Note: This blog's templates will be updated this afternoon to a responsive design bringing it in line with

At that time, we will also change to the Facebook commenting system. You will need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment.

April 29, 2016

Ron DeSantis super PAC's big donors: backers of Koch brothers, Karl Rove


A super PAC supporting Republican Ron DeSantis for the U.S. Senate is stockpiling cash -- and much of it is coming from the major donors to national conservative groups.

Of the $1.2 million raised by Fighting for Florida Fund since last August, more than $1 million has come from just three donors:

* $350,000 from John Childs, chairman of private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates.

* $200,000 from Robert Mercer, a financial consultant.

* $500,000 from Spring Bay Capital, a private equity and venture capital firm in Ponte Vedra Beach, DeSantis' hometown.

Childs is a prolific donor to major conservative super PACs. Since 2010, he has given more than $8 million to groups like Karl Rove's American Crossroads, Koch brothers-backed Freedom Partners Action Fund and Club for Growth, a conservative group that has endorsed DeSantis.

Mercer, who lives in New York, is a major contributor to Club for Growth, American Crossroads and to Keep the Promise, which supports Ted Cruz for president. In total, he's given more than $29 million to conservative super PACs.

Spring Bay has contributed only to Fighting for Florida Fund.

Super PACs are allowed to raise unlimited funds to support or oppose candidates, but they cannot coordinate with candidates or their campaigns.

No other super PAC in the crowded race to replace Sen. Marco Rubio has had that degree of large-donor support.

Outside of Fighting for Florida Fund, the largest contribution to a super PAC in Florida's Senate race is $300,000 given by Coastal Construction to Floridians for a Strong Middle Class, which backs Democrat Patrick Murphy. The Miami-based company is run by Murphy's father.

Among Republicans, Reform Washington, which supports Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera has received $200,000 from Rubio backer Norman Braman. FloridAmerican Conservatives, the David Jolly super PAC, brought in $100,000 from Miguel Fernandez, who heavily funded Jeb Bush's failed presidential run. Carlos Beruff's super PAC hasn't received donations yet.

Two candidates, Republican defense contractor Todd Wilcox and Murphy's main Democratic opponent, Alan Grayson, do not have super PACs.

Meet Hillary Clinton's new Florida campaign director

via @adamsmithtimes

Simone Ward, former national political director of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, will be the Hillary Clinton campaign's new Florida State Director, overseeing efforts to deliver the state's 27 electoral votes to the former first lady.

She is a well-regarded veteran of Democratic campaigns, having worked worked previously as campaign manager for Natalie Tennant's Senate campaign in West Virginia and everal positions at the Democratic National Committee, including Director of African American Outreach and then National Constituency Director. She was campaign manager for Sen. Barbara Mikulski in Maryland in 2010, and before that worked for Planned Parenthood and EMILY's List.

Her selection is something of a departure from Barack Obama's Florida campaign hires in that Ward has little experience in Florida that we know of. Obama in 2008 hired Steve Schale as his Florida campaign director and in 2012 hired Ashley Walker.

The Clinton campaign has held off an announcing general election campaign hires while focusing on the primary, but the primary is no longer in doubt after Clinton's recent wins.

Marco Rubio to speak at Hialeah business charter school's inaugural commencement


Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is scheduled to give the commencement address next month at the inaugural graduation ceremony for a Hialeah charter school run by the Latin Builders Association.

The Latin Builders Association Construction and Business Management Academy Charter High School -- also known as LBA Academy -- touts itself as the first business charter high school in the U.S.

Rubio is a former director of the LBA. He previously praised the school during a national summit two years ago as an example of the opportunities charter schools and other "school choice" programs can provide. The school, which opened in 2012, educates its students in the construction trades and teaches them how to become future business leaders.

The former GOP presidential candidate will deliver his remarks at 9:30 a.m. May 23 at the academy's graduation ceremony, to be held on FIU's Modesto Maidique Campus in Miami.

Other elected officials and Miami-Dade County Public School officials also are expected in attendance.

Bill Clinton touts Hillary at closed Tallahassee fundraiser


It looks like Bill Clinton brought in a good chunk of cash for his wife's presidential campaign Friday morning in North Florida.

About 200 people showed up for a Hillary Clinton fundraiser at the Tallahassee home of Florida Democratic Party chair Allison Tant and trial lawyer Barry Richard, where the former president spoke. At $500 a person -- or $2,700, the legal maximum, for a photo -- that adds up quickly.

The campaign did not allow reporters in to the event, and attendees were instructed not to record it.

But in a 30-minute outdoor speech, the former president reportedly touted the would-be president's experience, know-how and vision for the future, pivoting toward a general election where Clinton is likely to faceDonald Trump, the Republican frontrunner.

