April 19, 2016

Patrick Murphy is a shareholder in family business that gave $300K to pro-Murphy super PAC



Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy consistently expresses disdain for super PACs — even while being a shareholder in a family business that recently dumped $300,000 into a super PAC supporting his bid for higher office.

The Jupiter congressman owns between $1 million and $5 million worth of stock in his father’s company, Miami-based Coastal Construction Group, according to financial disclosures Murphy has filed with the U.S. House of Representatives since his first election in 2012.

Coastal gave a $300,000 donation to the pro-Murphy super PAC, “Floridians for a Strong Middle Class,” at the end of March. That was on top of a $200,000 donation that Murphy’s father and Coastal’s chairman and CEO, Thomas Murphy Jr., gave in December.

Thomas Murphy’s and Coastal’s donations account for more than half of the super PAC’s reported income to date, according to Federal Election Commission records.

But “I hate super PACs,” Patrick Murphy told the Palm Beach Post on Monday after a campaign event in West Palm Beach. “ I think Citizens United was one of the biggest mistakes in our country’s history.”

Super PACs are not bound by campaign contribution limits, but they are prohibited by federal law from coordinating with a candidate’s campaign.

Murphy’s campaign said there was no coordination with “Floridians for a Strong Middle Class,” but his primary opponent U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, questions whether there was.

“I think it’s hard to explain how this isn’t an illegal coordination,” Grayson said. “He’s a shareholder in the company and the company turns around and gives a huge donation to his super PAC. It smacks of utter desperation on his part.”

More here.

Photo credit: Walter Michot / Miami Herald

April 18, 2016

Mazel Tov! Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera had Bar Mitzvah at western wall in Israel

Nothing clears up the ambiguity of Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera’s religion like having a Bar Mitzvah.

Yep, at the not-so-tender age of 42, Lopez-Cantera -- who once described himself in his house biography as Catholic -- had a Bar Mitzvah at the western wall in Jerusalem last week while traveling with the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association. The Jewish rite of passage into adulthood typically occurs at age 13, but it’s not unheard of for adults to have the ceremony if they didn’t have one as a teenager.

Lopez-Cantera’s wife, Renee, and mother are Jewish, while his father is Catholic.

Lopez-Cantera brought up his Bar Mitzvah with the Miami Herald during a brief interview Monday after an event at the Jewish Community Center in Davie, where Gov. Rick Scott held a ceremonial bill signing to create a Holocaust Memorial in Tallahassee.

Lopez-Cantera told the crowd at the David Posnack Jewish Community Center in Davie that he had recently visited Israel including Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial.

After the event, the Herald asked Lopez-Cantera about how he identifies religiously.

“I’m Jewish,” he replied, and then said that he had a Bar Mitzvah while in Jerusalem.

“It definitely wasn’t planned” in advance, he said. He noted that his family wasn’t on the tour of Israel with him.

But he said the opportunity “presented itself” while he was in Israel so he had the Bar Mitzvah with a Chabad rabbi. Typically those preparing for their Bar Mitzvah study for months with a tutor and a rabbi to learn how to chant a portion in Hebrew from the Torah and lead a service. But this was more of a quickie Bar Mitzvah.

We asked Lopez-Cantera what his Torah passage was and he said he didn’t read from the Torah but did recite a prayer.

“It was a moving experience,” he said.

It’s not surprising that a Chabad rabbi would perform a spontaneous Bar Mitzvah for Lopez-Cantera. Chabad, or Chabad-Lubavitch, is an Orthodox Jewish movement and is known for outreach to Jews who express interest but may be unaffiliated or didn’t always have a strong Jewish identity.

A Chabad news service wrote that in 2014, Tallahassee Shliach Rabbi Schneor Oirechman “has been visiting Lopez-Cantera for years, having helped him put on Tefillin during his term as Republican Majority Leader.” (That refers to the pair of black leather boxes containing Hebrew parchment scrolls that men wear.)

But the politician didn’t always wear his Judaism on his sleeve. Lopez-Cantera’s religion has been a bit of a mystery over the years.

In his official state House biography in 2010, Lopez-Cantera listed himself as Catholic. In a clerk's manual in 2012, he listed no religious affiliation.

In 2014 when he was named lieutenant governor, the Herald asked Lopez-Cantera about his religion. His reply: "I'd rather not be defined that way ... We're very spiritual." (According to Jewish law, he is a Jew because his mother is Jewish.)

But he has talked more openly about being Jewish this year.

"Now, you may not have known this from my name, Lopez-Cantera, but I'm Jewish," he said in Boca Raton earlier this month at a ceremonial signing of a bill that prohibits the state from doing business with companies that favor a boycott of Israel. "My father came from Cuba but he married a nice Jewish girl in Miami, and I followed suit and married a nice Jewish girl in Miami as well ... We keep a Jewish household and are raising our daughters Jewish."

