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February 22, 2015

WaPo: After customs incident, Jeb Bush's wife took out loan to buy pricey jewelry

From the Washington Post:

In 1999, Columba Bush, the famously private wife of then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, was detained and fined by federal customs officials for misrepresenting the amount of clothing and jewelry she had bought while on a solo five-day shopping spree in Paris.

The incident left the Florida first lady deeply mortified and her husband politically chagrined. Jeb Bush said the first lady had misled customs officials because she did not want him to know that she had spent about $19,000 on the trip.

“The embarrassment I felt made me ashamed to face my family and friends,” Columba Bush said in a July 1999 speech to the Central Florida Make-a-Wish Foundation, not long after the incident. “It was the worst feeling I’ve ever had in my life.”

The ordeal did not stop her from spending freely, however. Less than a year later, she took out a loan to buy $42,311.70 worth of jewelry on a single day, according to records filed with the state of Florida by Mayors Jewelers.

That purchase was part of a pattern by Columba Bush of borrowing to buy tens of thousands of dollars of jewelry at a time from the South Florida store over a 14-year period. Documentation available online, which does not include the details of two transactions made less than six weeks apart in 1995, shows that she spent a total of more than $90,000 at the store.

More here.

Rampant South Florida tax fraud counts Janet Reno, Eric Holder as victims

Just in time for tax season, Miami Herald federal courts reporter Jay Weaver has a two-part special report about rampant tax fraud in South Florida -- which has apparently ensnared former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, a Miamian, and current U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who doesn't even live here:

The reality is that an array of everyday criminals — some in seemingly upstanding positions of cop, nurse, soldier and even college student — have transformed South Florida into the nation’s capital of tax fraud.

The range of victims is stunning: Holocaust survivors in South Florida, U.S. Marines stationed in Afghanistan, even the nation’s top law enforcement officers. Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, a Miami resident, and current Attorney General Eric Holder both have been victims of tax fraud in South Florida, according to law enforcement sources. In Holder’s case, perpetrators were suspected of filing a phony tax return in his name and using a refund-loaded debit card to withdraw money at local ATM machines.

More here.

February 21, 2015

Jeb Bush publicly advocated for fracking while privately investing in industry

via @adamsmithtimes @learyreports

In the summer of 2013, well before he became an all-but-declared presidential candidate, Jeb Bush spoke to conservatives gathered in New York. He talked up the promise of education reform, immigration and policies to boost America's economy — standard lecture circuit talk for which the former Florida governor often commanded $40,000 a speech.

Still, the part about "a patriotic energy policy" was especially timely, coming amid heated debate over whether Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo should lift the state's moratorium on the controversial oil and natural gas drilling technique of hydraulic fracturing.

Fracking.

"Some states, like yours here in New York, are choosing not to grow. They won't approve fracking," Bush said, his veiled shot at Cuomo drawing roars of approval from Republicans gathered at a Sheraton in Manhattan. "Meanwhile, in parts of New York where huge opportunities exist for the restoration of economic activity, people languish."

Bush left unmentioned that fracking in the Marcellus Shale beneath the New York-Pennsylvania border also presented a big opportunity for himself.

More here.

NYT profiles Jeb Bush's wife, Columba

The New York Times reports on the political reticence of Columba Bush, the former Florida first lady, who has always been far more private than her husband and likely Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush

For 20 years, Columba Bush anticipated the day she would have to answer one big question: Would she support her husband, Jeb Bush, if he decided to run for president?

Last summer and fall, as she wrestled with whether to say yes, her sense of duty was mixed with dread.

Born in Mexico, she had married into a famously political American family and had always been an outsider: a prayerful Roman Catholic, a sensitive loner and lover of the arts who still speaks in heavily accented English. As Florida’s first lady, she had arranged Mass in the governor’s mansion and endured weeks of bad press for a European shopping spree. She blamed politics for friction in her marriage and as a factor in her daughter’s drug addiction. A run for the White House would expose her to the spotlight as never before.

“She knows the good and the bad of being around politics,” said Jim Towey, an official in the administration of President George W. Bush, Jeb’s brother, and a close friend to both Jeb and Columba. “It’s opened the door to extraordinary experiences for her. But she’s paid quite a price, as well.”

A note: The Times piece says Columba Bush gave her final blessing to her husband's presidential ambitions on Thanksgiving. Past Miami Herald reporting suggests she had given her tacit approval by 2011.

Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush question President Obama's policies, not his patriotism

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio was asked by a Florida radio station on Friday about Rudy Giuliani's comment that President Barack Obama does not love America.

"I don’t feel like I’m in a position to have to answer for every person in my party that makes a claim," Rubio replied. "Democrats aren’t asked to answer every time Joe Biden says something embarrassing, so I don’t know why I should answer every time a Republican does. I’ll suffice it to say that I believe the President loves America; I think his ideas are bad."

And here's Jeb Bush: "Governor Bush doesn't question President Obama's motives. He does question President Obama's disastrous policies," spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

In D.C., Gov. Scott gushes anew about Rick Perry

Gov. Rick Scott, in Washington on Friday, gushed to Politico about his fondness for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a story that will revive all that man-crush talk in Tallahassee.

"Rick is a ball to be with," Scott is quoted as saying (ever heard him talk that way about a Florida politician? The piece describes Scott as "introverted by nature" and leaves aside the question of whether Scott might seek a U.S. Senate seat in either 2016 or 2018. The full story is here.

