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July 25, 2017

Regalado's 2018 budget leaves out EB-5 center



Of all the things funded in Tomás Regalado’s unprecedented $1 billion budget for 2018, his ballyhooed Office of International Business Development isn’t one of them.

The program, launched three years ago by the mayor in order to “market Miami to the world” through investment-based EB-5 visas, is in an uncertain place as Regalado prepares to end his second and final term in November. His proposed spending plan strips some $275,000 in annual funding from the program, leaving only leftover office funds to keep it open through April barring a change.

Regalado, though, remains a believer in Miami’s publicly owned EB-5 regional center — even if no one can say exactly how much money the city-owned and managed center has brought to South Florida since it opened, or how many jobs it has helped create.

The mayor says he simply wants to leave its fate to his successor.

To read the rest, click here.

(Photo above shows developer Tibor Hollo, left, with Mikki Canton, Tomas Regalado, and a rendering of Hollo's Panorama Tower, funded in part by EB-5 investors.)

With Miami-Dade's Diaz leaving, Corcoran shuffles House deck

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is reshuffling the leadership deck chairs with more changes to come in the weeks ahead.

The Land O'Lakes Republican announced Tuesday that Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, is the new chairman of the Commerce Committee, replacing Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, who resigned to Corcoran_richard 022217 1 run for an open Senate seat in Miami-Dade. Boyd had been chairman of the Ways & Means Committee that writes tax legislation, but Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, who recently won a GOP caucus vote to be House speaker in the 2022-2024 cycle, will be its new chairman. Renner, a redshirt freshman, had held no chairmanship.

"Updated committee assignments will be made in the next few weeks," Corcoran told members in a memo. That signals more change is coming from the speaker, who has the final say on members' assignments that determine political power and, in many cases, campaign fund-raising strength.

Two Tampa Bay Republicans sure to get new assignments are Reps. Kathleen Peters of Treasure Island and Dan Raulerson of Plant City, both of whom are on the outs with Corcoran. Peters chairs an energy and utilities subcommittee and has announced plans to leave in 2018 to run for a Pinellas County Commission seat, citing Corcoran's agenda to reduce local government home rule powers. Raulerson is alternating chairman of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee.

Under House rules in effect since 2000, committee assignments are good for one year only. They are two years in the Senate.

Raquel Regalado officially announces run to replace Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Regalado Congress


Raquel Regalado is officially joining the race to replace longtime Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring from Congress next year. 

The former Miami-Dade school board member and candidate for county mayor in 2016 filed her paperwork to compete in the Republican primary against county commissioner Bruno Barreiro on Tuesday morning. Nancy Watkins, a top Florida GOP political accountant based in Tampa, will serve as campaign treasurer. 

Regalado highlighted Miami's affordable housing woes in her announcement video. 

"I'm running for Congress because we cannot afford to live in South Florida, because before we get to any other issue we need better paying jobs" Regalado said. "We can't afford to buy a home. We can't afford to live here. We can't afford to raise our children here. We're at a critical point, we need educated, reasonable, articulate and thoughtful people in Congress."

The 43-year-old daughter of Miami mayor Tomás Regalado can now start fundraising after Barreiro raised $176,000 in the most recent fundraising quarter. Maria Peiro, who unsuccessfully ran against Ros-Lehtinen in the 2016 Republican primary also announced her intentions to run, but has not filed yet. 

Regalado is a self-described moderate Republican seeking election in a Miami-based district that Hillary Clinton won by nearly 20 percentage points over Donald Trump, making it the most Democratic district in the country currently held by a Republican. Ros-Lehtinen's retirement opens up a seat that national Democrats see as a prime pickup opportunity in 2018.

Regalado has a history of bucking the GOP. In 2010, she campaigned for Democrat Alex Sink for governor over Republican Rick Scott before unsuccessfully challenging Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez, a fellow Republican, for his seat in 2016. She also did not endorse Trump or Clinton in the 2016 election.

A slew of Democrats have announced or are weighing bids for Ros-Lehtinen's seat. 

Correction: A previous version of this most misidentified Regalado's age. She is 43, not 42. 

