February 12, 2014

Florida Democrats: Scott shouldn't use official state photos, Florida seal on campaign website

Gov. Rick Scott may wear the state seal on his cowboy boots, but it shouldn’t be popping up on his campaign website, say Florida Democratic Party officials, who argue that Scott isn’t following state laws prohibiting the use of the seal in public campaigns.

The official state seal appears when visitors to the campaign website click on a few videos, including a Feb. 3rd announcement of $80 million in cancer research and another on education funding. According to Florida statutes, “in no event shall approval be given for the use of the Great Seal for the following: (a) Political or campaign purposes.”

Florida Democratic Party’s communications director Joshua Karp says the law is well-known to both parties, but charges that Scott and his team “feel comfortable cutting corners.”

The campaign site, which launched Feb. 8, shows the seal only as part of videos made by the governor’s office “that are publicly available online and they can be used by anyone,” counters Scott’s new deputy communications director, Greg Blair.

Blair said the same goes for another criticism by the Democrats -- that the Scott campaign is using material -- pictures by staff photographers and press releases written by state workers -- paid for with taxpayer dollars on its campaign site. “Taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook” for those, Karp said.

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January 29, 2014

Charlie Crist might have to raise $165,000/day to stay competitive with Rick Scott

@MarcACaputo

Charlie Crist faces the most-daunting of challenges in the governor's race: keeping at least half-way behind Gov. Rick Scott's money-spending rain-making juggernaut of a campaign effort.

Leading in the polls and better-liked, the former governor knows that the current governor has to greatly outspend Crist to redefine him successfully. So Crist likely needs to hold Scott to no more than a 2:1 advantage.

And since Rick Scott plans to spend as much as $100 million (through his committee, his campaign and the Republican Party of Florida), Crist wants to spend as much as $50 million.

Total cash on hand for Crist, between his campaign and political committee accounts: $3.9 million. Let's call that $4 million. That leaves a mere $46 million for him and Democrats to raise in the 278 days until the Nov. 4 Election Day (assuming he wins the Aug. 26 Democratic primary against Nan Rich, running since early 2012, who has only about $75,000 cash on hand in her campaign account as of the last reporting period that ended Dec. 31.)

So Crist and the Democrats need to start hauling in an average of about $165,467.63 daily. That includes weekends and holidays. 

The flip side to all the challenges Democrats face: Scott's goal looks even more daunting at first. 

Scott has about $24.6 million in his political committee’s bank. So he'd have to raise about $75 million more to hit $100 million. But Scott has the state Republican Party, which controls the Legislature and therefore the special interests seeking to curry favor, cranking up fundraising like never before. And, perhaps more importantly, Scott's independently wealthy.

After all, Scott spent $75.1 million of his own money in 2010.

So what's another $75 million -- especially if special interests pick up more of the tab than ever?

January 15, 2014

Rick Scott World rumblings: big shifts in gov's office, campaign and RPOF imminent

@MarcACaputo

There's a higher amount of traffic than usual about some big shifts in Gov. Rick Scott's office, his campaign and the Republican Party of Florida. The announcement could happen as early as Friday. Still, consider this all informed speculation based on multiple sources:

Melissa Sellers, the governor's spokeswoman, could soon be tapped to lead the campaign as manager, Republicans say. Sellers wasn't ready to confirm or deny the chatter. 

As the news started to break, Saintpetersblog's Peter Schorsch was the first to tweet that he heard about Sellers' possible move. So hat tip (assuming it's true, which it sounded as if it is). Schorsch noted the curiosity that Scott's chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, might not get the post (which many expected him to snag). With the appointment of Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera to lieutenant governor, where Scott wants to use the former legislator to press his agenda in the Legislature, it looks as if Hollingsworth has lost a measure of power (probably inevitable, regardless of who was chosen for the post).

It's unclear if Sellers, former spokeswoman for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, has ever run a campaign -- especially a $100 million behemoth that Scott's could become. Either way, given her representation of Scott, there's a good chance she's up to the task. And she could have help.

Tim Saler, RPOF's deputy director for political strategy, might be chosen to be the campaign's deputy director or its political director, sources said. He didn't want to comment.

Matt Moon, RPOF's communications director, could become communications director for the campaign. This press person, too, wouldn't comment along with RPOF spokeswoman Susan Hepworth, who could take over his role at the party. It's always telling when press communications people don't communicate with the press. 

But don't think RPOF is going to be bare. It's going to be a bear (or a bull for you stock-market types).

The party is hiring a: Media Affairs Manager, Communications Assistant, War Room operative, Director of Press Advance (experience needed), Press Advance Field member, Hispanic Comms expert, Research and Rapid Response employee, Bracketing Manager, Digital Content/Community Manager, Digital Rapid Response Manager, Email Manager, Viral Marketing Manager, Website Content Manager, Copy Writer, Digital Insights Analyst, Graphic Designer, Paid Media Coordinator, and Digital-Political Coordinator.

