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March 27, 2017

30 for 30 director and state lawmaker spar on Twitter over accusation of 'pay to play' politics

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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)

Democrats launch first video ads against Curbelo and Diaz-Balart over healthcare votes in committee


Republicans failed last week to pass an Affordable Care Act replacement -- but not before two GOP lawmakers from South Florida voted for the proposed American Health Care Act in congressional committees.

Those votes by Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart will be highlighted in a new digital ad campaign -- the first of the 2018 election cycle -- by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which says it's spending five figures to roll videos against 14 vulnerable Republicans who also voted in committee for the doomed legislation.

"You deserve better," the ads say. 

The ads, geographically targeted and set to pre-roll ahead of videos on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, are geared at "swing voters 35 years and older, grassroots activists in the districts, and those that have engaged with the topic of 'healthcare' on social media," the DCCC said. 

The party will be spending more in Curbelo's swing 26th district than in any other district in the country -- six times more, to be exact -- in order to test which voters might be more persuaded by healthcare attack.

Curbelo voted for the AHCA in the Ways and Means Committee but later said he was undecided on the final bill; Diaz-Balart voted in the Budget Committee and ultimately said he'd vote for the legislation. It never came to a vote because Speaker Paul Ryan withdrew it, knowing he didn't have enough Republican support.

"This targeted ad campaign makes clear that Representatives Curbelo and Diaz-Balart’s vote for this devastating Republican repeal bill will not be forgotten," DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján said in a statement. "Curbelo and Diaz-Balart knowingly voted for a bill to raise premiums and deductibles, slap an age tax on older folks, and rip insurance away from 24 million hardworking Americans."

The National Republican Congressional Committee came to Curbelo and Diaz-Balart's defense, particularly noting Curbelo's ambivalence toward the final bill.

"Congressman Curbelo and Congressman Diaz-Balart promised to reform health care, and were committed to moving proposals forward to continue the debate," NRCC spokeswoman Maddie Anderson said in a statement. "For his part, Curbelo never came out in support of the bill because he was working to secure changes would be made to in the Senate to protect his most vulnerable constituents, and that the Administration would rectify Obama's disastrous funding cuts to Florida's Low Income Pool."

This post has been updated.

Curbelo, Rutherford played it safe on health care

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON — Some of their responses came slowly, others right away. But each Republican member of Congress from Florida indicated their stance on the Obamacare replacement that imploded Friday.

Except two.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Miami and Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville refused to give a position.

Curbelo’s spokeswoman later said he was undecided. “He had not made a final decision because he was working with Senate offices to get assurances on increased tax credits for lower income Americans and with administration officials on restoration of Florida’s Low Income Pool funding. It was clear to him the bill needed improvement and he was fairly certain that we would not be voting today.”

Curbelo voted to advance the bill in the Ways & Means Committee, before the legislation faced a damaging assessment from the Congressional Budget Office. The details then changed to appease conservatives.

Rutherford would not answer a simple yes or no question on the bill.

“Maintaining a status quo is not an option,” he said after it was pulled from the floor. “There is a widespread consensus that President Obama’s signature health care law is broken and unsustainable. I remain committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare to improve and protect Americans’ access to quality, affordable health coverage.”

His reticence stands out because Rutherford had appeared with Vice President Mike Pence at a Jacksonville event designed to sell the Obamacare replacement.

Trump reportedly wanted a vote, even if the bill would die, so that he could see who was on his side — a feeling shared by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz.

“Today the Republican controlled House of Representatives let down President Trump and, more importantly, the American people,” Gaetz said. “We did so in the most cowardly, craven way possible by failing to  vote on the repeal of Obamacare. … We should know who was willing to stand with President Trump and who wasn’t. Now we never will."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

PolitiFact: A look at Richard Corcoran's claims about Enterprise Florida and Lockheed Martin


via @allisonbgraves

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran told a story about Lockheed Martin as an example of how easy it is to walk back ambitious job goals prescribed in state incentive contracts.

Speaking recently at the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club, Corcoran said, "I say, I promise you 305 jobs, and then I come back to you and say, ‘Hey, I'm not close on the jobs. Can you help me out?' You know what they do? ‘No problem, we'll amend your contract. How many jobs can you deliver?' Six. ‘Fine. Now, the contract says you will deliver six jobs.' And then we go out and tout it community to community as a success."

Corcoran continued: "That's a true story, Lockheed Martin." 

Corcoran's tale has some truth but oversimplifies what happened. PolitiFact Florida has the Truth-O-Meter rating

March 26, 2017

Jeb Bush: Trump should 'stop saying things that aren't true'

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Jeb Bush has a little unsolicited advice for President Donald Trump, his former primary rival.

