August 14, 2017

Gov. Rick Scott PAC gets donation from family behind the Villages

via @learyreports

Gary Morse, the man who developed the Villages, died in 2014 but his family continues to play a role in politics, and recently gave $100,000 to a super PAC chaired by Gov. Rick Scott.

The Holding Company of the Villages contributed to the New Republican PAC, which Scott announced in May, and is the biggest single donation to date. The super PAC took in $270,000 in the first six months of 2017.

Morse over the years gave millions to Republicans and the new donation illustrates his family intends to remain politically active.

Among other major donors to New Republican PAC: New Yorker financier Roger Hertog ($25,000); Dosal Tobacco Corp. ($25,000); and Friends of Mike H, the committee controlled by Mike Haridopolos ($25,000).

New Republican PAC spent just under $50,000, for consulting and travel.

Republicans use Spanish-language radio to attack Bill Nelson on Venezuela and Cuba

Bill Nelson


In their first radio ad against Sen. Bill Nelson, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is attacking the Democrat up for reelection over his perceived softness towards Venezuela and Cuba.

The ad, titled "Accomplice," is the latest evidence that the ongoing crisis in Venezuela will become a political issue in South Florida, where Venezuelan voters are concentrated in parts of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. It will air on four Spanish-language radio stations in the Miami area.

"Our government in Washington has to stop (Nicolás) Maduro and his accomplices," the ad says. "What has our Senator Bill Nelson done? In the past, he has aligned himself with communists and dictators. Look at him with Cuba. He supported (Barack) Obama when he negotiated with the other terrorists, the Castro brothers. When Nelson supports the Castros, that only reinforces and encourages others, like it did with (Hugo) Chavez and now with Maduro." 

Nelson is one of 10 Democratic Senators up for reelection next year in states won by Donald Trump in 2016. He figures to face a challenge from outgoing Florida Gov. Rick Scott in 2018, though Scott has not announced a bid. 

That hasn't stopped national Republicans from going after Nelson. 

The ad also charges that Nelson visited Chavez in Venezuela in 2005 and that he went to Venezuela to "admire Chavez's revolution." 


Politicians from both parties, including Nelson, have vocally opposed Maduro in recent months. Nelson, along with others from Florida, are urging the Trump administration to impose a ban on Venezuelan oil imports after Maduro moved forward with a constituent assembly stocked with Maduro loyalists that can rewrite the Venezuelan constitution. 

“It’s time that we consider cutting the imports of Venezuelan oil,” Nelson said on the Senate floor recently. “We are now dealing with a Cuban-style dictator.”

The ad isn't the first attack by the NRSC on Nelson this year. In July the group tasked with electing Republicans to the U.S. Senate ran an ad on Facebook saying that Nelson wants a single-payer health care system championed by liberals like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Politifact rated that claim "mostly false," as Nelson is on record saying that he doesn't support single-payer and instead wants to preserve and improve Obamacare. 

Listen to the ad here: 



August 09, 2017

Gov. Rick Scott, the 'Louisiana Mafia,' and his out-of-state political hires

Curt AndersonIf money is the mother's milk of politics, then Florida Gov. Rick Scott's political committee is providing lots of nourishment to operatives outside of Florida.

Of the $6.5 million his political committee, Let's Get to Work, has spent since his 2014 re-election, $4.5 million of it went to consultants and services outside of Florida, according to a Herald/Times review of the committee's expenditures since January 2015.

The bulk of the out-of-state money -- $3.9 million -- was delivered to his political consultant, OnMessage, based in Annapolis, Md.

In addition to consulting expenses, the political committee's website service is based in Alexandria, Va. 

When the governor needed some robo-call assistance in June -- as he fended off an attempt to gut his economic development agency -- his committee spent $12,000 on an Arlington, Virginia-based company to make telephone calls. 

His most recent hire appears to be Taylor Teepell, a Louisiana native who ran former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's five-month campaign for president in 2015.  Scott hired him to be finance director of the New Republican Super PAC which he now serves as chair. Melissa Sellers Stone, Scott's former chief of staff and campaign manager, serves as the director of the pac. She also came to Florida after working in Louisiana, where she served on Jindal's staff.

