April 11, 2016

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



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



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



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.

March 22, 2016

Former U.S. Attorney Ken Sukhia announces bid for Gwen Graham's seat in Congress

From the News Service of Florida:

Former U.S. Attorney Ken Sukhia formally announced Tuesday that he will run for a newly redrawn U.S. House seat held by Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Graham.

Speaking at a park in Tallahassee across the street from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Sukhia told a few dozen supporters that he would fight for conservative values if elected.

"I stand here this afternoon because I love our country, and I want to save our core principles," said Sukhia, a Republican. "I want to be used in the battle and to know that when the foundations were being attacked, I did my part to defend them. I believe I am proven and prepared for this fight."

Sukhia has long been involved in Republican legal circles, serving as U.S. attorney for North Florida under President George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s, and working as a private attorney on recount litigation for George W. Bush in 2000.

Sukhia enters a GOP primary race that already includes Neal Dunn, a surgeon who has raised more than $700,000 when his own money is included, and Mary Thomas, a lawyer at the Florida Department of Elder Affairs who has raised almost $300,000 counting what she has chipped into her campaign.

While Graham ousted Republican incumbent Steve Southerland in 2014 despite a GOP wave across the country, a new redistricting plan makes the 2nd Congressional District heavily tilted against Democrats. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried the redrawn district by almost 31 points in 2012.

March 21, 2016

Matt Gaetz launches bid for Congress, handing father's state Senate seat to George Gainer



State Rep. Matt Gaetz is forgoing his bid to replace his father in the Florida Senate and is, instead, now running for U.S. Congress.

Gaetz announced his congressional campaign this morning with a 30-second Facebook video and a rebranded mattgaetz.com, with the slogan: "Fight Washington, Restore America."

"It isn’t too late for America to get back on track," Gaetz says on his website. "We’ve taken some hits with Obamacare, the Iran deal, and illegal executive actions, but I know we can reverse those decisions and get real solutions. I will work hard to bring back the conservative principles this country was founded on, and I won’t stop working until it happens."

The Fort Walton Beach Republican is seeking Jeff Miller's seat to represent Florida's 1st Congressional District, which includes the western Panhandle. Miller isn't seeking re-election.

Gaetz registered his campaign with the Federal Election Commission on Sunday, so he can begin fundraising immediately.

I'm running...

#FightWashington #RestoreAmerica

Posted by Representative Matt Gaetz on Monday, March 21, 2016


Gaetz, a commercial litigator, has been a staunch conservative in the state House in the past six years. During the 2016 session, he was involved in some of the most contentious and high-profile issues the Legislature discussed, such as medical marijuana, tax cuts, fantasy sports, Uber regulations, and advocating for the open-carrying of handguns in Florida.

Gaetz had been in a hotly contested primary race against Bay County Commissioner George Broward Gainer to fill Don Gaetz's seat in the state Senate next year. Matt Gaetz and Gainer combined had raised over $1.6 million in that race. (Don Gaetz is term-limited.)

Matt Gaetz's departure from the Senate contest all-but hands the Republican-heavy seat to Gainer. In the 2012 presidential race, Mitt Romney took the district with 74 percent of the vote.

The congressional contest should be an easier battle for Gaetz, but he still might face stiff competition. As of Friday, current state Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, had also been weighing a run for Miller's seat.

"While I planned to continue serving in the Florida Legislature, the fights we must win to save this country are in Washington," Gaetz said in a statement announcing his campaign. "When Donald Trump is president, Northwest Florida’s voice in Congress must ring loud and clear for bold, conservative reform. Mine will."

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

March 18, 2016

South Florida Republicans break with GOP in deportation vote


Only five Republican lawmakers stood up to their party leader in voting against allowing House Speaker Paul Ryan to file an amicus brief opposing President Barack Obama's decision to withhold deportation for more than 5 million undocumented immigrants.

All three Cuban-American representatives from South Florida -- Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Marco Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo -- were among the five Republicans who voted against a resolution that the House passed Thursday almost entirely along party lines.

The Supreme Court next month will hear a case brought by Texas, joined by Florida and 24 other states, arguing that Obama's bid to shield about 5.2 million illegal aliens from deportation imposes unaffordable health-care, education, law-enforcement and other costs on them.

Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who replaced Ohioan John Boehner as speaker in October, acknowledged that House intervention in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court was unprecedented, but he insisted it was necessary to prevent executive overreach by Obama.