Putnam, Corcoran, Latvala all at Florida sheriffs' summer event

The leading Republican candidate for governor and two would-be rivals converged on Bonita Springs this week for the summer conference of Florida sheriffs.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam addressed the group Monday as did House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is there Tuesday. So is Gov. Rick Scott as he plots a run for U.S. Senate.

Corcoran is one of 21 lawmakers given a "Friend of the Sheriff" award for his support of their agenda. Latvala was one of five "champions" for his support for a prolific juvenile offender law aimed at reducing Pinellas' epidemic of car thefts.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Putnam spoke in support of law enforcement and "it was what you would expect from somebody in his position." Alachua Sheriff Sadie Darnell said Putnam "talked about the grandeur of Florida" in a luncheon speech, and recalled Putnam saying he doesn't want Florida to become like Colorado and California with their tolerance of recreational marijuana use.

Both sheriffs said Putnam did not discuss guns, and that the issues of campus carry and open carry didn't come up. The sheriffs' group has opposed open carry and campus carry bills in Tallahassee, though some individual sheriffs are supportive. Putnam last week described "absolutely a pathway" to a form of open carry in Florida, which has the support of the National Rifle Association. For the second straight year, an open carry bill wasa blocked by moderate Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Florida Sheriffs Association cannot endorse candidates, but individual sheriffs can, and in many parts of Florida, sheriffs are the most prominent elected countywide officials.

Special Miami House, Senate primaries to be decided Tuesday


Late July is hardly peak election season in Miami-Dade County. But the polls in some parts of town will nevertheless open Tuesday for voters to cast ballots in a pair of special primary elections featuring campaigns as heated as the season.

Republicans will pick among Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and attorney Lorenzo Palomares to represent Senate District 40, a competitive Southwest Miami-Dade district where Democrats will choose between former Rep. Ana Rivas Logan and businesswoman Annette Taddeo. The winners will face off in the Sept. 26 general election.

Diaz, the only sitting lawmaker of the bunch, had to resign to seek the seat — requiring another election for the Republican-leaning House District 116, also in Southwest Dade. GOP voters there will select between brewery owner Jose Mallea and attorney Daniel Perez. There is no Democratic primary because only one candidate, Gabriela Mayaudón, qualified to run. She and either Perez or Mallea will take each other on in September. Both districts are majority Hispanic.

The elections stemmed from the April resignation of Sen. Frank Artiles, a Republican forced to step down after making offensive comments to a pair of legislators. He was also dogged by revelations that he hired questionable political consultants, including a former Hooters “calendar girl” ahead of last year’s election.

Last November, Artiles bested Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard. Democrats hope to win back the seat to get a better shot at blocking legislation in the GOP-controlled Capitol. Republicans outnumber Democrats 24-15 in the 40-member Senate.

More here.

Photo credit: El Nuevo Herald file

July 24, 2017

As chaos envelops Venezuela, Caracas spends millions on lobbyists in Washington



Venezuela’s currency is essentially worthless. Its people are starving. Rampant inflation has rendered the bolívar less useful than toilet paper.

And since Donald Trump’s election, the Venezuelan government has spent at least $1.3 million on Washington lobbyists through its subsidiary Citgo, a Houston-based oil company.

Three Washington-based firms currently represent Venezuela in Washington, pushing Capitol Hill, the White House and Cabinet agencies on issues like “fuel refining” and the “potential impact of U.S. energy policies on CITGO’s operation impacting U.S. consumers,” according to Senate lobbying records.

Caracas sees its investment in lobbyists as a way to fight possible sweeping sanctions targeting Venezuelan oil. Pushed by lawmakers like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the White House said last week “all options are on the table” and promised “strong and swift economic actions” ahead of a vote on July 30 that could alter the country’s constitution in favor of President Nicolás Maduro.

“The costs for representation is a drop in the bucket when compared to the potential economic loss” of oil sanctions, said C.J. Gimenez, the son of Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez and a lobbyist who left Avenue Strategies, a firm started by Donald Trump’s former campaign aides, after the firm decided to pick up Citgo as a client. 