Shoring up his Jewish cred may not get Lopez-Cantera very far at the ballot box because the vast majority of Jewish voters are Democrats (although the Orthodox lean right). But it does give him one way to differentiate himself in a crowded GOP primary that includes U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis and David Jolly, wealthy businessman Carlos Beruff and entrepreneur Todd Wilcox. (Jolly also recently visited Israel where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.)

On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who is Jewish, faces U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy.

About 3 percent of Floridians are Jewish, but they tend to vote in higher concentrations than other groups so the percent of primary voters who are Jewish could be in the ballpark of five to seven percent.

The Senate primary is Aug. 30, but some will start voting by mail in July.

National, state teachers unions endorse Patrick Murphy for U.S. Senate


The state's largest teachers union and its two national affiliates are endorsing Democrat Patrick Murphy in Florida's U.S. Senate race.

The Florida Education Association threw its support behind the Jupiter congressman with an announcement Monday morning in Palm Beach County. The FEA represents over 140,000 teachers and school support professionals in the state.

President Joanne McCall said, at the FEA's recommendation, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers back Murphy's U.S. Senate bid, too.

"We support Patrick Murphy for U.S. Senate because he has proven time and time again wholehearted commitment to education and Florida’s teachers and education staff professionals," McCall said. "Patrick has stood with our teachers, education staff professionals, parents and students when it mattered the most. He knows that there is nothing more important to Florida's children's futures than a high-quality education."

Murphy said he'd continue to support fully funding education including Title I and Head Start programs, better teacher pay and universal access to pre-K education, as well as backing away from high-stakes standardized testing.

"We’re setting back an entire generation. We’ve got to make sure we’re moving toward debt-free education," Murphy said during his remarks.

Murphy has racked up establishment endorsements during the course of his bid for Marco Rubio's open U.S. Senate seat. Other union support includes the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Florida Teamsters, among others.

His primary opponent -- fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando -- has also gotten support from some unions, including the Communications Workers of America.

April 15, 2016

Super PAC supporting Patrick Murphy gets $300K from his father's Miami company



In a span of four months, the father of U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, and his business interests poured a half-million dollars into a super PAC supporting his son's bid for U.S. Senate.

In mid-December, Thomas Murphy gave $200,000 of his own money to "Floridians for a Strong Middle Class," and then on March 31, Thomas Murphy's Miami-based construction company -- Coastal Construction Group -- shelled out $300,000 to the super PAC.

The $300,000 donation was revealed Friday when the super PAC's quarterly financial disclosure was made available online through the Federal Election Commission. It accounted for 74 percent of the super PAC's intake between January and March, the report showed.

In all, "Floridians for a Strong Middle Class" reported $405,000 in contributions for the first quarter, entering April with $841,300 in cash on hand.

Since the super PAC was established about a year ago, 29 people or companies have donated $965,000 to it. The two donations from Murphy's father and his company account for 52 percent of that total income.

The funds are separate from Murphy's individual campaign account, which on Monday reported raising about $2 million in the first quarter and having $5.6 million in cash on hand.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Alabama has emerged as another top donor for "Floridians for a Strong Middle Class." The tribe gave another $50,000 in March, after first giving $50,000 last year.

Super PACs are not bound by the $2,700-per-race cap on individual contributions, as candidate's campaign committees are, nor can they coordinate directly with the candidate.

Patrick Murphy has been critical of the growing prominence and plethora of super PACs in the modern political era, despite benefiting from them both in this election and in his first U.S. House race.

Murphy's Senate campaign declined to comment today on his father's company's donation to the super PAC last quarter, and a representative of "Floridians for a Strong Middle Class" would not comment directly on it either.

"Patrick Murphy is a proven leader who has stood up for Florida's hard-working families, and as our next Senator he will continue to invest in ways to grow and strengthen Florida's middle class. His record on standing up for Florida's families is exactly why our efforts are receiving broad support," Ashley Walker, the super PAC's senior adviser, said in a statement.

Thomas Murphy has a history of giving sizable donations to super PACs supporting his son. In Patrick Murphy's first U.S. House race in 2012, Thomas Murphy gave $250,000 to the pro-Murphy super PAC American Sunrise.

Murphy faces a contentious August primary against fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, in a bid for Marco Rubio's U.S. Senate seat. Grayson does not appear to have a super PAC supporting him.

Among the five Republican candidates in the race, several have super PACs supporting them.

Photo credit: Walter Michot / Miami Herald

April 13, 2016

Fact-checking Alan Grayson's claim about ethics investigation


U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson waved off a recent congressional report on his alleged ethics violations, arguing that the findings mean he’s practically in the clear.

