September 14, 2014

Regulatory neglect: 140 investigations into abuse at home for disabled = zero discipline

Paige Lunsford tombstoneFor five days and five nights, Paige Elizabeth Lunsford — a severely disabled teen — retched “like a waterfall,” could not eat and thrashed about in an “educational center” staffed with teachers, nurses and a doctor.

Paige was sick, and getting sicker. But caregivers did not send her to a hospital. Instead, they bound her wrists, ankles, biceps and waist with restraints to keep her from flailing.

Paige, nonverbal due to autism, could not ask for help. And none came.

Blond, pigtailed Paige, the child of Margate residents, died at the Carlton Palms Educational Center in July 2013, baking with fever, 10 days after she was sent there. A victim of medical neglect, according to the Department of Children & Families, she now rests beneath a small grave marker etched with musical notes and linked hearts.

An autopsy determined that the 14-year-old succumbed to dehydration, the result of a severe but treatable infection.

Her death spawned the 140th DCF neglect or abuse probe involving the Lake County home since 2001 — there have been eight more reports since then — and yet, the facility has never paid a fine and never been disciplined. Story by Carol Marbin Miller here.

Read more here:

September 13, 2014

Fred Grimm: State overlooks abuse and props up 'anachronistic...moribund' dog racing industry

Fred GrimmFlorida allows convicted criminals to meddle in dog racing. Known animal abusers can own or train greyhounds. The state abides cheaters who pump performance-enhancing drugs and pain killers into their animals.

Not even the ghastly, now infamous discovery back in 2002 that Florida greyhound trainers were paying a farmer in Baldwin County, Alabama, $10 a head to “dispose” of aging, slow or gimpy dogs had much affect on their ability to operate in Florida.

Baldwin County authorities reported that the old farmer had admitted killing between 2,000 and 3,000 greyhounds over the years, shooting them in the head with a .22 caliber rifle, then tossing their remains into a long ditch cut across his property. “This case shows what was going on in the greyhound-racing industry in Florida,” Baldwin District Attorney David Whetstone had said. “It opens up the eyes to how sinister it was.”

But sinister didn’t seem to matter all that much to the bureaucrats running the Florida Division of Parimutuel Wagering. Ursula O’Donnell, one of the Florida trainers implicated in the mass extermination deal, managed to keep her license even after investigators found her signature on a check made out to the dog killer.

My colleague Mary Ellen Klas found that a long list of rogue operators have been allowed to train and own racing dogs by Florida parimutuel regulators — though the term “regulators” in that particular state agency seems to be a wild embellishment. “Abettors” might be more accurate. Fred Grimm's column here.

September 12, 2014

FL Gov race tops $40 million in TV ad spending -- 8 weeks and millions more to go


The race for Florida governor is about to be a $40 million affair. And, with about eight weeks to go, expect that amount to double -- or perhaps triple.

More than 72 percent of that is from Gov. Rick Scott, not surprisingly because he's an incumbent and he's independently wealthy. Scott greeted Democrat Charlie Crist's entrance in the race with a $1 million-plus ad buy in November, went dark, and then began blasting away in early March, since which time the governor and his allies have dropped at least $27 million.

The overwhelming number of ads Scott has run has been negative. And it has paid off, dragging Crist down in the polls and making the race a near tie, with Scott ahead by an inside-the-error margin lead.

Pro-Crist forces have dropped about $10 million, with billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer chipping in at least $1.8 million of that through his NextGen Climate group. 

Like Scott, most of Crist's ads are negative. 

That can depress turnout. And the smaller the turnout, the more it benefits the Republican. The negativity could also give a boost to Libertarian Adrian Wyllie, who at least is a none-of-the-above candidate. 

Crist's homebase of Tampa Bay is ground-zero: 30 percent of all ad-race spending since March. Orlando is in second, with 22 percent of all dollars burned on TV. Together, these two swing areas of the swing state account for 53 percent of the spending.

West Palm Beach, a large media market that's far cheaper than Miami's, is third with 15.4 percent.

In each market, especially in North Florida, Scott is dominating overall. Crist's strategy is to try to spend about half of what Scott burns from this point out. Here's what the spend looks like since March:

Media Market  Total spend  % of total     Scott %    Crist %
Tampa  $11,760,772 31% 71% 29%
Orlando  $  8,695,763 23% 63% 37%
West Palm  $  5,894,783 15% 55% 45%
Jacksonville  $  3,006,213 8% 74% 26%
Miami  $  2,849,483 7% 94% 6%
Fort Myers  $  2,645,038 7% 76% 24%
Pensacola  $  1,413,362 4% 97% 3%
Tallahassee  $     876,034 2% 90% 10%
Panama City  $     572,091 1% 100% 0%
Gainesville  $     549,603 1% 96% 4%


Major ad buys as of9-13


Minor ad buys as of9-13

The Money Race: Republican governors continue to bank on Rick Scott


The Republican Governors Association continues to invest heavily in Gov. Rick Scott's re-election campaign. Its $2 million check listed in the most recent campaign finance report brings the group's total to $11 million. The latest donation went public just as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the RGA's chair, campaigned with Scott in the Panhandle.