Among those in attendance were Tant (of course) and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who spoke before Clinton. State Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, whose district is to the south of Tant's home was there, as was Loranne Ausley, who's running for the House in another Tallahassee district.

Florida has become a favorite spot for the Clinton campaign to send the former president, who was himself a Southern governor in Arkansas. Last month, he held a campaign rally -- this one open to the public -- at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, and he's spending the rest of the day Friday at similar closed fundraising events

This afternoon, Bill Clinton will be at the home of Nancy and Chuck Parish in Sarasota, and he ends the day at superlawyer/big Democratic fundraiser John Morgan's home in Heathrow.

HUD Secretary Julian Castro to speak at Miami Dade College graduation

Julián Castro, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, will speak at Miami Dade College graduation Saturday at the Wolfson and Hialeah Campuses.

Castro is a former mayor of San Antonio and among the speculated names for Hillary Clinton's vice presidential pick. Castro keynoted the 2012 Democratic convention.

Other speakers include Manny Medina, e-Merge founder, entrepreneur, and MDC alumnus at the InterAmerican and Homestead Campuses ceremony; Dr. Mark Everett, newly-appointed MDC’s Medical Campus President who will be speaking to graduates at the Medical Campus ceremony; Mr. Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at the Kendall Campus ceremony; and the Honorable Mr. Jean Monestime, chair of the Miami-Dade County Commission, at the closing ceremony for North and West Campuses graduates.   


Scott, Atwater hire Altmaier as state insurance chief

Breaking an awkward political deadlock, Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater agreed Friday to promote deputy insurance commissioner David Altmaier to succeed his boss, Kevin McCarty as the state's powerful insurance regulator at the helm of the Office of Insurance Regulation.

The choice was a surprise on a number of fronts. Altmaier, 34, has a degree in mathematics from Western Kentucky, was the last candidate interviewed in public, and is a former Republican who became a Democrat in 2014 and switched to no party affiliation on March 29, shortly after he sought a promotion from a Republican governor and all-Republican Cabinet.

With the start of the 2016 hurricane season a month away, the leadership of the insurance department in the nation's third-largest state will soon move into the hands of Altmaier, who has worked for OIR for five years and has two years experience as an insurance agent.

"This guy is impressive," Atwater told reporters after the vote. "He is going to perform very well."

Altmaier was Atwater's third choice. Atwater made the motion to hire Altmaier at $165,000 a year with McCarty staying on for a 60-day transition period. McCarty, the only person to hold the post since its creation in 2003, offered to delay his departure to ensure that his successor has a steady transition. Scott rejected McCarty's offer but the governor relented Friday and agreed to the unusual arrangement under which Florida will have two insurance commissioners for a time. 

At a special meeting called by Scott, the governor and Cabinet members interviewed three new finalists for the job. All three candidates work for McCarty: chief actuary Eric Johnson and deputy commissioners Rich Robleto and Altmaier.

Atwater offered the post to Rep. Bill Hager, but no one seconded it. Atwater offered the post to McCarty's chief of staff, Belinda Miller, but Scott did not go along. Atwater moved to appoint Altmaier, which was quickly approved.

Only Atwater was physically present in the Capitol to make eye-to-eye contact and judge the candidates in person. The other three officials participated by phone.

By law, Scott and Atwater must agree on the choice of an insurance commissioner, who is hired with the support of at least one other Cabinet member. The other Cabinet members who supported Altmaier are Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.


Broward GOP chair apologizes for Monica Lewinsky remark

Broward GOP chair Bob Sutton sent a statement this morning apologizing for his comment about Monica Lewinsky

Sutton told the Washington Post that Democrat Hillary Clinton would be easy to defeat in a debate.

How easy?

“I think when Donald Trump debates Hillary Clinton she’s going to go down like Monica Lewinsky,” he said in an article about campaign gender wars.

"In an effort to show my enthusiasm for defeating Hillary Clinton this November I made a statement that was both unnecessary and inappropriate. I sincerely apologize for anyone that I may have offended. I look forward to returning to talking about the issues facing our nation."

Several members of the Broward Republican Executive Committee said Sutton's comments were offensive. Read our full story about that here.

April 28, 2016

The back story on Marco Rubio's deal to extend Venezuela sanctions and name a new U.S. ambassador to Mexico



It happened with little fanfare Thursday: The U.S. Senate agreed to three more years of sanctions against key officials of the Venezuelan government, a law pushed by South Florida legislators to punish President Nicolás Maduro’s government.