"It's going to be bigger than Mitt Romney's campaign in Florida," a Republican said. "No one will ever have seen a campaign like this in Florida. The Democrats and Charlie Crist won't know what hit them."

October 29, 2013

Steve Crisafulli sounds alarm on House Democratic fundraising gains

In the wake of Amanda Murphy’s surprise victory two weeks ago, just how spooked are House Republicans about losing any more seats?

Very -- from the tone of a Monday e-mail from incoming House Speaker Steve Crisafulli of Merritt Island to members of the House Republican caucus.

While Crisafulli notes that Republicans are raising money at a record pace, he stressed that average fundraising is actually declining. Meanwhile, he says, Democratic members are raising more money on average.

“This is a trend that must be broken!” Crisafulli states (bold and underline are his).

True fear? Motivational tool? Or both? There's no threat that Republicans will come even close to losing their majority (they control the House 75-45). 

What's interesting is how naked the emphasis on fundraising is among House Republicans. Not only is everyone told they must raise a certain amount, but now everyone knows that Crisafulli and other House leaders are keeping score.

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October 28, 2013

John Thrasher as Scott's No. 2? 'I'm not going to speculate'

It has been nearly eight months since Jennifer Carroll resigned as Florida lieutenant governor, and Gov. Rick Scott appears to be in no hurry to name her replacement. But speculation persists that Scott is seriously considering state Sen. John Thrasher of St. Augustine as his new partner, and Thrasher won't completely rule out his interest.

"I'm not going to speculate on that. I'm happy being a senator," Thrasher said Monday. About the chatter that he's Scott's No. 1 choice, he said: "It's all news to me ... I don't know where the speculation's coming from. Nobody has directly contacted me from the governor's office." 

As chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, Thrasher wields plenty of power in the state Capitol. But within a year, control of the Senate will shift to Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who last year survived an attempted coup by Thrasher to keep his grip on the presidency. It would surprise nobody if Gardiner has someone other than Thrasher in mind for the agenda-setting Rules chairmanship.

Scott's chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, told The Buzz Friday that it would be "not true" to report that Thrasher's selection is imminent. Scott's office said nothing has changed as of Monday. The governor's office dismissed the notion that Scott may want to announce his choice by Friday, just before leaving for a week-long trade mission to Japan, and in an effort to steal the spotlight from Charlie Crist's candidacy announcement next Monday.

Thrasher has the respect not only of Scott, but especially Hollingsworth, a close friend who's in charge of the search. Thrasher also is a consummate deal-maker and effective fund-raiser who played a pivotal role in orchestrating the ouster of former state GOP chairman Jim Greer, who was Crist's hand-picked choice for party chairman.

But Thrasher, 69, a multimillionaire who lives in St. Augustine, would not help Scott expand his base: he's a safe establishment pick who would appease centrists and help Scott govern, as opposed to enhancing his re-election prospects.

After leaving office, Thrasher made millions as a super-lobbyist with Southern Strategy Group, making him an easy mark as a symbol of all that's wrong with Tallahassee and its revolving door culture.

Thrasher's past controversies also will be gleefully recycled by Scott's critics, too. He was twice punished for ethics violations and oversaw a $6 million refurbishing of the House chamber when he was speaker (1998-2000), but that's ancient news.

If he's about to be picked as Scott's running mate, Thrasher said, it's news to him. "I think the Florida Senate is really a fun place to be," he said. "That's where I am now, and that's where I think I'm going to be happy staying."

Now, the plot thickens: Thrasher's departure from the Senate would open his seat and demand a special election, so it could alter the balance of power for control of the chamber in the 2016-18 term, when Republicans Jack Latvala and Joe Negron are both seeking the presidency. (Thrasher is aligned with Negron). 

Scott has to choose someone sooner or later. He's being advised by Republican allies to choose an L.G. soon or wait until next May, after the 2014 legislative session ends, by which time the campaign will be heating up.

-- Steve Bousquet

October 25, 2013

Of 'fortress precincts' and Hispanic voters: FL. election turnout war off to early start

@MarcACaputo

Florida Democrats celebrate this weekend at Disney World; Republicans might wind up knocking on your door.

The contrast between the two parties — one reveling in repeat election wins and favorable polls at its state conference; the other canvassing neighborhoods door-to-door statewide — illustrates Florida’s state of political play over the next election year.

“Florida Democrats are in Orlando this weekend to talk to themselves,” Tim Saler, a top RPOF political strategist.

“While their wheels are spinning at their convention,” he said, “we will have hundreds of precinct captains knocking on doors and talking to thousands of real voters about the issues that matter to them.”

For months, even as Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s poll numbers remained poor, RPOF says it has been identifying and then personally contacting thousands of voters — especially the estimated 450,000 Republicans who vote in presidential elections but didn’t in 2010.

More than half live in conservative “fortress precincts” targeted by the RPOF.

RPOF also recently announced three new Hispanic-outreach coordinators. Democrats had already hired three of their own.

Democrats have a bigger edge with Hispanics, the fastest-growing segment of the electorate. And they’re trying to keep it that way.