U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s oil market could have major financial implications for the Maduro regime and for average Venezuelans. Although Venezuelan crude makes up a small fraction — about eight percent in 2016 — of all U.S. oil imports, the U.S. buys nearly half of Venezuela’s oil, and oil revenues account for 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings, according to OPEC.

Gimenez said Venezuela’s greatest asset is its oil and that Maduro “uses it to fund his continued existence.”

In order to shore up the Maduro regime’s future in the face of intense pressure, Washington-based lobbying shops, Avenue Strategies, Cornerstone Government Affairs and VantageKnight. All are well connected in the nation’s capital, spending millions on behalf of corporate titans like Google and Citigroup and staffed with former congressional aides who know Capitol Hill.

VantageKnight, a firm started by Democratic strategist and lawyer Manuel Ortiz, spent $540,000 on behalf of Citgo to lobby on the “potential impact of U.S. energy & foreign policy restrictions on CITGO Petroleum Corporation's operations and valuation of assets” and “sanctions related issues” in 2017.

Neither Citgo nor Ortiz responded to requests for comment. An operator at a Houston office for Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, which owns Citgo, hung up when contacted by a reporter.

Citgo is feeling the heat in Washington, where lawmakers have questioned PDVSAs’ pledge of 49.9 percent of its shares in Citgo as collateral for a $1.5 billion loan from the Russian government-owned oil giant Rosneft. That could leave Moscow with indirect control over Citgo’s U.S. energy assets, including three oil refineries, nine pipelines and dozens of petroleum platforms.

Read more here.

'Nationwide search for Pete Antonacci' ends; he'll make $165,000

A "nationwide search for Pete Antonacci" came to a quick conclusion Monday as Enterprise Florida's board of directors voted unanimously to make him the job-recruitment agency's new  PA president and chief executive officer.

Hired without a formal search, Antonacci arrives with the strong backing of the most important person in EFI's world, Gov. Rick Scott, who delivered a strong endorsement of his former legal adviser.

"He will clearly help get deals done," Scott told board members. EFI vice chairman Stan Connally called Antonacci a "fantastic" pick, and board member Dominic Calabro of Florida TaxWatch called him "a real class act."

Antonacci has a long and diverse resume in state government, where has been a true survivor. He served as Scott's general counsel, as Scott's appointee as interim state attorney in Palm Beach County and as the executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, whose members are Scott appointees. He's a former lawyer and lobbyist with the Gray Robinson law firm and spent much of his career as deputy attorney general under Bob Butterworth, a Democrat who was Florida attorney general from 1986 to 2002.

Antonacci becomes Enterprise Florida's fifth CEO in the past two-and-a-half years. He starts work Aug. 2 at a salary of $165,000 a year. It's been a challenging year at Enterprise, which survived an effort by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who said it should be abolished for its practice of "corporate welfare" and "picking winners and losers" in the corporate marketplace. EFI can no longer use tax credits and other taxpayer funded subsidies to lure companies to Florida. Scott ordered a top-to-bottom review of EFI's payroll and overhead after Bill Johnson's abrupt departure in 2015. 

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a recent Scott appointee, were both on Monday's call and both were recorded as supporting Antonacci.


Ex-Miami-Dade elections worker pleads guilty in mayoral voter-fraud case

Gladys3 coego lnew cmgvia @DavidOvalle305

An elderly woman pleaded guilty on Monday to filling out other people’s mail-in ballots while working at Miami-Dade’s elections department.

Now, a judge must decide whether to give 74-year-old Gladys Coego jail time.

Prosecutors want six months behind bars. Her defense lawyer is arguing for no time in jail.

“This is a very serious case,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Alberto Milián told Coego. “This is a very serious matter that undermines the basis of our democratic institutions.”

Milián will decide a sentence on Aug. 16. She faces a maximum of up to 10 years in prison but such a harsh sentence is unlikely because she has no previous arrests. 

In a case that got national media attention, Coego was arrested for voter fraud just weeks before the November election. It was a campaign season marked by heightened sensitivity after then-presidential candidate Donald Trump made repeated allegations of a rigged election.

Although there’s never been any evidence of widespread voter fraud in the United States, Trump has persisted with his claims, even creating a controversial commission to investigate the issue. Earlier this month, the Presidential Advisory Commission for Voter Integrity raised concerns about privacy by requesting voter information from states across the country, including Florida.