The extension passed in the Senate by unanimous consent. The back story of how it happened, however, is far more interesting than the easy vote suggests.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio took to the Senate floor Wednesday to ask his colleagues to extend the 2014 sanctions, co-sponsored with New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and set to expire at the end of this year. The law lets the U.S. freeze assets and deny visas for Venezuelan officials deemed responsible for violence and political arrests that roiled the South American country in 2014. It prompted Maduro and his government to brand Menendez, Rubio and other South Florida lawmakers “terrorists” and ban them from Venezuela.

“Because the Maduro regime continues to violate human rights and expand its political oppression, the U.S. must continue doing our part to address this growing crisis in Venezuela,” Rubio said in a statement late Thursday. “The Maduro regime’s abuses of power and violations of human rights are hurting innocent people in our hemisphere and threaten the national security interests of the United States, and we have a responsibility to stand with the Venezuelan people by extending these sanctions.”

The extended sanctions became part of a four-part deal that resulted in the confirmation of a new U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

Here’s what took place, according to a Senate aide who briefed the Miami Herald:

More here.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

Three Floridians among Obama nominees to federal district bench


President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated U.S. magistrate judges in Jacksonville and Ocala and a prominent Tampa lawyer for federal district court seats, adding their names to a backlog of dozens of judicial picks the Republican-controlled Senate has failed to confirm.

Obama named Magistrate Judge Patricia D. Barksdale of Jacksonville and Tampa white-collar defense attorney William F. Jung to the Middle District of Florida, and he chose Magistrate Judge Philip R. Lammens for the Northern District of Florida.

"There is a judicial emergency in the Middle District of Florida right now," Sen. Bill Nelson said. "Sen. Rubio and I have conferred on these three nominees, and even in this highly partisan environment, I'm hopeful that we can get them approved quickly."

Aides to Rubio confirmed that the two senators had worked together in recommending the Florida nominees to Obama.

Rubio, however, declined to say whether he would push for his Senate Republican colleagues to confirm them. Republicans are refusing to hold hearings or to vote on Obama's nomination last month of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

With 85 federal district seats unfilled nationwide, Florida has three of 28 vacancies deemed "emergency" by the U.S. Judicial Conference, the policy-making body for federal courts overseen by the Supreme Court.

The emergency designation is based on a combination of the length of vacancy and how many cases are pending before a court.

Both seats that Obama moved to fill Thursday for the Middle District of Florida are among the 28 emergency vacancies, with one seat empty since June 30, 2015, and the second seat unfilled since August 1 of last year.

The Middle District of Florida had 9,401 cases in 2015, which is considered a heavy load. It stretches from south of Naples on the Gulf Coast to the Georgia border and includes Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando.

Obama also nominated five other district judges to seats in Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina and the District of Columbia.

"Throughout their careers, these nominees have displayed unwavering commitment to justice and integrity," Obama said of his eight choices for judicial promotion. "Their records are distinguished and impressive, and I am confident that they will serve the American people well from the United States District Court bench."

The Senate on April 11 unanimously confirmed Waverly Crenshaw Jr., an African-American lawyer from Nashville, Tenn., to a federal district judgeship.

The Senate confirmed just 17 of Obama's judicial nominees last year, the fewest since 1960.

Before becoming a U.S. magistrate judge in 2012, Lammens was a federal prosecutor in Jacksonville, the city's No. 2 attorney and a civil trial lawyer in the torts division of the U.S. Justice Department. He earned his law and undergraduate degrees from the University of Florida.

A U.S. magistrate judge since 2013, Barksdale also previously worked as a federal prosecutor in Jacksonville. She, too, has undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida.

Jung is a founding partner of the Jung & Sisco law firm in Ocala, specializing in white-collar criminal defense. He was a federal prosecutor in Miami in the late 1980s and clerked before that for then-Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist. Jung received his law degree from the University of Illinois and his undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University





Broward GOP chair Bob Sutton in hot water over Monica Lewinsky comment

In a presidential election in which the Republican frontrunner commented on the size of his — well, you know — Broward’s GOP chairman has taken the level of discourse to a new low.

Bob Sutton, chair of the Broward Republican Executive Committee, told the Washington Postthat Democrat Hillary Clinton would be easy to defeat in a debate.

How easy?

“I think when Donald Trump debates Hillary Clinton she’s going to go down like Monica Lewinsky,” he said in an article about campaign gender wars.

Sutton’s quote set off a flurry of phone calls and emails between Broward Republican activists who felt his comments were in poor taste.

“I’m getting a lot of phone calls right now. A lot of women are very offended,” said Dolly T. Rump, an activist and Trump supporter who lives in Coral Springs. “It’s very distasteful to a lot of women.”

Sutton’s comment showed poor judgment, said Lauren Cooley, a 23-year-old Fort Lauderdale Republican who lost the chair race to Sutton last year.

Keep reading here.