The Office of Congressional Ethics on April 5, 2016, released a report recommending that a House committee keep investigating Grayson. The Orlando Democrat, who is running for Sen. Marco Rubio’s soon-to-open seat, has been accused of improperly managing a hedge fund, not disclosing all his finances and conducting business deals with the federal government that would be conflicts of interest.

So far, the House has not formed a new subcommittee to keep looking into the allegations. Grayson said in a conference call with reporters that is a sign he likely won’t have to face serious repercussions.

"In every single instance where there's been any formal sanction -— an expulsion, a reprimand or a censure of any member — in every one of those cases since the Office of Congressional Ethics was established, there's been an investigative subcommittee that's been established first," he said. He added that if the House Ethics Committee doesn’t form one of these panels, it usually will dismiss the complaint.

"What this does very likely represent is the end of the road regarding this particular inquiry," he said.

We wondered whether Grayson was right that formal sanctions have only followed the creation of an investigative subcommittee. We found that Grayson has a point on the most severe types of punishments, but it doesn’t mean investigations (or potential penalties) have reached "the end of the road." There may yet be mileage to cover here.

Keep reading Joshua Gillin's fact-check from PolitiFact Florida here.


Patrick Murphy's misleading claim about Florida's payday loan law


Consumer groups have attacked Florida members of Congress, including Patrick Murphy, for defending a payday lending bill that they say traps the poor in a cycle of debt.

Murphy, a Democrat who represents the Treasure Coast and is running for U.S. Senate, disagrees with those consumer advocates.

"The regulations on the (payday lending) industry are some of the strongest here in Florida, stronger than almost any other state," Murphy said in a conference call with reporters April 6.

The position of Democratic lawmakers on payday loans has been a hot topic in Florida.

We will fact-check Murphy’s claim that Florida’s payday lending law is "stronger than almost any other state." We found that consumer groups, independent researchers at Pew Charitable Trusts and the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have raised multiple criticisms of Florida’s law. No expert we interviewed consider Florida’s law to be "stronger than almost any other state."

See how PolitiFact Florida rated this statement.

April 11, 2016

Alan Grayson raises $800K in first quarter, loans another $200K to U.S. Senate campaign



Democrat Alan Grayson reports having had his most successful fundraising period to date since entering the race for Marco Rubio's U.S. Senate seat last July.

But with a crowded slate of candidates, the latest fundraising numbers for the Orlando congressman continue to fall short of his competitors.

Grayson announced this afternoon that he'd raised about $800,000 during the first three months of 2016, of which $700,000 came from online contributions.

His campaign emphasized continuing grassroots support from small-dollar donors -- noting that Grayson has gotten more than 81,000 individual contributions since entering the race and that his first-quarter haul "arrived largely from average online donations of about $16."

“This is what real democracy looks like, when thousands of average citizens give what small amount they can to help elect a true progressive, someone who’s proven he gets things done,” Grayson political director Mario Piscatella said in a statement.

But there are signs that Grayson continues to burn through money.

Grayson, who has historically helped self-fund his political endeavors, reported giving his campaign a $200,000 loan last quarter. That's on top of two $100,000 loans Grayson gave his campaign during the latter half of 2015 and a $50,000 loan he gave about two weeks before officially diving into the Senate race.

His campaign also reported entering April with about $400,000 in cash on hand, about double what he had in the bank going in to 2016 but a modest amount compared to his competitors.

By contrast, his Democratic opponent in the August primary -- fellow U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter -- announced this morning he'd raised $2 million during the first three months of 2016. Murphy also reported having $5.6 million in cash on hand, about 14 times more than Grayson says he has.

Among Republicans, Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, said last week that he'd raked in $1.1 million between January and March and had $3.2 million in cash on hand.

The other four Republican candidates have yet to release numbers. They are: U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami, Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox and Sarasota home-builder Carlos Beruff.

Democrat Pam Keith, a North Palm Beach attorney, also hasn't announced her figures. Her fundraising in previous quarters has been nominal.

First-quarter campaign finance reports are due to the Federal Election Commission on April 15.

Photo credit: AP

Patrick Murphy's U.S. Senate campaign reports raising $2 million in first quarter



Democrat Patrick Murphy is continuing his streak of sizable fundraising in his bid for Marco Rubio's U.S. Senate seat.

The congressman from Jupiter announced today that he'd raised $2 million in the first three months of 2016, entering April with $5.6 million in cash on hand.

Murphy's campaign -- which has had significant support from establishment donors who typically give four-figure contributions -- noted that more than 85 percent of the contributions raised in the first quarter were under $200.

Murphy's primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, is more often the one to emphasize support from small-dollar donors. Grayson has not released his first-quarter numbers yet.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, was the first of the crowded crop of Senate candidates to announce his quarterly fundraising. DeSantis announced last week that he'd raked in $1.1 million between January and March and had $3.2 million in cash on hand.