Stone has been paid $188,800 in the last year from LGTW, including $18,800 in reimbursement for travel and other expenses.

Since June, Teepell has also created a company, Traction Capital LLC, that was paid $10,816 in May and June by LGTW for "fundraising, consulting and office supplies." New Republican also paid Teepell's company $13,400 in May and June. Before that, Scott had given Teepell a $110,000 job as head of the agency overseeing Florida's growth management, a position for which the Louisiana native had no planning experience. 

As Scott positions himself for a likely run for U.S. Senate next year, he continues to tap the Louisiana vein. On Message, headed by Curt Anderson, employs Teepell's brother, Timmy, in Baton Rouge.

And Stone was among those FDLE agents originally referred to as the "Louisiana Mafia" because of the heavy-handed way they attempted to use state law enforcement vehicles for the 2014 campaign. The others are Frank and Meghan Collins. Frank is policy director at the Florida Department of Transportation and Meghan, his wife, is director of communications at the Department of Education.

Arkansas transplant and BBQ expert Josh Cooper has been on a monthly retainer with LGTW of between $5,000 to $8,000. He earned more than $192,000 since 2015 for two Florida-based corporations he has established. 

There are some exceptions to the out-of-state link. LGTW's biggest Florida hire appears to be Debbie Aleksander, a Tallahassee based fundraiser who has been paid $363,000.

In 2015, Scott's committee had Tony Fabrizio on retainer and paid him $43,000. As Scott increased his presence in Miami this year, he has Miami political consultant Ana M. Carbonell and her company, The Factor, $249,000 since his re-election.

Much of Scott's Florida operation is run out of the offices of Tallahassee consultant Brecht Heuchan, the refurbished Fire Station #2.  Stone lists Heuchan's Contribution Link office as her address. The governor does too -- when the campaign reimbursed him $461 in food and beverages in 2015. And Cooper also runs a consulting business located in Heuchan's headquarters.

Heuchen has been paid $116,000 for consulting and $80,000 for database services since 2015, the reports show.

Photo: Curt Anderson of OnMessage, the chief political consultant for Gov. Rick Scott. 

July 31, 2017

South Florida water managers select Ernie Marks as their third director in three years

Ernie marksvia @JenStaletovich

The South Florida Water Management District chose its deputy director as the agency’s new chief, replacing a combative insider close to the governor with a career environmental regulator who has spent more than a decade working on Everglades restoration.

Ernie Marks, who joined the district in March 2016, becomes the third director in three years.

Marks served as the South Florida regional director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for two years and before that oversaw ecosystem projects for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for a decade. He has a degree in environmental economics and natural resource management from the University of Rhode Island.

Marks was the only person nominated for the position during the board’s 31-minute meeting, largely spent praising the work of outgoing director, Pete Antonacci, the former general counsel for Gov. Rick Scott who earlier this month was named new chief of Enterprise Florida.

“Pete was the right guy at the right time,” said board chairman Dan O’Keefe. “My advice to Enterprise Florida: Brace yourselves and fasten your seat belts.”

During his two years at the helm, Antonacci repeatedly took on federal regulators and environmental groups. He accused the Everglades Foundation of cooking numbers on a study that looked at the need for a southern reservoir and threatened to end a longstanding partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, incurring the wrath of longtime Everglades advocate Nathaniel Reed. Earlier this month, he ordered district scientists not to participate in the National Academies of Sciences’ annual review of Everglades Restoration in West Palm Beach this week. More here.

Gov. Rick Scott's promise to fight for Obamacare repeal has stalled



Gov. Rick Scott's promise to fight for repeal of the Affordable Care Act has hit a roadblock after the Senate failed to pass any legislation to repeal the law or replace it.

