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April 25, 2016

Bill Nelson weighs in on potential release of 9/11 report

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson on Monday wrote to President Obama and appeared to question speculation, largely coming from former Sen. Bob Graham, that the 9/11 report shows ties to Saudi Arabia.  

The letter follows high-profile media appearances by Graham, who has strongly suggested a Saudi relationship with the terrorists.

Nelson's letter:

I understand that your administration may soon decide whether to declassify part or all of the 28 pages of the Joint Inquiry Into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 report that have not yet been made available to the public.

As I’m sure you are aware, there is growing speculation that information contained in these 28 pages will show that Saudi Arabia provided support to those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. I have read the 28 pages, and I have also read intelligence reports that debunk them.

If you declassify these 28 pages, I strongly urge you to also declassify intelligence reports that debunk them in order to provide the American people with a complete picture of this issue. 

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Mojitos and Cuban food: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen plans Miami-themed fundraiser in D.C.


U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is bringing a little touch of Miami to Washington D.C. for her next fundraiser.

Next month, her re-election campaign will hold a reception branded as "Moon Over Miami." Mojitos and Cuban food are promised.

The event will take place at the Republican's Southeast D.C. townhouse May 25. A $500 contribution is suggested from individual donors, and $1,000 from political action committees.

Rep. David Jolly decries congressional fundraising on '60 Minutes'

via @adamsmithtimes

Republican U.S. Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores received glowing coverage on 60 Minutes for his "Stop Act" proposal to bar federal officer holders from asking for campaign donations. The piece featured hidden camera footage of the tiny cubicles Republican House members use to dial for dollars most every day. 

"It is a cult-like boiler room on Capitol Hill where sitting members of Congress, frankly I believe, are compromising the dignity of the office they hold by sitting in these sweatshop phone booths calling people asking them for money," Jolly told Norah O'Donnell. "And their only goal is to get $500 or $1,000 or $2,000 out of the person on the other end of the line. It's shameful. It's beneath the dignity of the office that our voters in our communities entrust us to serve."

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel appeared as well, lamenting the amount of time members spend raising money but dismissing the Stop Act proposal and giving Jolly's bill zero chance of passing.

Continue reading "Rep. David Jolly decries congressional fundraising on '60 Minutes'" »

Bob Graham says he expects 9/11 report decision by June

via @learyreports

Former Sen. Bob Graham said Sunday that the Obama administration will decide by June whether to release a classified portion of the 9/11 report and left no doubt he thinks the Saudis played some role.


“The most important unanswered question of 9/11 is did these 19 people conduct this very sophisticated plot alone, or were they supported?” Graham said on Meet the Press

“I think it's implausible to think that people who couldn't speak English, had never been in the United States before, as a group were not well-educated could have done that. So who was the most likely entity to have provided them that support? And I think all the evidence points to Saudi Arabia. We know that Saudi Arabia started Al Qaeda. It was a creation of Saudi-- of Saudi Arabia.”

Host Chuck Todd asked, “And when you say Saudi Arabia, are you saying the government? Or are you saying wealthy individuals who happen to be Saudi Arabian?”

Graham: “That is a very murky line. Saudi Arabia has made it murky by its own legal action. Whenever a U.S. group sues a Saudi Arabian entity, whether it’s a bank, a foundation, a charity, immediately, the defense of sovereign immunity is raised. The Saudis don't recognize the difference between a royal decision and a societal decision in the same way that other countries might. So I think it covers a broad range, from the highest ranks of the kingdom through these, what would be private entities.”

Continue reading "Bob Graham says he expects 9/11 report decision by June" »

Fla. Department of Corrections wants to close Broward inmate work center to make space for offices

The 182 men living at the Bridges of America work release center in Pompano Beach are in prison but they spend their time getting ready to leave — taking classes in things like addiction education, anger management, forklift certification, computer basics, the ABCs of finance and getting out on work-release to hold a job.

It’s one of about 34 minimum-security “community release” centers operated by the Florida Department of Corrections, and one of the programs FDC Secretary Julie Jones has testified is critical to keeping former felons from returning to prison.

But last week the privately-run non-profit Bridges of America program was told it must close down by May 16. The reason: The state agency needs the office space.

The owners and supporters of the Broward-based center were stunned. The lease for the Pompano facility was up on May 16 and when the FDC issued its requests for proposals to renew the contract in March — at rates reduced from $52 a day to $56 a day — Bridges of America was the only one to respond.

But rather than follow through with contract, FDC last week reversed course and said it needed the facility to house its probation office, which is seeking new space.

“No action taken by this Department will negatively affect the future of the inmates currently incarcerated at Broward Bridge,’’ Jones said in a press release on Monday. “Opportunities will be made available for these individuals to continue in their journey to rehabilitation and successful transition into Florida’s communities.”

Owners and supporters of the non-profit organization are pushing back. They held a press conference Monday voicing their support for the program and urging community groups and legislators to tell FDC to keep it open.

