April 26, 2016

Here's why Florida's CFO won't accept Jeffrey Bragg as the new state insurance commissioner


After the Florida Cabinet again deadlocked over who to make the new insurance commissioner, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said he is just not certain that the man Gov. Rick Scott is committed to for the job has the right background for the post.

Moments after Scott and Atwater, both Republicans, declared another impasse in picking a commissioner, Atwater told reporters that he doesn't know if Pinellas County resident Jeffrey Bragg has the required private sector experience or regulatory experience to even legally hold the position of Florida Insurance Commissioner.

"I don't know the answer to that," Atwater told reporters.

Bragg, a 67-year-old Republican who lives in Palm Harbor, ran the nation's terrorism risk insurance program from 2003 until his retirement in 2014. In the early 1980s, he worked under the Reagan Administration, serving in the Federal Emergency Management Agency where he was the administrator for the national flood insurance program. 

Between those appointments, Bragg worked in the private sector, including as a senior vice president for Zurich Risk Management from 2001 to 2003 and as executive vice president for IMSG in St. Petersburg from 1997 to 2000.

During a public interview with Bragg on Tuesday during the cabinet meeting, Atwater said he tried to probe him about his regulatory background to get answers as to whether Bragg really is qualified to regulate Florida's insurance market. 

"He wasn't regulating players offering products in the private sector market place or who the complied with his programs," Atwater said.

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March 07, 2016

Life insurance companies would have to do more to find beneficiaries under bill that passes Florida House



Life insurance companies will have to do more to track down beneficiaries of the deceased under a bill that passed the Florida House on Monday and goes back to the Florida Senate for final approval.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater has made the issue a top priority this year because he said there is a systemic practice within the life insurance industry in which many companies are sitting on billions of dollars in overdue, unpaid life insurance benefits. He said some companies are doing little to track down families whose loved ones paid their premiums for years.

"For years insurance companies had no trouble sending their agents to their house for the weekly payment," Atwater said during a Senate Banking and Insurance committee meeting on the topic in January. "They knew exactly where they lived for 20 years. But now that it may be time to pay up, it’s a horrified hardship to find that individual."

Atwater said some insurance companies have made it so the only way beneficiaries can collect is if they can locate the policy paperwork, of which they may not be aware, and present a death certificate to the company.

Under Senate Bill 966 insurers would be required to search the Social Security Administration's Death Master File for all of their policyholders retroactively to 1992 and every year going forward. If a beneficiary cannot be found, the insurance company must turn the policy over to the State of Florida’s Unclaimed Property Program, currently overseen by Atwater, where the state will continue to look for rightful beneficiaries.

The House passed the bill on a 109-0 vote. It now goes back to the Florida Senate. If the bill is approved there it would go to Gov. Rick Scott for his approval.

February 04, 2016

Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today in Tallahassee

Legislative committees continue meeting in Tallahassee, while the state's top officials go to the fair. Here's what we're watching:

* They won't have an official cabinet meeting, but Republican Gov. Rick Scott, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi will still be at the Florida State Fair in Tampa to help kick off the festivities. The governor will host a luncheon there at noon.

* At 9 a.m., the House Judiciary Committee will again take up the proposed "Pastor Protection Act," which allows clergy to turn away gay couples seeking to marry. The committee's vote was postponed last week.

* The House State Affairs Committee could vote to send to the House floor a proposal that changes the legal language of Florida's absentee voting to "vote-by-mail." That panel also meets at 9 a.m.

* The Senate Transportation Committee, also gathering at 9 a.m., will give a first hearing to a bill by Republican Sens. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, and Anitere Flores of Miami, which aims to outlaw the use of red-light camera devices in Florida.

* A bill dealing with cremation fees that counties charge is set for its final committee hearing in the House. The Regulatory Affairs Committee meets at 1 p.m.

September 30, 2015

Florida CFO Jeff Atwater reconsidering U.S. Senate race


Almost six months after Jeff Atwater unequivocally declared he would not be a candidate for the U.S. Senate, the state’s elected chief financial officer is once again considering jumping into the contest saying there is still a possibility he will run in 2016.

Atwater said friends and people he has deep respect for have been constantly asking him if he might be a candidate, despite his April declaration he would not run.

“Yea, I would say there is still a possibility of that,” Atwater, a Republican from Palm Beach County, said in an interview with the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau.

The GOP field for the U.S. Senate is crowded, but mostly with candidates who have never run for statewide office before. The field already includes U.S. Reps David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, and Ron Desantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, as well as Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox. U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson are the leading candidates running for the Democratic nomination. 

Early polls have shown voters unfamiliar with any of the GOP candidates running. While Atwater is far from a household name, he has run two statewide campaigns in 2010 and last year’s 2014 re-election.

Atwater was thought to be a front runner if he got in the race because of his elective experience. Prior to being chief financial officer he was a member of the Florida Legislature, where he rose to become Senate President in 2008. But Atwater stunned GOP insiders in April when he told the Times/Herald he would not run for the U.S. Senate.

"While I have certainly taken these words of support under consideration, I will not be a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2016," Atwater later posted on Facebook.

But it was a different answer this week asked about running for the seat.

“We won’t rule that out,” Atwater said.

The U.S. Senate seat open in 2016 is currently held by Marco Rubio, who is not seeking re-election so he can run for president.

July 22, 2015

Does Greece have three times as many government workers as Florida as Jeff Atwater says?

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater capitalized on news about the floundering Greek economy to point out a new report that said the Florida economy was doing just fine.