Coego’s case mirrors that of a woman in Oregon who was arrested four years for marking someone else’s ballot while working at an elections department. She accepted a plea deal that include 90 days in jail.

Coego was arrested along with another low-level campaigner, Tamika Curgil, in an unrelated case. Curgil, an out-of-work security guard campaigning for a pro-medical marijuana campaign, was accused of filing out forged voter registration forms. She got probation, with no felony conviction appearing on her record.

More here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald

Committee attacking Taddeo paid rival Rivas Logan's political consultant


State Senate candidate Ana Rivas Logan asserted earlier this month that she had no connection to a political committee attacking her Democratic opponent, Annette Taddeo.

Rivas Logan claimed she'd even try to call the managers of the Floridians for Accountability committee after they mentioned Taddeo's 11-year-old daughter in a campaign flier, but "they don't answer their phones," Rivas Logan said in a televised July 16 exchange.

But two days later, Floridians for Accountability spent $250 buying photographs from a source Rivas Logan knows well: Her campaign's political consultant, Pedro Diaz.

A campaign-finance report filed by Floridians for Accountability last Thursday lists a $250 expenditure to "Diaz Campaigns" on July 18 for "photos." The Miami P.O. Box address listed is the same Rivas Logan has listed in her own report to pay "Diaz Consulting."

Asked about the payment Monday, Diaz described the transaction as "just some photos that they wanted to us to take care of for them for another project." He declined to offer specifics, insisting the photos in question were unrelated to the campaign.

"We tried reaching them, but they don't answer our calls," he maintained about the flier attacking Taddeo.

Rivas Logan said Monday she was unaware the committee had paid her consultant: "I didn't even know that had happened."

Floridians for Accountability recently produced a flier touting Rivas Logan's candidacy, but Rivas Logan said the two photos displayed on the piece "are public." One of them is her campaign head shot, featured prominently on her candidate website.

The committee is run by a Broward County Democratic consultant, Amy Rose, but its recent funds have come from Associated Industries of Florida, a business lobby that has endorsed Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in the Senate District 40 race, and from Big Sugar, an industry Taddeo has repeatedly criticized during the campaign.

Rose said the payment to Diaz was for photography but did not elaborate.

Former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and attorney Lorenzo Palomares are also running on the Republican side. The primary is Tuesday. 

Bush: Scaramucci will help Trump

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Before he discovered unyielding love for Donald Trump, Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, was a Jeb Bush man.

"Jeb has the forward-looking vision and executive experience to lead our country and ensure our economy grows at its full potential,” Scaramucci said in September 2015 after joining Bush’s national finance commiteee. He had initially been with Scott Walker.

“As governor of Florida Jeb turned words into action and brought real reform to the state, creating an environment for job growth and economic prosperity, I know he will do the same as president,” Scaramucci said in a news release from Bush’s campaign.

Bush was eager to show strength — and not scare off donors — as his poll numbers were weakening. “Anthony’s decision to join our organization is evidence of Jeb’s appeal as the executive with the most conservative, results-oriented record in this entire race,” Jack Oliver, Bush’s national finance co-chairman said.

Bush’s prospects never turned around and Trump overtook the Republican primary field. Scaramucci, the hedge fund manager and TV commentator known as the Mooch, eventually turned to Trump, whom he had criticized as a “hack” and other things in the past (he’s been deleting negative tweets).

He steps into the White House at a critical time.

“Anthony is a real talent,” Bush told the Tampa Bay Times in an email on Monday. “He is quick, smart and a whole lot of fun. I think he will help the president.”

Bush crossed paths with Scaramucci in May, when the former governor attended Scaramucci’s SkyBridge Alternatives Conference in Las Vegas. Trump naturally came up and Bush offered some advice: Stop tweeting.

“When he tweets he also gives our enemies all sorts of nuances and insights,” Bush said. “These things matter. We are living in a dangerous world. He is the leader of the free world. There are lots of reasons that you don't want to send out signals to our adversaries.”

Scaramucci on Monday signaled the return of on-camera White House press briefings.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Associated Press