“The facility has taught me everything I need to know about the disease of addiction,” Arthur Keene, a former inmate who attended the Bridges program, said at a press conference outside the Pompano facility. “It would be a great injustice if this place were to close down.”

William Meyer, who runs a transport company, said his two top employees are former Bridges clients who now have jobs and tell their story to others. “It’s going to be a real sad day because everybody deserves a second chance,” he said.

Lori Costantino-Brown, Bridges CEO, told the Herald/Times she believes the decision by the agency “just seems arbitrary.”

“The department has never mentioned this need for this kind of space. It has a number of properties in this area and could very easily put offices elsewhere. It’s not necessary for them to shut down a reentry center. That’s a very poor decision on the department’s part.”

Corrections officials have tried to negotiate. Constantino-Brown said they offered to give the company a six-month extension on its contract at its Bradenton facility, which expires in July, if they stopped contesting the Broward closing.

“The only offer we had from the department is contingent on us throwing out any claim on Broward,’’ she said. “Now we find ourselves in a precarious position in both centers.”

Costantino-Brown is now also prepared to go to court. Language tucked every year into the state budget requires the Department of Corrections to give 60-day notices to the governor and lawmakers when they repurpose a prison. That didn’t happen, and Constantino-Brown said she will ask a court to halt the closing because of it.

Jones said in her press release that her agency had no choice.

“Currently, FDC operates six probation offices in a single building complex in Lauderdale Lakes,” she wrote. “Earlier this year, the Department was notified by members of the Lauderdale Lakes City Council that an ordinance would be proposed which will re-zone the address at which our probation offices currently operate. This issue is one that the Department has faced time and time again in communities around our state.

“To overcome this obstacle and continue to provide services which are an operational imperative for this agency, the Department plans to relocate a portion of our probation offices, which serve more than 5,600 offenders, to the state-owned building currently occupied by Broward Bridge. A transition plan has been formulated which will ensure a smooth transition for work release, substance abuse treatment and probation services.”

This is the second time in four years that Bridges of America believes it has been singled out by the agency. The same two facilities were scheduled to close in 2012 when the then deficit-plagued corrections department attempted to close an estimated $79 million budget hole by shuttering two the reentry centers in Pompano Beach and Bradenton.

Costantino-Brown agreed to close some beds and make other concessions, and the facilities remain open. Then, as now, Costantino-Brown was a vocal critic of the need for reform in the state’s prison system. Supporters say she has been a successful advocate for civil justice movements seeking sentencing reform. Critics say she is motivated by efforts to privatize more state prison programs.

“Clearly, the repeated articles in the newspaper show a very troubled department,” she said. “I’m not sure why they’re doing the things that they’re doing. Corrections doesn’t historically value programs — they never have, regardless of what they publicly say. Their actions speak differently.”


Alan Grayson draws small-dollar donors, while Patrick Murphy benefits more from large donors


In touting the $2 million Democrat Patrick Murphy raised during the first three months of 2016, his U.S. Senate campaign made a point to note that “over 85 percent of contributions in the first quarter were under $200.”

Such a claim is a way for campaigns to boast of their grassroots appeal among average voters. But while small-dollar donors might have donated thousands of times to the Jupiter congressman, they are far from being the predominant source of his Senate campaign’s income, either last quarter or in general so far.

His primary opponent, fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, is actually the one getting the most traction among small-dollar Democratic supporters — although it means Grayson’s overall fundraising continues to lag.

A Herald/Times analysis of Murphy’s and Grayson’s first-quarter campaign finance reports revealed that only about 10 percent of the $2 million Murphy raised came from donations of $200 or less.

More here.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate DeSantis raises more than 4 GOP opponents combined


While none of the five Republican candidates running for the U.S. Senate in Florida have much statewide name identification, there is no doubt who is the leader when it comes to fundraising.

In the first three months of 2016, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis raised more money than all four of this GOP opponents combined. Between Jan. 1 and March 31, DeSantis collected $1,135,635 - about $4,000 more than U.S. Rep. David Jolly, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, homebuilder Carlos Beruff and businessman Todd Wilcox combined to raise.

Since he got in the race, DeSantis, a Republican who lives in Ponte Vedra Beach in northeast Florida, has raised over $4 million and spent $1.5 million. That gave him with $3.2 million in his campaign account as of April 1 - millions ahead of any of his GOP foes.

DeSantis continues to get a boost from other members of Congress. U.S. Reps Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee; Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas; Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., and Andy Harris R-MD, are among those who used political action committees they run to donate to DeSantis since Jan. 1.

The most any other candidates raised in the first three months of 2016 came from Wilcox, who raised $358,811, but $250,000 of that came from a personal loan that the Orlando businessman gave his campaign.

Jolly, R-Indian Shores, posted the next best fundraising quarter, collecting $308,298. Lopez-Cantera raised $251,481 and Beruff, in just his first quarter on the campaign trail, raised $212,982, though nearly half of that came from donations he gave his campaign.