In the early morning of July 28, Republicans failed to muster enough votes to repeal former President Barack Obama's signature legislation. Three Republicans sided with the Democrats, leading to the defeat of repeal: John McCain of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Scott, a Republican and former health care company president, vowed during his first campaign in 2010 to fight to repeal the federal law. We have been tracking his progress on our Scott-O-Meter, which tracks dozens of Scott's campaign promises.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

July 28, 2017

Florida's legal losses up to $19M and counting under Gov. Rick Scott


From Gary Fineout of the Associated Press:

Florida's price tag for losing legal battles — which has included courtroom fights over drug testing, voting rights and gay marriage — continues to grow under Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott recently agreed to pay $1.1 million to cover the legal bills of physicians and medical organizations in their successful challenge of a law that restricted doctors' ability to talk to patients about guns. The law had been pushed through the Florida Legislature at the urging of the National Rifle Association.

In early July, the state also agreed to a $2 million payment that will go to lawyers who sued on behalf of disabled inmates.

A review of records by The Associated Press shows that since Scott took office in 2011 the state has paid at least $19 million to cover expenses and fees for lawyers who have sued the state. Many of those lawsuits took aim at policies put in place by Scott and the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The Scott administration has defended the legal expenses in the past, saying the governor will "vigorously defend" Florida's laws.

In February a federal appeals court ruled that Florida doctors can talk to patients about gun safety, declaring a law aimed at restricting such discussions a violation of the First Amendment's right to free speech. The state did not appeal the decision and in late June reached a settlement to pay $1.1 million for attorney fees and costs.

One of the firms involved in the lawsuit — Ropes & Gray — announced it would donate $100,000 of its fee award to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

"This award is a message to states to think twice before enacting or defending laws that put lives at risk just to boost the gun industry's bottom line," said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, in a statement.

John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, defended the state's fight over the law. He said the governor was a "strong supporter" of the 2nd Amendment and that he signed the bill "after it was approved by a large, bipartisan majority in the Florida Legislature."

Earlier this month, the state agreed to pay $2 million to cover the fees and costs for groups that sued the state in 2016 over its treatment of inmates with hearing, vision and mobility disabilities.

Randall Berg with the Florida Justice Institute said the money will go to reimbursing the institute, Disability Rights Florida, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and the well-known personal injury law firm Morgan & Morgan. John Morgan is a frequent Democratic donor and has been speculating about running for governor next year.

In the last six years, the state has agreed to pay attorney fees of lawyers who have sued the state over everything from employee discrimination to drug testing of welfare recipients.

The total includes $12 million paid to attorneys who represented pediatricians in a more than 10-year legal battle over whether Florida violated federal mandates by failing to deliver critical health services to 2 million children on Medicaid.

The state also paid more than $800,000 to lawyers working for the American Civil Liberties Union and nearly $513,000 to lawyers who defeated a state law targeting businesses doing business in Cuba.

An AP review found that between 2011 and early 2017 that Florida had spent more than $237 million on outside lawyers hired to defend the state.

July 27, 2017

On Venezuela, Scott suggests a ban on what the state is already not doing

Scott Venezuela rallyGov. Rick Scott will ask the Florida Cabinet next month to prohibit the state's investment managers from doing something they already do not do: invest in companies or securities owned or controlled by the Venezuelan government.

The proposed resolution released by the governor’s office on Thursday stops short of advancing a bolder threat Scott had been making at public appearances as recently as last week when he vowed to boycott companies that “do business” with the Nicolás Maduro regime.

Instead, the vote on the resolution -- scheduled for the Aug. 16 meeting of the State Board of Administration -- will be a mostly-symbolic gesture aimed at sending the message that Florida will not tolerate any business sympathetic to the Maduro regime going forward. The SBA oversees the Florida Retirement System and its $150 billion in assets.

"We currently do not maintain any investments owned by the Venezuelan government right now,'' SBA spokesperson John Kuczwanski told the Herald/Times. The governor's resolution will not change that but make sure it doesn't change going forward.

