Florida Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, this weekend unleashed a Twitter rant at the director behind Cocaine Cowboys and popular ESPN 30 for 30 specials including The U after the lawmaker was accused of engaging in "pay to play" politics to stifle medical marijuana.
Grant is angling for the state to give $500,000 to fund a "marijuana abuse prevention outreach program" in the wake of November's overwhelming vote to allow medical cannabis in Florida. That money would go to Drug Free America, the foundation run by Mel and Betty Sembler, a well-connected couple in Republican circles whose role in the anti-drug movement is highly controversial.
The Semblers dropped $1 million and helped raise an additional $2.4 million for Drug Free Florida, the political committee that aimed to kill Amendment 2, which permitted medical marijuana, in the last election.
Though they have donated to many Tampa Bay Republicans, they have not contributed directly to Grant or a political committee he controls, and there is no evidence in public financial disclosure records that they have given him money personally.
But seeing the connections between Grant's budget ask and the Semblers in a post from the conservative outlet Sunshine State News over the weekend, director Billy Corben called the representative out on Twitter.
"He's 'making money as he builds his career.' Pay to play pays well," Corben tweeted. (The whole back-and-forth is here.)
As proof, he pointed to a 2015 Times/Herald story that showed Grant's net worth increased more than anyone else in the Legislature since he was elected -- from -$5,780 in 2010 to $146,327 in 2015. (It was $153,833 on June 14, 2016, according to the most recent disclosure.)
That story relied on financial disclosures made public by the Florida Commission on Ethics and did not track the source of each lawmaker's growth in wealth. And it's important to note the Times/Herald reporting was about personal net worth, not campaign contributions, and that there is no evidence that Grant has ever received money from the Semblers.
After Corben leveled his accusation, Grant pushed back. In a series of 30 tweets (30 for 30, get it?), he said the rise in net worth came after his parents repaid him for his Stetson College of Law degree, upholding their end of a deal and allowing him to pay off student loans. He also put down a down payment on a house, which has risen in value as the market recovered, he said.
"My parents gave me opportunities in life I wish every kid had," Grant wrote in the 12th of 30 tweets. In the next, he said, "But if them helping me get an education = pay to play, we've hit a new low in politics."
Corben did not seem convinced, but tweeted back in his own mini-tweet storm that "a simple (single tweet) reply to my question will suffice."
Still, one point of agreement between the two men: Grant loves 30 for 30.
"Closest I'll ever come to making @30for30 is these 30 tweets," he tweeted.
Photo: Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa. (Scott Keeler | Tampa Bay Times)