election Commission on April 15.

Photo credit: AP

Patrick Murphy's U.S. Senate campaign reports raising $2 million in first quarter

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@ByKristenMClark

Democrat Patrick Murphy is continuing his streak of sizable fundraising in his bid for Marco Rubio's U.S. Senate seat.

The congressman from Jupiter announced today that he'd raised $2 million in the first three months of 2016, entering April with $5.6 million in cash on hand.

Murphy's campaign -- which has had significant support from establishment donors who typically give four-figure contributions -- noted that more than 85 percent of the contributions raised in the first quarter were under $200.

Murphy's primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, is more often the one to emphasize support from small-dollar donors. Grayson has not released his first-quarter numbers yet.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, was the first of the crowded crop of Senate candidates to announce his quarterly fundraising. DeSantis announced last week that he'd raked in $1.1 million between January and March and had $3.2 million in cash on hand.

The other four Republican candidates have yet to release numbers. They are: U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami, Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox and Sarasota home-builder Carlos Beruff.

First-quarter campaign finance reports are due to the Federal Election Commission on April 15.

Heading into 2016, Murphy had maintained a wide lead in fundraising over all other candidates. Murphy's campaign said today it has raised nearly $8.2 million to date.

“Opening 2016 with this kind of milestone is a sign that our campaign has strong grassroots support across Florida and will have the resources to win in August and in November,” Murphy campaign manager Josh Wolf said in a statement.

Murphy's latest fundraising numbers do not include dollars raised through "Floridians for a Strong Middle Class," a super PAC that's also raising money in support of Murphy's Senate run but is prohibited from coordinating with his official campaign. Super PACs are not bound by the $2,700-per-race cap on individual contributions -- as candidate's campaign committees are. "Floridians for a Strong Middle Class" hasn't announced its quarterly fundraising intake yet.

Photo credit: Walter Michot / Miami Herald

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."

Senate Republican leaders endorse Dana Young

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@ByKristenMClark

Six prominent Republicans in the Florida Senate have endorsed House Majority Leader Rep. Dana Young in her bid for the new District 18 Senate seat, representing South Tampa and Hillsborough County.

The Republican leaders announced their support for Young, a Tampa Republican, through a joint statement sent out today by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Her supporters include the next three likely Senate presidents: Sens. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby. Assuming Republicans maintain control of the chamber, Negron is due to take over as president in November, Galvano (the current Senate majority leader) is set to succeed him in 2018 and Simpson is on track to be president in 2020.

"Dana Young is a hard-working, principled leader who in the Florida House fought tirelessly against big government policies that hinder our small business and economy," Negron said in the statement. "She will be a great addition to the Florida Senate."

Also endorsing Young today were: Sens. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, and Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who's poised to be Appropriations chairman under Negron.

Young was first elected to the House in 2010, and she was one of the first women to be named majority leader in the chamber.

So far, she faces no opponents in the District 18 race. But the South Tampa district has the potential to be competitive. In 2012, it went 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent for Barack Obama.

Photo credit: Florida House Majority Leader Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, right, talks with Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, during the 2015 session. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times.

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.

Payday loan issue divides U.S. Senate candidates Murphy and Grayson

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON — Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is facing intense criticism, including TV ads, for supporting a bill consumer advocates say weakens regulations on payday lenders.

But less noticed is support from other Florida Democrats, including U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy, who like Wasserman Schultz has received significant contributions from the industry.

Their stance puts them at odds with liberal icon Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, which seeks to crackdown on payday lenders charging exorbitant interest.

Murphy is an original co-sponsor of the bill along with several other Florida lawmakers, who say it would harm regulations passed years ago by the state Legislature. The bill was introduced by Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, and has gained the backing of much of the Florida delegation.

“Florida lawmakers know that before 2001, the payday lending industry was running roughshod over consumers in the Sunshine State. The State House and Senate voted unanimously at the time to make reforms that fifteen years later, better protect consumers while still preserving access to credit for working families who need it. The cosponsors of H.R. 4018 believe Florida's model and experience can be instructive to CFPB as it considers its national rulemaking,” said Sean Bartlett, Wasserman Schutlz’s communications director.

But consumer advocates say the Florida law was heavily influenced by payday lenders.

Continue reading "Payday loan issue divides U.S. Senate candidates Murphy and Grayson" »

National liberal group targets Anitere Flores as 'queen of corruption' in Florida

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@ByKristenMClark

A national Democratic advocacy group has proclaimed Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores to be "The Queen of Corruption" in Florida because of her past work with the unaccredited Doral College in Miami-Dade County.

In an online video this week -- that declares her "Florida's most corrupt politician" -- Occupy Democrats takes Flores to task for her former job as president of the college and for supporting legislation that benefited Florida's charter school industry.

The group alleges she "takes tax dollars meant for education and pockets them" for her own enrichment and those of her "friends."

Doral College is run by Academica, a for-profit company that's believed to be Florida's largest charter school operator and that a few Miami-Dade Republican lawmakers have connections to. Flores worked as president of Doral College from its inception in 2011 until July 2015.

Occupy Democrats -- which bills itself as a "counterbalance" to the conservative tea party movement -- posted its video Monday on Facebook, sharing it with nearly 2.6 million fans on the site. As of noon today, the video had 250,000 views and counting. It's also been shared more than 7,500 times.

Flores said Occupy Democrats was lobbing "recycled and baseless attacks."

 

Meet Senator Anitere Flores, a Florida politician who's enriched herself with state funds that were supposed to go...

Posted by Occupy Democrats on Monday, March 21, 2016

 

"Doral College is an independent non-profit college that I did help establish with the mission of offering college access to low-income students at no cost to them or their families," Flores said in a text message.

"Doral College is regulated by the state and completed a rigorous process to receive a Florida license" and is pursuing accreditation, which takes several years, Flores said. "Every institution of higher education starts off without being accredited." 

The video inaccurately claims that Flores is "still employed" by "Doral College's parent company," but Flores has never worked for Academica. Since leaving Doral College last summer, she now works as development director for The A.C.E. Foundation, a non-profit that supports charter schools that serve at-risk students.

It's unclear why the national political group chose to target Flores specifically -- the group could not be immediately reached for comment -- but it's likely their reasoning has to do with Flores being potentially vulnerable in her bid for re-election in November.

Democrats are looking to pick up more seats in the state Senate under newly redrawn district maps. Flores faces Democrat Andrew Korge -- the son of prominent Hillary Clinton donor Chris Korge -- in what's expected to be a competitive contest for the new District 39 seat, which leans Hispanic and Democratic. (Independent Sheila Lucas George has also filed in the race.)

Korge and Flores both plan to move into the district, which spans western and southern Miami-Dade County and Monroe County, including the Florida Keys. (Flores and Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard worked out a deal where Flores would move to avoid facing Bullard in the new District 40, where both now live.)

Flores isn't the only Florida lawmaker with ties to the charter school industry -- or specifically Doral College and Academica -- but unlike some of the others, she faces a tough contest in November.

State Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, is the current chief operating officer and former dean of Doral College. He is seeking re-election to the House in what's expected to be a non-competitive race.

Meanwhile, the sister and brother-in-law of outgoing state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, are executives at Academica. Fresen is a land consultant for a firm that specializes in building charter schools, many for Academica. He faces term limits and won't be on the November ballot.