Below is a list of the Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate ranked by who had the most money in their campaign accounts at the end of March.
- $3,221,536 - U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis
- $1,083,028 - Todd Wilcox
- $562,657 - U.S. Rep. David Jolly
- $389,284 - Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera
- $59,631 - Carlos Beruff

DeSantis also is benefitting from a so-called super PAC that is supporting his campaign. That PAC, called Fighting For Florida Fund, cannot directly coordinate with DeSantis, but has stockpiled $1.2 million to support him. Reform Washington, a super PAC supporting Lopez-Cantera, had $740,000 in the bank as of the start of April. Jolly had $272,629 in a PAC called FloridAmerican Conservatives. A super PAC formed to support Beruff, Lets Cleanup Washington, had not raised any money as of March 31. There is no super PAC supporting Wilcox.

Galvano starts last state Senate campaign, but leaves door wide open for higher office



It took all of an hour for State Sen. Bill Galvano to raise more than $130,000 for what he told a crowd in Manatee County last week will be his last campaign ever for the Florida Legislature.

With Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, by his side, the Bradenton Republican told a crowd of about 250 supporters that he realized that his campaign kickoff event last week for the newly redrawn Senate District 21 will also be his last campaign kickoff ever for the Legislature. Galvano served in the Florida House from 2002 to 2010, then got elected to the Senate for the first time in 2012. Term limits will bar Galvano from seeking re-election.

But while Galvano, 50, noted it was his last campaign for the Senate, he is not quite retiring from politics.

"It doesn't mean it's my last campaign period," said Galvano, who is in line to become the Senate President for 2019 and 2020 if he wins re-election and Republicans retain the majority in the Senate.

Though he has spent a dozen years in the Legislature, Galvano will still have to introduce himself to tens of thousands of new voters in Hillsborough County this year. The latest court-ordered redistricting changed his district dramatically. District 21 now includes all of Manatee County, plus nearly 150,000 residents in eastern Hillsborough County from Brandon south to the county border.

Galvano said he already has some of Hillsborough County in his current district, and is making plans to hold more events in eastern Hillsborough County to introduce himself to newer voters.

Dwight Dudley will seek judgeship, not another term in Florida House

@MichaelAuslen and @WilliamEMarch

State Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, will not run for re-election, he announced Monday.

"There are mighty challenges to improve policy in our state, but it’s been a great experience," he said. "I think we’ve been able to advocate for some good stuff and actually move the needle some on a few things."

Dudley is leaving the state House with his eye on another public office, the Group 8 Pinellas County judgeship.

Two candidates, Dora Komninos and Curtis "CK" Korsko, are already filed for the seat.

“It’s not decided, I’m thinking about that,” Dudley said. “I’m leaning in favor of doing that. I think I have a lot to offer in that regard. I treat people fairly, and I think it’s a worthwhile thing to be doing.”

Dudley, a practicing lawyer and former public defender, said he has experience in the courtroom, with more than 100 cases tried.

He’s also a former legislative aide and legislative analyst with 16 years in state jobs, including the Legislature. If he won a judgeship, his time on state payrolls would be combined with his judge’s salary to provide a substantial pension.

Shortly after Dudley's announcement, the Florida Democratic Party said that Ben Diamond, a St. Petersburg attorney and former general counsel to Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a Democrat, will run for the seat. Diamond has the backing of party leaders, including former Gov. Charlie Crist and incoming House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, according to FDP's release.

"We have a lot of work to do," Diamond said in a statement. "We have to ensure that every child has access to a quality public education, regardless of the neighborhood they grow up in. We have to increase funding to early learning programs to give our children a head start on success."

Last week, a Republican opponent emerged in Dudley's House re-election campaign.

Dudley was first elected to the House in 2012. He has been an outspoken advocate in the Legislature for reforms to Citizens Property Insurance, Public Service Commission and in criminal justice.

David Jolly, Alan Grayson prepare to face off in Senate debate


It’s the first debate of the race for Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat. But don’t expect to see all the candidates there.

Two of the seven men who want to replace Marco Rubio will go head to head tonight: U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, and David Jolly, R-Indian Shores. It’s at 7 p.m. at the University of Central Florida but will be broadcast live online.

The debate will be sponsored by the Open Debate Coalition, which will choose questions out of the top 30 vote-getters on its website, The goal, the group says, is to ask the kinds of questions that voters are really interested in.

As of Monday morning, some of the most popular questions related to renewable energy, climate change, Social Security, campaign finance and improving the process of voting.

“The public should be empowered to conceive and select debate questions — so that questions addressed by candidates represent the will of the people,” the Open Debate Coalition's members wrote in a statement.

Many of the questions and votes, however, have come from outside the state of Florida.

Grayson is running against U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, in the Democratic primary for the seat. In the Republican primary, Jolly faces U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach; Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami; Bradenton homebuilder Carlos Beruff and Orlando defense contractor Todd Wilcox. Voting begins in July for the Aug. 30 primary.