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July 23, 2015

Senate GOP's next fundraising adventure: fishing in the Keys

Who wants to take on Senate President Andy Gardiner and Majority Leader Bill Galvano in a fishing tournament? Maybe the better question is who doesn't want to?

Fresh off a special session to redraw Congressional maps, Florida Senate Republicans will put on a two-day fundraiser tournament in the Keys at Cheeca Lodge and Spa, the latest in a flurry of big-ticket escapades benefitting the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The resort, in Islamorada, bills itself as "a premier destination for serious anglers." And serious GOP contributors, as well.

In addition to Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Galvano, R-Bradenton, Republican Sens. Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers, Rob Bradley of Fleming Island, Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, Anitere Flores of Miami, Denise Grimsley of Sebring, Jack Latvala of Clearwater, Tom Lee of Brandon, Joe Negron of Stuart and Wilton Simpson of Trilby.

Several GOP senators are in California this week for a golf fundraiser at Pebble Beach.

The committee is gearing up for what could be a very active 2016 election as the state Senate district maps are undergoing legal challenges. Already, the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee has raised $3,218,000 this calendar year.

If a court overthrows the district maps or the Legislature decides to redraw them, the entire Senate would be up for reelection, including the 20 members whose terms end in 2018.

In that eventuality, Senate Republicans would need to defend 26 seats. One senator, Latvala, is already banking on that. He filed for re-election, even though he'll face 2018 term limits, so that he can start raising money for a possible 2016 run.

Hoping for a green card, unaccompanied immigrant children cite child abuse

via @Marbinius

Fredy claimed his parents were unfit to raise him. Violent, organized youth gangs were terrorizing the boy’s neighborhood, he said, and his parents “ignored his pleas for help and protection.”

Fredy sought shelter and security in a Miami courtroom, where he asked a judge to declare him a ward of the state.

His parents consented — from their home in a Honduran village.

A label mostly scorned and feared by mothers and fathers in the United States, the designation “offending parent,” is being embraced and sought by parents thousands of miles away.

Fredy is among a rapidly growing number of children who entered the country without their parents — and without immigration documents — who have used a little-known provision of the state’s child welfare statute that allows them to file private petitions to be placed in state care. Once declared a “dependent” of the state, the children qualify to remain in the U.S. permanently.

Critics of the program, as well as a growing chorus of state judges, call it a “back door” to citizenship when the front door is bolted.

In an opinion Wednesday, a West Palm Beach appeals court said “judicial resources too often are being misused to obtain dependency orders for minors who are neither abused, neglected or abandoned, and who seek a dependency adjudication... not because they are endangered and need protection but because they want preferential immigration treatment.”

More here.

Palm Beach doctor in Bob Menendez case accuses feds of 'illegal search'

via @jayhweaver

When federal agents raided the South Florida clinic of a wealthy eye doctor in 2013, their warrant only allowed them to gather evidence about his prolific Medicare billing for a fraud investigation.

But according to Dr. Salomon Melgen's defense attorneys, FBI agents illegally collected their client's handwritten notebook of personal contacts for a parallel corruption probe targeting the physician's close friend, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, the influential New Jersey Democrat.

The attorneys claim that the day after the January raid in West Palm Beach, an FBI agent went to a federal magistrate judge to obtain a follow-up warrant to justify the seizure of Melgen's notebook, which they say was mischaracterized as a “ledger of prostitution activities” in an affidavit.

Now, Melgen and Menendez — both charged in an influence-peddling corruption case in New Jersey — are aggressively fighting to dismiss their indictment, saying FBI and Justice Department prosecutors conducted an illegal search and misled a federal grand jury involving other evidence.

“Instead of complying with the [initial] warrant, the agents launched a broad and intrusive room-to-room search for materials related to Dr. Melgen’s friendship with Senator Menendez and the outlandish and untrue allegations of sexual misconduct made by the anonymous ‘Peter Williams,’’’ according to court papers filed this week by the physician’s lawyers, Matthew Menchel and Kirk Ogrosky.