"He should stop saying things that aren't true, that are distractions from the task at hand," Bush told Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4 in an interview that aired Sunday on "Facing South Florida."

In his first in-depth local interview since dropping out of the presidential race more than a year ago, Bush offered a mixed assessment of Trump's first 60 or so days in office. He praised several of Trump's Cabinet secretaries, including Betsy DeVos for education, John Kelly for homeland security and Rex Tillerson for state.

"The president made some really good appointments," Bush said. "He's acted decisively on some areas I think are important, particularly on the regulatory side."

But Bush said Trump "hasn't shifted to being president in the way that people are used to, and I think that's the problem."

"He's a distraction in and of himself," Bush said. "He's got a lot of work to do, and some of these things -- the wiretapping and all of this stuff -- is a complete distraction that makes it harder to accomplish the things I know he wants to do."

Asked host Jim DeFede: Does that diminish the office of the president? "A little bit," said Bush, who said he hasn't spoken to Trump since the inauguration.

Reflecting on his failed presidential campaign, Bush said he didn't regret running but acknowledged his personality and style didn't work for the electorate.

"Reasoning, in this environment where people are angry, is hard, and I wasn't capable of giving them a sense that there is a better path," he said. "They wanted to have their anger remediated -- more than a five-point plan.... President Trump's great skill was to understand that."

Bush also said he learned "something unusual": "People customize their news to validate what they believe, and it makes them increasingly less tolerant of other people's views that rely on another set of facts," he said. "That is dangerous for our democracy."

He said his top concern for the country is restoring "some sense of what it is to be an American citizen again, and have it be a unifying theme."

While Bush wouldn't rule out another political run -- "I don't rule out anything" -- he sounded content to be a private citizen again in Coral Gables.

"I sleep at night at home more often than not, and I've got my life organized pretty nicely," he said. "My church, my gym, my golf course. My office is less than a mile from my home, and it's two stop signs away. You can't beat that, man."

Bush also shied away from handicapping the big 2018 Florida governor and U.S. Senate races, though he noted that Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has "never been knocked off as a candidate for Senate."

"You gotta assume that incumbents have a certain advantage, if they've won two or three times," Bush said. "But on the other hand,t he person who's likely to run against him is also an incumbent -- so that'll be a good race for sure."

He was referring -- without mentioning him -- to Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Photo credit: Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

Adam Putnam and the political committee disclosure that fails to disclose

Adam Putnam APAgriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has raised more than $9.4 million for a 2018 governor’s race he has yet to announce and, in the last two years, spent $1.8 million of it on a Lakeland-based political consulting firm that has failed to disclose how the expenses were paid.

According to reports filed with the Florida Division of Elections, 70 percent of the $2.6 million spent by Putnam’s political committee, Florida Grown, went to Silloh Consulting, operated by Justin Hollis, the 36-year-old political consultant and real estate investor who manages Putnam’s political fund.

Nearly $1.3 million in lump sum payments went for the purpose of political consulting, according to the reports.

How much of that was used to compensate vendors, pollsters, fundraisers, advertisers, opposition researchers, media interests and others? His report doesn’t say, raising legal issues about whether the report is in compliance with state campaign finance law that requires all major expenditures to be reported, and federal tax law, which requires that political committees disclose the campaigns for which they are operating.

“The purpose of the law is: who gave it, who got it,” said Mike Cochran, who wrote much of the existing disclosure laws as the legal counsel at the Department of State’s Division of Elections in the 1990s and is now retired from state government. “If the expenditures are being made with the intent to not disclose, that would be something that is potentially a violation of the elections code.”

According to Division of Election records, Florida Grown paid Silloh Consulting more than $14,350 for advertising, $16,300 for event expenses and supplies, $1,488 for food and beverage, $4,300 for meals, phones and utilities. But $1.3 million, and more than 50 individual checks as much as $92,000, were written for “political consulting,” “consulting,” or “management consulting.”

Hollis defended the practice, saying it was not a story. He said it is not accurate to conclude that he is personally making as much as $75,000 a month for the funds received by his consulting firm but would not explain how the practice complies with Florida campaign finance law.

“Silloh Consulting is a Florida-based small business that consists of multiple individuals and offers a myriad of political consulting services, including fundraising, event planning, communications and outreach, among others,’’ he said in a statement.

Abby DuPree, the Florida Grown treasurer, and Richard Coates, the committee’s lawyer, declined requests for comment. Putnam is a Republican who is widely expected to announce his candidacy for governor later this year.

State election law requires any political committee to detail “the full name and address of each person to whom expenditures have been made by or on behalf of the committee or candidate within the reporting period” and specifies that the “primary purpose of an expenditure shall be that purpose ... that comprises 80 percent of such expenditure.” More here. 