Under the governor’s proposal, the SBA will be:
•Prohibited from investing in any securities issued by the government of Venezuela or any company that is majority owned by the government.  
•Prohibited from taking a shareholder proxy vote that advocates or supports the Maduro regime.
•Prohibited from doing business with any financial institution or U.S. company which directly, or through a subsidiary, violates federal law by making a loan, extending credit, or makes purchases with the government of Venezuela.

"The atrocities happening at the hands of the brutal and oppressive Maduro regime are unspeakable,’’ Scott said in a news release detailing his proposal. “I have heard firsthand from Floridians about the need for change in Venezuela. Prohibiting the Florida State Board of Administration from making investments that support Nicolas Maduro is a big step in the right direction, and we must continue to find ways to bring freedom and democracy to Venezuela.”

Scott, who is expected to run for U.S. Senate next year, has been courting South Florida voters with tough talk on the Maduro government.

“Next month, at my next Cabinet meeting, I will be proposing a resolution that will say any organization that does business with the Maduro regime cannot do business with the State of Florida,” Scott proclaimed at a July 10 rally at the El Arepazo restaurant in Doral. The crowd cheered.

If he had followed through on his threatened boycott of companies that do business with the Maduro region, it would have affected companies like Goldman Sachs Asset Management, which purchased $2.8 billion in bonds in May from Venezuela’s state-run oil company, and companies like Delta Airlines and McDonald's restaurants which still operate in the country.

Although the governor, attorney general and state chief financial officer act as the State Board of Administration, they need a state law to sell off large amounts of assets that could affect the profitability of the Florida Retirement System funds, as the Herald/Times wrote last week. Additionally, a 16-year-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling may bar them from telling state agencies to boycott companies that do business in Venezuela. Read more here. 

July 24, 2017

Gov. Rick Scott talks tough on Venezuela sanctions but, as governor, his options are limited

Scott VenezuelaTo show his solidarity with Venezuelans, Gov. Rick Scott held a rally in South Florida and repeatedly promised to punish companies that do business with the Nicolás Maduro regime.

But Scott has offered no details as to how that will work and, although the governor and two other members of the Cabinet oversee the Florida Retirement System and its $150 billion in assets, their options are limited. Additionally, a 16-year-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling may bar him from telling state agencies to boycott companies that do business in Venezuela.

“Next month, at my next Cabinet meeting, I will be proposing a resolution that will say any organization that does business with the Maduro regime cannot do business with the State of Florida,” Scott proclaimed at a July 10 rally at the El Arepazo restaurant in Doral. The crowd cheered.

The governor, attorney general and state chief financial officer act as the State Board of Administration but, because they have a fiduciary responsibility to keep the state pension fund healthy, they may not sell off large amounts of assets if that could affect the profitability of the fund — unless they are ordered to by law.

“We are required to manage the fund with the best interests of the beneficiaries in mind, and that may restrict what can be done in any situation,” said John Kuczwanski, spokesperson for the SBA. “But the Legislature can go beyond that and require us to do something else.”

 Sen. José Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat who has announced he is running for the congressional seat being vacated by Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen next year, said Venezuela’s human rights abuses, increasing violence and disrespect for democracy, merit such a law.

On July 5, he announced he has drafted legislation that would require Florida to divest investments in any “institution or company doing business with the government of Venezuela.”

“The idea is to make this something that we can actually implement,” Rodriguez said Friday. “If we can’t take concrete steps, it won’t mean anything to Wall Street. To Wall Street, money talks.” Rodriguez’s proposal is directed at Goldman Sachs Asset Management, which purchased $2.8 billion in bonds in May from Venezuela’s state-run oil company, and at other firms that engage in “the possibility of future investments of this kind.”

Read more here. 

Photo: Florida Governor Rick Scott speaks to the media as he holds a Venezuelan ‘Freedom Rally’ at El Arepazo 2 restaurant on July 10, 2017 in Doral. Scott called on the Venezuelan government to free Leopoldo Lopez, a political prisoner from house arrest, as well as those that have been wrongly imprisoned by Nicolas Maduro's government. Joe Raedle Getty Images

July 21, 2017

Gov. Scott vetoed a higher ed bill. Now he wants universities to spend their money wisely.



When Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a major higher education reform bill last month, it didn’t strip away millions of dollars for Florida’s public universities that was already approved separately in the state budget but linked to that proposed policy.

Because the policy didn’t become law, the universities aren’t as limited now in how they can spend the money.

Scott sent letters to each of the 12 public universities this week urging them to use the dollars — more than $120 million among the individual institutions — to “focus on graduation rates” and encourage post-graduation career opportunities.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Matias Ocner / Miami Herald

July 14, 2017

Gov. Scott says the Senate health care rewrite continues to punish Florida

Rick Scott 2015 APWhat exactly does Gov. Rick Scott want in return for repeal of Obamacare?

That's an answer that's been rather difficult to discern judging by the governor's public pronouncements. On Friday, the governor's office released an op-ed that gave us a hint that the governor's not happy about the Medicaid reimbursement rates in the Senate's rewrite of the Better Care Reconciliation Act. He says, the bill is "rewarding inefficient states" like New York and punishing what he considers more efficient states like Florida.

Here's what the governor said he doesn't like about the rewrite:

  • The Medicaid reimbursement rates "lock in past federal spending" that gives Florida only $15 billion in Medicaid funds while New York gets $33 billion. Scott argues that both the proposed House and Senate bills "would make this inequity permanent."
  • He wants to see a cut in federal "income taxes for Floridians by 30 percent" if those provisions remain -- to put the state on par with states like New York that took advantage of the federal offer under Obamacare to expand Medicaid.

The revamped Senate plan released this week continues to cut $772 billion in Medicaid spending over the next decade, with hundreds of billions in additional cuts in the 10 years after that. The cuts include a four-year phase-out of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion with a new restriction on the program's growth rate that begins in 2020.

Sen. Marco Rubio, who said Thursday he will vote to bring up a vote on the new Senate plan, wants to see changes to those cuts, however. He said he will introduce an amendment that ensures Florida, which chose not to expand Medicaid, isn't locked into a baseline "that puts us at a disadvantageous position." 

Here is what the governor's letter appears to support:

  • "incremental changes to get rid of the taxes and mandates and roll back the federal welfare state"
  • immediate repeal of Obamacare.

Scott spokesperson McKinley Lewis added these priorities of the governor's: 

  • Every state receives the same amount per capita for every Medicaid recipient.
  • Every American, regardless of pre-existing condition, has the right to purchase insurance coverage that fits their needs.
  • Every state gets the flexibility to set benefits and reimbursement rates under their Medicaid program that best fit the needs of their citizens.

There are so many more questions left unanswered about where the governor stands. 

Does he support the Senate rewrite that removed two significant tax cuts for the wealthy to add $45 billion to combat opioid addiction and billions to offset  higher insurance costs for low-income people and to stabilize the individual markets?

Does he support the additional $182 billion that goes to states to help drive down the cost of premiums? How much more does he think Florida should be getting in Medicaid money? How much less should states like New York get? 

Does the governor agree with Rubio that the new draft includes some positive improvements for Florida -- like steering more Medicaid DSH money to hospitals that serve the uninsured in Florida?

Does the governor like the piece that includes catastrophic coverage in the scaled down insurance coverage options? 

When the governor talks about efficiency, it is efficient if people can't afford insurance and have to rely on emergency rooms for primary care? If Obamacare is repealed, how quickly will Florida have a plan in place to make sure the uninsured get the preventive care they need to keep them out of hospital ERs? What would that plan look like?

These questions were posed to the governor's office Friday. Instead of answering, Lewis asked that we print this statement which makes clear one thing -- the governor may know what he wants Congress to do, but he's not ready to be pinned down by a statement that tells the public what it is.

"We are carefully reviewing the bill,'' Lewis said. "While it’s better than Obamacare, the governor wants to continue to find ways to make it better for Florida." 

Here's the text of the governor's op-ed:

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