The RGA's contribution was 91 percent of Scott's fundraising haul in the report covering contributions Aug. 30 to Sept. 5.

We wonder if the news has challenger Charlie Crist asking the Democratic Governors Association to step up its support beyond the $2 million it has given his campaign.

Crist continues to bank on union support. His Charlie Crist for Florida political received a $500,000 check from the American Federation of Teachers, $250,000 from the Florida Education Association and $100,000 from the International Association of Firefighters in the latest reporting period. (The National Education Association gave him $500,000 the week prior.)

Scott's campaign account and political committee raised $2.3 million in cash and in-kind contributions between Aug. 30 and Sept. 5, and Crist was close by with $2.1 million.

But Crist still lags far behind Scott in overall amounts: $27.5 million compared to $45.5 million. 

Other highlights from the latest campaign finance reports:

Continue reading "The Money Race: Republican governors continue to bank on Rick Scott" »

Charlie Crist's big endorsement hasn't paid off

The Charlie Crist campaign back in April summoned Tampa Bay reporters to Tampa's Straz Center for the Performing Arts to hear "important news" from Crist. Reporters and local dignitaries and Democratic activists turned out, and eventually Crist strolled up accompanied by David Straz, one of Tampa Bay's leading businessmen and philanthropists, who endorsed Crist and vowed "to support him in a big way."

Nearly six months later, Straz has not given a penny to the Crist campaign and has been invisible on the campaign trail. The chatter was that Straz had planned to join  Crist on a trip to Cuba and was livid when Crist suddenly backed out of it with little explanation.

"I was disappointed about that," but there has been no falling out, Straz told the Buzz.

He and Crist keep in touch, he said, but Straz has been in Wisconsin for the summer and not closely involved in the campaign.

And no campaign contribution? "I just haven't gotten around to it," Straz said.

Paging Dr. Freud: Rep. Steve Southerland opens mouth, inserts "lingerie shower."


Well, at least Steve Southerland isn't talking about "legitimate rape."

But for a GOP Congressman stuck in a close race against a female Democrat, someone oughtta tell Southerland to be careful with the gender talk. Southerland was already on the defensive about a cigar-smoking boys-only "roundtable" he held. Then he hosted a women-for-Southerland-style event where his campaign misspelled U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis' last name.

On Friday, the Panama City congressman opened his mouth and wondered why the press isn't asking Democrat Gwen Graham about whether she ever attended a ladies-only "lingerie shower."

Huh? What's a "lingerie shower?" Most people know what baby showers are. And a few are probably familiar with lingerie shows. To combine the two is kinda creepy. Paging Dr. Freud... UPDATE: Turns out, I don't lead an interesting life. Sharp-eyed reader Sally West points out that "lingerie showers" are for brides to be. And that makes Southerland's comment even less helpful to his cause. And so still we can say: Paging Dr. Freud....

Southerland quickly realized the gaffe and issued this statement: "I regret that my comments are being misused for political gain. I was trying to make the point that some organizations host men-only events and some host women-only events. Gwen Graham should be more focused on explaining her background as a D.C. lobbyist and political insider than she is on mischaracterizing my remarks."

Indeed, this isn't the messaging Republicans want -- espcially because it happened during an event with Gov. Rick Scott and NJ Gov. Chris Christie. But some tried to find a bit of humor in it.

"Lingerie showers, whiskey/cigar nights, funeral director by day...I'm thinking his own reality tv show," GOP operative Mike Hanna said on Twitter

Meantime, we know what Democrats'll do with the phrase: re-up the war on women talk. A while back, I said on Twitter that Southerland would probably win this race by about 4 or more points. Perhaps not if this keeps up.

"Steve Southerland’s latest jaw-dropping gambit to appeal to women: demean and ridicule us by claiming a ‘lingerie party defense,'" the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in the statement. 

So file the following dispatch from Steve Bousquet, Tampa Bay Times bureau chief in its joint state capital bureau with the Miami Herald, under the heading "self inflicted wounds." Bottom line: It's just never good campaign practice to bolster an opponent's stereotype. 

Continue reading "Paging Dr. Freud: Rep. Steve Southerland opens mouth, inserts "lingerie shower." " »

Mediscare, the 2014 campaign season edition

When it comes to claims about Medicare, some political talking points just never die.