Photo credit: Associated Press


March 24, 2017

Florida House committee proposes changes to school recess bill

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Next week would have been make-or-break for this year’s efforts by the Florida Legislature to implement mandatory daily recess in public elementary schools.

While the Senate bill (SB 78) sailed through committees and awaits a floor vote, the House bill had yet to move — and next week is the last week policy subcommittees are expected to meet.

But “recess moms” are in luck.

Clearwater Republican Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, has scheduled the recess bill (HB 67) to be heard Tuesday morning in his House Pre-K-12 Innovation Subcommittee.

However, Latvala’s committee is proposing some hefty changes, which might not leave all “recess moms” happy.

More here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

Rep. Cary Pigman facing DUI charge after late-night Turnpike stop

PigmanState Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, was charged with driving under the influence early Friday after a state trooper stopped his Jeep on Florida's Turnpike in St. Lucie County and a Breathalyzer test showed that his blood alcohol level was .15, nearly twice the legal limit.

A Florida Highway Patrol arrest affidavit said Pigman's vehicle, with the Florida license tag H55, was weaving in and out of its southbound lane as the lawmaker headed home to Okeechobee County after the third week of the legislative session in Tallahassee.

"Once I got to the front passenger window, I could immediately smell an odor of alcoholic beverage coming from within the vehicle,"  Trooper Abe Dacosta wrote in his arrest report. "That was confirmed when I saw an open wine bottle in the front passenger seat."

The trooper's report said: "I noticed that his pupils were constricted, his eyes were bloodshot and watery while the defendant was standing in front of me. I asked the defendant if he had anything to drink tonight. He stated, 'No.' I then placed the defendant in the rear of my patrol car for his safety." The trooper said Pigman was so off balance that he "almost fell" while being given a field sobriety test. He was booked into the St. Lucie County jail in Fort Pierce and his Jeep was towed away.

Pigman, 58, is an emergency medicine physician and is chairman of the Health Quality Subcommittee in the House. Married with five children, he's a veteran of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army reserves who saw duty in Iraq, Guatemala and Kuwait from 2011-2013.

Pigman has engaged in spirited debate on Twitter because of his skepticism about the effectiveness of medical marijuana. "There's an old adage," Pigman tweeted last Tuesday. "Any substance which is claimed to cure everything rarely cures anything." 


HUD Secretary Ben Carson visits a Broward Habitat for Humanity site



President Donald Trump’s housing chief, Ben Carson, visited the future site of a Habitat for Humanity site in Broward County on Friday — as the administration is proposing to slashing billions for affordable housing.

Housing experts say the cuts, should they occur, will hurt South Florida, one of the most unaffordable metro areas in the nation.

Speaking at the Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Pompano Beach, Carson praised the Habitat development that will include 77 homes.

“This project right here is one of the things that works because of public-private partnerships and how incredible they are at leveraging dollars,” he told the audience of local government officials and housing activists. “That’s how we become a success as a nation. The government can’t do everything, but the government can do things to get things started and then the private sector and faith community comes in and leverages that.”

Carson was confirmed by the Senate earlier this month as the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Carson’s visit comes as Trump has proposed slashing about $6 billion from HUD, a cut of about 13 percent. That includes eliminating funding for programs that help people buy or rent homes. Among them: Community Development Block Grant and the HOME Investment Partnerships Program.

Keep reading here about Carson and the "Rick Case Habitat Community" named for the automotive dealership owner who gave $500,000 for the project.

Another non-answer from Gov. Rick Scott about GOP health care plan

via @adamsmithtimes

The question from the Miami Herald's Amy Sherman this afternoon was concise and clear: "Should the House approve the Affordable Health Care Act as it is written?

The answer from Gov. Rick Scott was not: "Here's the way I look at it. It's...I'm...I'm encouraged the conversations that are going on. I know there's things we have to continue to improve. 

"I know I grew up in a family that struggled to pay for health care. I remember my mom crying when she couldn't pay for health care for my brother. I worked in the hospital industry. I ran the biggest company in that industry. 

"We've got to figure out how to get this, how to make healthcare more affordable. That's what I focused on when I was in business. So I'm going to continue to work to make sure that happens. 

"I think Trump inherited an absolute mess. Barack Obama left in the nick of time. Prices were going up. My biggest concern is we've got to keep focusing on how to get costs down, because if we can't get costs down, you as an individual can't pay for it, or your employer can't pay for health care, or the government can't. 

"So I'm encouraged but I know there's more work that needs to be done."

Scott spoke with reporters briefly after he attended an event in Pompano Beach with Ben Carson, Secretary of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.