With no Democrats voting for the bill, Ryan and other Republicans said Obama's executive orders dating to 2012 amount to the president legislating immigration reform without going through Congress.

"I recognize that this is a very extraordinary step," Ryan said on the House floor. "I feel it is very necessary, though. In fact, I believe this is vital."

In a joint statement Friday, Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart said that although individual members of Congress have the right to file briefs supporting court cases, the House as a whole should not do so.

"All amicus briefs should carry the same weight, and beginning this pattern may signal to the Supreme Court that Congress is prioritizing certain cases over others," the two Miami Republicans said.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a first-term Republican from Kendall, went further. He accused Republicans of playing politics with the important issue of immigration.

"For two long, both parties have preferred to score petty political points using the immigration issue rather than passing meaningful reform to secure the border, reform our visa system and find a fair solution for the undocumented," Curbelo said.

"The surest and most constitutionally solvent way to end the president's executive overreach is to pass meaningful immigration reform, not by employing empty tactics that ignore the root cause of the problem," he said.

The two other Republicans who voted against the House resolution were Reps. Richard Hanna of New York and Robert Dold of Illinois. Rep. Alex Mooney, a West Virginia Republican and one of five other Cuban-Americans in Congress, voted for the measure, which passed by a 234-186 margin.

Among Florida's 24 other U.S. House members, 22 voted along party lines, with Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel and Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan failing to vote.

Nine other Florida Democrats voted against the measure, among them Reps. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

Two lower courts have ruled in favor of the states, most recently the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals based in New Orleans.

With only eight justices on the Supreme Court since Justice Antonin Scalia's death last month, a 4-4 decision after the scheduled April 18 arguments would uphold the lower courts' rulings and overturn Obama's executive orders protecting millions of undocumented parents and their children from deportation.

Obama on Wednesday chose Merrick Garland, a former federal prosecutor and current judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to replace Scalia on the high court, but Senate Republican leaders are refusing to take a vote or even hold hearings on the nomination, saying Obama has only 10 months left in office.

Immigration has become perhaps the most divisive issue in the presidential campaign, with Republican front-runner Donald Trump vowing to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat of Puerto Rican descent, ridiculed Republican lawmakers, many of whom he said have disingenuously tried to distance themselves from Trump's hardline stance on immigration.

"They keep saying, 'Well, Trump doesn't represent us, he doesn't (represent) our views, he doesn't represent our values,' and now they want to know where Trump gets all of his anti-immigrant, xenophobic views from," Gutierrez told reporters. "Try the House of Republicans."

In a speech Friday on the House floor, Gutierrez accused his Republican colleagues of "stoking anti-immigrant fears and mass-deportation fantasies."

"The vote is a political stunt disguised as a legal brief because the Republican majority sees a crass political opportunity to stand with the anti-immigration wing of their party," he said.  

The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and 60 individual business leaders, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, filed an amicus brief supporting Obama last week.

Before the vote Thursday, Democratic Rep. Linda Sanchez, head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said "the Latino community is being used for political purposes."

Sanchez added: "We are being demonized, we are being marginalized, and we see a frightening level of hateful rhetoric and vile hate speech aimed at our community, and nobody is standing up within the Republican Party to say that this is unacceptable."

America's Voice, a pro-immigration advocacy group, said the vote Thursday was the eighth "anti-immigration" vote taken by Republicans in the current session of Congress.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 223 other Democrats filed an amicus brief backing Obama earlier this month, but there was no vote on the brief and it represents them as individuals.

In still another amicus brief, almost 120 cities and counties across the United States on March 8 expressed support for Obama, among them Pembroke Pines, Tampa and Sunrise.


March 16, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott has Miami Hurricanes victorious, FGCU going far in March Madness bracket



In his official prediction for this year's NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament, Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott is favoring his home-state teams.

He picked the University of Miami Hurricanes to go all the way and claim the National Championship over the Michigan State Spartans.

He's also predicting Florida Gulf Coast University will make it to the Elite Eight. He has the Eagles besting No. 1-seeded North Carolina, USC and Kentucky before losing to West Virginia in the East regional finals.

Scott posted a signed copy of his selections on Twitter this afternoon, including a photo of himself filling out the bracket:

Continue reading "Gov. Rick Scott has Miami Hurricanes victorious, FGCU going far in March Madness bracket" »