The other four Republican candidates have yet to release numbers. They are: U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami, Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox and Sarasota home-builder Carlos Beruff.

First-quarter campaign finance reports are due to the Federal Election Commission on April 15.

Heading into 2016, Murphy had maintained a wide lead in fundraising over all other candidates. Murphy's campaign said today it has raised nearly $8.2 million to date.

“Opening 2016 with this kind of milestone is a sign that our campaign has strong grassroots support across Florida and will have the resources to win in August and in November,” Murphy campaign manager Josh Wolf said in a statement.

Murphy's latest fundraising numbers do not include dollars raised through "Floridians for a Strong Middle Class," a super PAC that's also raising money in support of Murphy's Senate run but is prohibited from coordinating with his official campaign. Super PACs are not bound by the $2,700-per-race cap on individual contributions -- as candidate's campaign committees are. "Floridians for a Strong Middle Class" hasn't announced its quarterly fundraising intake yet.

Photo credit: Walter Michot / Miami Herald

April 08, 2016

DNC chief Wasserman Schultz to Bernie and Hillary: Chill


With most political enthusiasts' attention riveted on the divisive GOP presidential race, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is urging the Democratic White House hopefuls to tone down their rhetoric.

Wasserman Schultz, who lives in Weston when she isn't in Washington or traveling the country as head of the Democratic National Committee, was asked about the increasingly sharp attacks against each other in recent days by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

"I think both campaigns really need to be careful about making sure that we don't do lasting damage," Wasserman Schultz told Fox News' "America's Newsroom" program Friday morning. "I don't think we're at that point, but I think it is important to be careful that at the end of the primary process, when we have a presumptive nominee, that we're able to easily reunify."

In advance of the April 19 primary in New York, which Clinton represented for six years as a U.S. senator before heading the State Department, Clinton has challenged Sanders' allegiance to the Democratic Party and questioned his preparedness to be president.

On Wednesday, Clinton told MSNBC that Sanders "himself doesn't consider himself to be a Democrat." Sanders, who lists his party for Senate votes as Independent but caucuses with Democrats, has at various times in his career described himself as a Socialist or a Democratic Socialist.

Clinton also criticized Sanders' repeated presidential campaign calls to break up big banks, again comparing her record as a pragmatist who gets things done.

"You can't really help people if you don't know how to do what you are campaigning on saying you want to do," Clinton said.

Sanders responded that night at a rally in Philadelphia.

"She has been saying lately that she thinks I am quote-unquote 'not qualified to be president,'" Sanders declared. "Let me just say in response to Secretary Clinton, I don't believe that she is qualified if she is, though her super PAC, taking tens of millions of dollars in special-interest funds. I don't think you are qualified if you have voted for the disastrous war in Iraq. I don't think you are qualified if you support the Panama free trade agreement."

Clinton didn't actually say the phrase Sanders attributed to her about his lack of qualifications, but that phrase or similar ones ran in headlines in some news accounts of her comments.

Despite the sharp exchanges, Wasserman Schultz said it doesn't compare to "the food fight and the civil war that continues to rage on the Republican side."

Wasserman Schultz, who some Sanders supporters have accused of favoring Clinton in the Democratic race, also said that Clinton and then-Sen. Barack Obama had a more hard-hitting contest in their presidential primary campaign in 2008.

"Right now I would characterize the tenor and tone of this party to be nothing like the intensity of where we (Democrats) were eight years ago in 2008 between then-Sens. Clinton and Obama," she said.

After Obama gained the Democratic nomination in that primary race and then defeated Sen. John McCain to gain the White House, he chose Clinton as secretary of state. The two established a close relationship, and she has been trumpeting his achievements during her current run.

On the Republican side, billionaire businessman Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz have been engaged in a nasty war of words for weeks, with the fight intensifying two weeks ago when the Republican front-runner tweeted an unflattering photograph of Cruz's wife Heidi Cruz.





U.S. Senate candidate David Jolly wrongly says Common Core was required for Obama grants

Looking to take over former presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat, U.S. Rep. David Jolly wants to educate voters about his conservative bona fides in Congress — including his opposition to Common Core.

The Indian Shores Republican has been in the House of Representatives for two years after winning a 2014 special election to replace his mentor, the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young. In that short span, he said, he has helped change federal education policy.

"Last year, I worked with my colleagues to end funding for federal Race to the Top grants, which require participating states to adopt the Common Core standards as a condition for receiving federal funding," he said on his campaign website.

The Common Core State Standards are a set of shared guidelines in English and math designed to prepare students for college and to unify educational goals nationwide. They’ve become an unpopular subject with many conservatives.

We decided to test Jolly’s assertion that states had to adopt the Common Core in order to win federal grants.

See what Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida found.