Since May, the Florida Democratic Party says it has hosted about six monthly voter-registration efforts outside naturalization ceremonies in Central and South Florida, where they also have held an average of three monthly Hispanic community events.

Democrats have tailored some events toward Venezuelans, Colombians, Cubans, Nicaraguans and Puerto Ricans in different areas of the state.

“We haven’t stopped our efforts since 2012,” said the Florida Democratic Party’s political director, Christian Ulvert, estimating the party has out-registered Republicans with Hispanics by a 3:1 ratio.

“We haven’t seen where the Republicans have been doing it in a coordinated way or effective way,” he said.

Full story here

September 16, 2013

Clemens asks Senate to review the 'serious conflict of interest' with staff outside employment

In a letter to the chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, is calling for legislative hearings on the revolving door that allows employees to take leaves of absence from the legislature to work for political campaigns.

In the letter to Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, Clemens called it a "serious conflict of interest when legislative employees are allowed to leave work and earn money from campaigns and/or the companies that have business before the Legislature."

"The public deserves to feel confident that special interests are not buying influence with the Legislature by contributing to the bottom line wealth of employees who supposedly earn that money after-hours,'' he wrote. "It also places the employee in an awkward position, knowing he or she may have to make a decision that adversely impacts a special interest that has contributed to the well being of their family, either directly or through a campaign account."

The letter was sent on Sept. 5, after the Herald/Times reported on a three-year arrangement Senate chief of staff Chris Clark had with Senate President Don Gaetz. Clark was given permission to work part-time for the state during the legislative session and then take a leave of absence to work on the side for campaigns. According to public records, he earned more than $400,000 in consulting fees and payroll in the same years he drew a state salary.

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September 06, 2013

Jim Greer, now inmate, emerges as prison civics teacher

Jim Greer in prison@SteveBousquet

He once controlled the Republican Party of Florida, flying on chartered jets, drinking top-shelf bourbon and mingling with the rich and powerful.

Now Jim Greer lives at Gulf Forestry Camp, a low-security prison in a remote patch of the Florida Panhandle and a world away from the life he lived as a confidant of former Gov. Charlie Crist.

Near the halfway point of his 18-month sentence for grand theft and money laundering, Greer agreed to speak exclusively with the Times/Herald about his old life and his new one.

The man who use to answer to "Chairman" has a new title: Inmate No. C07705.

On the surface, prison has been good to the 51-year-old Greer.

Seated at a conference table at nearby Gulf Correctional Institution, where prison officials arranged an interview, Greer looks noticeably thinner. He says he has lost 40 pounds.

He's also tanner than when Floridians last saw him in an Orlando courthouse in February. The tan is the result of six-hour days on a work crew, pulling weeds and picking up trash in nearby Port St. Joe.

He says he wakes up each morning at 4 a.m., attends church services on Tuesdays and Sundays, and teaches inmates studying for their GEDs about the three branches of government.

"I teach social studies and civics," he said, "believe it or not."

He is eligible for a work release transfer, has a spotless disciplinary record and has few complaints about prison life.

"When you're down in a ditch, it's 100 degrees and you have a Weed Eater, it's not the most pleasant thing," Greer said. "But it's not North Korea. We're not being beaten every day."

During a 75-minute visit, Greer talked about life in prison, the friends he thought he had and the people (he seldom gets specific) that he blames for his downfall. He tantalizes about a possible tell-all book.

"I have a lot of knowledge of a lot of things," he said. "Maybe someday I'll tell them and maybe someday I won't." Story here. 

Photo: Edmund D. Fountain, Tampa Bay Times 

August 25, 2013

From possible juggernaut to punchline of joke, Florida Democrats struggle

@MarcACaputo

With a 500,000 edge in registered voters and a victory by President Barack Obama’s well-organized campaign in the state, the Florida Democratic Party had all the makings of a possible political juggernaut at the start of the year.

Last week, however, it looked like a joke.

The party’s Florida Chief Financial Officer candidate, Allie Braswell, withdrew Monday just days after announcing his bid. Braswell quit after Jacksonville’s Florida Times-Union reported he had a few bankruptcies in his past — a damaging bit of history for someone running to manage the finances of the fourth most-populous state in the nation.

“The bright spotlight of a statewide campaign has cast the ups and downs of my life into harsh relief, and I now know that this campaign is not the way I was meant to serve my community,” Braswell said in a written statement.

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August 13, 2013

Take Andy and Don out to the ball game tonight

Yankees logoWhat can $25,000 and a ticket to NYC get you? A ticket to the ball game with Senate President Don Gaetz and incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, and maybe a box of Cracker Jacks.

The annual fundraiser is intended to raise funds for the Senate re-election campaign in 2014, which is not exactly shaping up to be a heavy lift. (No senator is being forced to retire because of term limits and so no Republicans, who hold the majority, are expected to face much of a challenge.)

The first pitch against the Los Angeles Angels starts at 7:05.

Here's the invite:  Download YANKEES 2013 INVITE (3)