In Iowa and Virginia, Republicans have accused Democrats of cutting Medicare to pay for Obamacare. In Florida, a Republican was slammed for ending the Medicare "guarantee." Other Medicare-related attacks have been deployed in Arkansas and Kentucky Senate races. The point of all the attacks is to convince midterm voters that one side or the other won’t protect the program.

Read PolitiFact National's story dissecting Medicare-related attacks nationwide including an ad by U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Miami, attacking his GOP opponent Carlos Curbelo.

Crist's attack on Scott about birth control

Charlie Crist’s most recent TV attack labels Republican Gov. Rick Scott as "extreme" on women’s issues.

A few days after he snagged the endorsement of Planned Parenthood PAC, Crist issued an ad showing a series of women attacking Scott’s record on abortion, birth control and equal pay for women.

One of the claims in the ad is that Scott "thinks employers should be able to deny women coverage for birth control."

PolitiFact Florida has fact-checked multipleclaims about Crist’s record on abortion and we gave him a Half Flip for holding various positions on it throughout his career -- even before he switched parties to become a Democrat. Several media reports have also covered bills signed by Scott that limit access to abortion.

Here we decided to fact-check Scott’s record on birth control. (Technically the Florida Democratic Party paid for the ad, but the Crist campaign announced the ad and promoted it.) Turn to PolitiFact Florida to read our full fact-check.

Anti-medical marijuana forces place $1.6m TV ad buy, promise more to come


Drug Free Florida, the folks opposed to medical marijuana, is dropping major greenbacks on a TV ad campaign: $1.6 million statewide in the first week of October.

The buy coincides with the first batch of absentee ballots dropping in the mail. Republicans and conservatives are the most-likely to vote by absentee ballot and the least-likely to support the proposed constitutional amendment, which needs 60 percent of the vote to pass.

Republican support is still strong, albeit not over 60 percent in most surveys, but out-sized Democratic and independent support have the constitutional amendment polling at anywhere from 61 to 70 percent (it's likely about 65%). By my calculations, if you drag down Republican support to about 42 percent, the amendment likely fails -- even if Democratic and independent support remains in the low to mid 70s.

We don't yet know the exact message of Drug Free Florida's ads, but it's doubtful it'll bash medical-marijuana backer John Morgan (why give the trial lawyer free advertising and credibility with people who want to hire a renegade?).

Not only is the medium the message. So is the size and location of the media buy. And this has "conservative" written all over it. Conservative North Florida (except for West Palm Beach's media market, which gives a great bang for the buck) will see the most ads, a figure expressed below as GRPs, which stands for Gross Ratings Points (1,000 GRPs generally means an average TV viewer will likely see the ad 10 times).

Continue reading "Anti-medical marijuana forces place $1.6m TV ad buy, promise more to come" »

UPDATE: Rivera's last-minute request for delay in ethics case denied -- for real

Faced with the exodus of his legal team, David Rivera tried to delay a Florida Commission on Ethics case that found he violated the state's rules for elected officials.

But on Friday, when told of his latest maneuver in a two-year-old case, the Commission unanimously rejected further delay, recommending instead that administrative law judge David Watkins determine penalties for the violations by Rivera, who appeared late at the hearing and missed the discussion on his case.

"It's insulting how this has happened," said Commission on Ethics Vice Chair Stanley Weston

"Denying this sends a message that we're over it," said Commission on Ethics board member Matthew Carlucci.

Rivera, who served in Congress between 2010 and 2012, was found in violation of seven instances of Florida's Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees while he served in the state House, including accepting state reimbursement for travel already paid for by campaign accounts and not accurately disclosing his income. 

Two of his lawyers quit representing him in July, and the third quit in August. On Thursday, at 4:43 p.m., Tallahassee attorney Leonard Collins filed a motion for continuance that had missed the deadline for Friday's meeting.

Collins said he was hired that day, Thursday, to make the motion.

"(Rivera) respectfully requests a continuance so that his counsel can carry out the above referenced review of the record and necessary legal research in order to properly prepare to address these issues before the Florida Commission on Ethics," Collins wrote in the motion.

But for members of the commission, some of whom seemed gobsmacked by the request, it didn't help Rivera's cause that Collins wasn't there to argue the case.

"If this was so important, I can't see why he can't be here," Weston said.

The vote was quick and the board went ahead with the rest of the agenda. The Rivera case, which had been moved up on the agenda that morning, was now headed to Watkins.

A half-hour after the vote, however, Collins appeared, and wasn't too pleased.

Continue reading "UPDATE: Rivera's last-minute request for delay in ethics case denied -- for real" »