More here.

Politico: Jeb Bush, like President Obama, stood by his embattled appointees

From Politico:

In his highly touted speech on government reform this week, Jeb Bush accused President Barack Obama of waiting too long to remove tainted appointees, saying he would take on “Mount Washington” in the same way he made “Mount Tallahassee” more accountable when he was governor of Florida.

“Don’t get me wrong: During my time in Florida, government wasn’t perfect,” Bush said on Monday. “But part of being a strong leader is accepting responsibility when things go wrong. … And when senior people in my administration violated the public’s trust, they were removed from their jobs.”

But Bush’s eight-year record shows he often stood by appointees who were mired in scandal or mismanagement until long after damaging revelations emerged, and in only three reported instances clearly fired agency heads — including one in the wake of a sexual harassment allegation and another who was implicated in a kickback scheme.

Meanwhile, Bush stood behind embattled appointees at the Department of Children and Families — even amid revelations that the agency lost track of 515 children under state care, including a child who was murdered. He supported his corrections chief throughout a scandal involving guards engaging in beer-soaked brawls, stealing state property, selling steroids and impressing inmates into forced labor. Bush finally fired the prison chief, Jimmy Crosby, in early 2006 when it became clear he was part of a bribery and kickback scheme, for which he was later convicted.

More here.

July 22, 2015

Donald Trump reports nearly $50M last year from Doral golf resort

@PatriciaMazzei

The man whose reality-TV show theme song boasts “Money, money, money, money — money!” has made a bundle. And nowhere did Donald Trump rake in more cash in the past year than — where else? — his gilded Miami-area golf resort.

The 800-acre Trump National Doral, home to four golf courses, including the famous Blue Monster, brought The Donald a handsome $49,444,432 in 2014, according to a 92-page financial disclosure form he filed with the Federal Election Commission, which made the document public Wednesday.

The golf resort generated the most revenue among his more than 150 listed income sources. He also claimed positions in more than 500 companies. His campaign said Trump had revenues of $362 million last year.

According to several national polls, Trump is the leading 2016 Republican presidential candidate. According to a statement from his campaign, Trump is also a caps-lock enthusiast worth “TEN BILLION DOLLARS.”

The disclosure form, which Trump filed last week, doesn’t actually prove if that figure is correct, since it requires candidates to list most assets, incomes and liabilities in ranges, including “over $50 million.” But it provides a window into Trump’s business empire — and reaffirms that Trump is, in fact, for real, not kidding, running for president.

“First people said I would never run, and I did. Then, they said I would never file my statement of candidacy with the FEC, and I did. Next, they said I would never file my personal financial disclosure forms,” Trump said in the statement issued with his filing last week. “Now I have surged in the polls and am fighting to Make America Great Again,” he added, capitalizing his campaign slogan.

More here.

Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush want Planned Parenthood investigation

via @learyreports

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio today joined calls for a Congressional investigation into Planned Parenthood.

“The videos speak for themselves," Rubio said a news release. "The cruel and callous language used by senior Planned Parenthood officials is sickening, shows a complete disregard for innocent unborn life, not to mention Planned Parenthood’s clients, and speaks to an organization that is morally bankrupt. There is simply no justification for an organization that fosters this kind of culture to receive a penny of taxpayer funding, and there should be a serious and impartial investigation into the grotesque practices revealed by the video.”

Bush, campaigning at a pregnancy center in Spartanburg, S.C., said: "It just troubles me that you would sell body parts. It just makes no sense to me." 

If president, he would call for a review of funding for any organization with a "deep political agenda," according to CNN.

Planned Parenthood says the videos have been edited and distort the truth.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

State Senator proposes $15 per hour state minimum wage

The first bill filed for the 2016 Florida Legislature session is a bill that would increase the state minimum wage to $15. But don't expect the bill to ever become law.

State Sen. Dwight Bullard officially filed SB 6 on Wednesday, six months before the Legislature’s regular session starts in January. But recent history shows the bill has little chance of winning support in the Republican dominated Legislature or with Gov. Rick Scott who spoke against raising the minimum wage on the campaign trail.