In an "open letter to the people of Florida," Atwater said the Sunshine State had been ranked fifth in fiscal solvency by George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. He then contrasted Florida’s success with the beleaguered European nation.

"A country in economic peril, Greece’s priorities have historically been very different from Florida’s," Atwater wrote on July 13, 2015. "For example, Greeks depend much more on their government for employment and services. Although we have twice the population of Greece, the State of Florida employs three times fewer government employees."

PunditFact previously confirmed that Greece’s economic output is comparable to Miami, but could that 3-to-1 comparison of public-sector workers be accurate? Yes, if you’re looking at Florida’s direct employees, but experts we talked to said Atwater’s comparison is deeply flawed.

Read more from Joshua Gillin at PolitiFact Florida.

July 17, 2015

State CFO Atwater still politically active even if next political move unclear


Jeff Atwater cannot run for re-election as the state’s Chief Financial Officer because of term limits.

And he declared earlier this year that he will not run for the U.S. Senate in 2016 as once was expected.

But you wouldn’t know either by recent activity in a fundraising committee the Republican runs or his political travel schedule last month.

Last week, the Atwater's committee, Government That Works For You, paid a West Palm Beach political consultant $15,000 – his largest single expense since he created the committee in August 2014. He also used the fund to pay $5,000 each to consultants based in Jacksonville and Tallahassee in May.

He also raised another $20,000 for the account in June. All told, he’s now raised $145,100 for the campaign account and has only spent $32,527 of that as of his July 9 payment to the West Palm Beach political consulting firm, Public Concepts.

And Atwater has been a regular on the Republican speakers circuit, acting as the keynote speaker at two Republican Party Lincoln Day dinners in June (Leon County and Brevard County), and giving a speech at another in Miami-Dade.

The activity in June and July comes even though Atwater has not offered any new hints about whether he’s considering running for another office when his term as chief financial officer ends in 2018. He could not be reached for further comment on Friday.

July 15, 2015

Adam Putnam fundraising numbers add to 2018 governor race speculation


Florida Agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam has ramped up his fundraising activities, amassing nearly $2 million for a political committee he controls just since March.

Putnam, frequently mentioned as a likely candidate for governor in 2018, reported raising more than $460,000 just in June alone. He now has raised $1.8 million total for a political action committee called Florida Grown.

His biggest donors since March have included Jupiter beer distributor J.J. Taylor Companies, Manatee County insurance company FCCI and Little River Plantation Holdings, a company with ties to Mike Fernandez, a major GOP fundraiser in Florida. Each gave Florida Grown $100,000 each since April. Another $100,000 combined came on the last day in May from U.S. Sugar Corporation and South Central Florida Express Inc, a rail line owned by U.S. Sugar.

Putnam’s largest contribution came from another political action committee he previously ran called the Sunshine State Leadership Project. That fund transferred nearly $400,000 to Putnam’s new committee on April 30.

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July 13, 2015

Florida CFO slams Greece for fiscal irresponsibility


Florida's elected chief financial officer Jeff Atwater is trying to use Greece’s fiscal troubles to tout how much better he believes Florida is managed.

Atwater, a Palm Beach County Republican first elected in 2010, sent out "An open letter to the people of Florida" in which he lists out Greece's financial short comings as proof Florida is well managed.

"Through the lens of current events across our nation and globally, we see the catastrophic consequences of failing to exercise fiscal responsibility," Atwater says in the two-page letter. "A country in economic peril, Greece’s priorities have historically been very different from Florida's."

The Greeks rely too much on their government for employment and services, Atwater says. Also the European nation has a 26 percent unemployment rate and a gross domestic product output far worse than Florida’s, he said.

"This fiscal irresponsibility has profoundly affected the lives of Greek citizens," Atwater said.

Read his full letter here.

June 12, 2015

Jeb Bush secures endorsements from top Florida Republicans ahead of campaign kickoff

@PatriciaMazzei @learyreports

Jeb Bush will gain endorsements Friday from a host of top Florida Republicans, including Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

Bush will also be endorsed by 11 of the state’s 17 Republican members of the U.S. House.

The endorsements, obtained first by the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, come as Bush prepares for his official announcement on Monday in Miami, home also to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who has emerged as a strong candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

With people beginning to talk up Sunshine State showdown between Bush and Rubio, the list is a way for Bush to show off the depth and geographical range of his support.

Bondi, Putnam and Atwater plan to attend the event as do some of the congressional members, subject to duties in Washington.

They are: Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor; Vern Buchanan of Sarasota; Ander Crenshaw of Jacksonville; Carlos Curbelo of Miami, Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami; David Jolly of Indian Shores; Jeff Miller of Chumuckla; John Mica of Winter Park; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, Dennis Ross of Lakeland; and Daniel Webster of Winter Garden.

Continue reading "Jeb Bush secures endorsements from top Florida Republicans ahead of campaign kickoff" »

April 11, 2015

Florida GOP scramble: Jeff Atwater tells donors he's not running for Marco Rubio's U.S. Senate seat


Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, the leading Republican candidate for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s seat, stunned political donors Saturday when he told them he will stay out of the race for family considerations.

“Over the past weeks I have received a tremendous amount of encouragement to consider a run for the United States Senate in 2016,” he later told reporters in a statement.

“While I have certainly taken these words of support under consideration, I will not be a candidate in 2016. I remain committed to only one endeavor and that is to be the best CFO I can be for the people of Florida.”

Atwater appeared ready to declare his candidacy soon after Rubio’s expected presidential announcement on Monday in Miami. Atwater’s absence opens the door for other potential contenders, such as Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach. DeSantis, in particular, has indicated he’s likely to run.

More here.