Twice over the last two regular legislative sessions, Bullard, a Miami Democrat, has filed bills calling for the minimum wage to jump to $10.10 an hour. Those bills never even made it out of committee for a full vote of the House or Senate.

Still Bullard said by filling the bill at the higher amount he is hoping to see more momentum build for the idea of raising the wage. He said other states and cities around the nation are boosting their minimum wage and businesses he talks to are less resistant to the idea.

"I'm hopeful that conversation will continues about raising the wage," Bullard said on Wednesday.

Florida’s current minimum wage, which is $8.05 per hour, is not even enough for many people to even rent a place to live in many cities in the state, Bullard said.

The filing comes just days after a research and watchdog group Integrity Florida aimed to debunk the argument that raising the minimum wage results in lost jobs. The group found that 25 states raised the minimum wage, and every one experienced job growth except for West Virginia.

During his 2014 re-election campaign, Scott, a Republican, opposed the state raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Another campaign-finance complaint filed against Jeb Bush

via @learyreports

Campaign finance watchdog groups today sent another complaint to the Justice Department, arguing Jeb Bush is violating law for his involvement with a Super PAC run by longtime advisor Mike Murphy.

"Bush is doing precisely what the 2002 law prohibits: establishing and, through his agents, directly or in directly controlling an entity that is raising and spending non federal funds," reads a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch from the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21.

"This scheme goes to the heart of what the (2002 Bipartisan Camapign Reform Act) soft money provisions were enacted to prohibit. The public position taken by the Bush campaign that it is not “coordinating” with the Super PAC on its spending, even if it were correct, is irrelevant and a distraction from the real issue here, which is the scheme to violate the BCRA soft money provisions. Because this scheme involves knowing and willful violations of the law, the Department has an obligation to investigate it and take appropriate action."

Bush has faced several complaints, first for raising huge sums for the Right to Rise Super PAC as a non-candidate candidate. His campaign insists he has followed the law, and last week reports showed he paid nearly $400,000 out of pocket for "testing the waters" activity before becoming an official candidate.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Governor Scott wants military recruiters armed

@JeremySWallace

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has already ordered neighborhood military recruitment centers in Florida moved to armories, now he wants to assure National Guard members are armed and ready to respond if they are attacked like what happened in Tennessee earlier this month.

During a press conference in Jacksonville today, Scott said he has asked the leader of the Florida National Guard, Adjutant General Michael Calhoun, to make sure all qualified soldiers are armed so they can defend themselves, including during recruitment work.

"Our military needs to be safe," Scott said.

Calhoun said there was no policy to arm recruiters until know, unless they were in a state building and had their own personal weapon.

"We just want to reassure our recruiters and the individuals that come to those centers are protected," Calhoun said.

Scott is also looking at other options, including bullet proof glass at recruitment centers and calling for more local police patrols of recruitment centers and armories to assure safety of soldiers.

"I do hope the president is taking notice of what we are doing here," Scott said.

Does Greece have three times as many government workers as Florida as Jeff Atwater says?

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater capitalized on news about the floundering Greek economy to point out a new report that said the Florida economy was doing just fine.

In an "open letter to the people of Florida," Atwater said the Sunshine State had been ranked fifth in fiscal solvency by George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. He then contrasted Florida’s success with the beleaguered European nation.

"A country in economic peril, Greece’s priorities have historically been very different from Florida’s," Atwater wrote on July 13, 2015. "For example, Greeks depend much more on their government for employment and services. Although we have twice the population of Greece, the State of Florida employs three times fewer government employees."

PunditFact previously confirmed that Greece’s economic output is comparable to Miami, but could that 3-to-1 comparison of public-sector workers be accurate? Yes, if you’re looking at Florida’s direct employees, but experts we talked to said Atwater’s comparison is deeply flawed.

Read more from Joshua Gillin at PolitiFact Florida.