February 20, 2015

Immigration activists briefly interrupt Marco Rubio book-tour stop at Miami Dade College

@PatriciaMazzei

A hometown visit by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio to promote his new book drew a crowd of hundreds to Miami Dade College on Friday evening -- including at least a half a dozen immigration activists who interrupted the Republican several times before being escorted out by security.

"You're a hypocrite," a young activist yelled at Rubio. Another flipped him off and swore at the senator as she was being ushered out.

Rubio, who has repeatedly had to face activists at public events, took the interruptions in stride, even cracking jokes about it.

"I just hope they bought the book," Rubio quipped. "I'm the only one who gets heckled by both sides of the immigration debate."

The Rubio-friendly audience rallied behind him, standing up to applaud and in some cases yell back at the protesters, who were not detained. So many people had RSVP'ed -- about 1,000, according to the university -- that the event was moved to a larger auditorium.

Rubio stuck to a theme familiar to anyone who has followed him in Miami: pursuing the American Dream. His new policy book is, in fact, titled American Dreams.

Rubio, a potential GOP presidential candidate, emphasized ways the federal government can help the middle class -- which he illustrated as a 30-year-old single woman trying to raise two or three children and unable to improve her professional qualifications to get a better job.

"The problem is that in order to achieve those skills, often times, depending on where you live, that requires you to drop everything and go to school for two years," he said.

Instead, Rubio proposed that higher education take into account a person's work experience, military service and other background to get an "equivalent" of a degree. He also touted his idea that private investors pay student loan costs in exchange for a percentage of a graduate's income.

Before the event, Rubio took questions from reporters who, as is typical for Miami, asked in English and Spanish l about issues ranging from Cuba to Colombia to Argentina.

He made no mention of his possible GOP rivals but did address a report that Senate Republicans worried about an open seat in the nation's largest swing state were urging him to run for reelection.

"That may be how they feel, but in terms of pressure and so forth, it's just not accurate," Rubio said. "I don't think I've had a single member of the Senate pressure me.

Bloomberg: The 8 biggest donors who could change the Republican race for president

From Bloomberg:

There are billionaires who could upend the state of play simply by opening their checkbooks.

Bush takeaway: Jeb Bush hasn't hooked the biggest fish of all: Multimillionaires and billionaires who have shown their willingness to write $1 million checks if they take a shine to a particular candidate. Their nearly unlimited ability to donate to super-PACs can give poorly funded campaigns a booster shot of outside assistance, usually in the form of attack ads.  

Rubio takeaway: 

Harold Simmons, a Dallas-based investor whose holdings included a nuclear waste dump, spent more than $26 million on super-PACs and candidates in 2012, making him the cycle's second-most active donor, after Adelson.  He died in December 2013. It's an open question how much his widow, Annette,  will participate in 2016 politics, if at all. But there's one interesting sign: In December, she contributed $5,000 to Sen. Marco Rubio's political action committee. If she is inclined as her husband was to participate in presidential king-making, the Center for Responsive Politics noted, she "could be just the spark a candidate like Rubio needs to battle through the first primaries."

More here.

John Morgan calls Debbie Wasserman Schultz medical pot 'prohibitionist' in fundraising email

@PatriciaMazzei

John Morgan, the major Florida political donor engaged in a public spat with U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, is using the incident to raise dollars and get signatures for a 2016 ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana. And he's not holding back.

"We don't negotiate with prohibitionists. Or bullies," reads the fundraising email Morgan sent supporters Friday afternoon, in the wake of a tussle -- through intermediaries -- with Wasserman Schultz.

Politico has reported that the Weston Democrat's office indicated Wasserman Schultz might reverse her opposition to legal medical pot if Morgan stopped publicly blasting her over it. The congresswoman, who is also chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, has denied her office a potential deal, though text messages and emails obtained by Politico suggest otherwise.

The back-and-forth began when Wasserman Schultz started flirting with running for U.S. Senate, if Republican Marco Rubio doesn't seek reelection. Morgan and his allies warned they would oppose Wasserman Schultz, who last year likened a medical-marijuana dispensaries to prescription-drug "pill mills."

"When Debbie Wasserman Schultz came out last year against Amendment 2, she didn't just simply empower our opposition -- she obstructed thousands of patients who desperately need access to this medicine," Morgan's fundraising email says. "Her poor timing and very public stand against medical marijuana helped squander the efforts of thousands and volunteers and donors.

"Now she wants to have a conversation in exchange for me toning down my criticism of her position last year (and the damage she caused)? Not a chance."

Either the congresswoman supports the measure or doesn't, Morgan wrote: "Everything else is B.S. politics in order to rehabilitate the damage she's done to herself by being on the wrong side of the issue.  It's not support - it's a quid pro quo and I won't do it."

Read the full text of the email after the jump.

Continue reading "John Morgan calls Debbie Wasserman Schultz medical pot 'prohibitionist' in fundraising email" »

Obama to visit FIU for immigration town hall

@PatriciaMazzei

President Obama will visit Miami next Wednesday to attend an immigration town-hall style meeting at Florida International University's main campus.

The nationally televised event, hosted by Miami-based Telemundo and MSNBC anchor José Díaz-Balart, will be in English and Spanish, according to MSNBC. His brother Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, has pushed Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

"We've chosen this town hall forum because the president has a desire to engage in a genuine conversation about issues important to the community," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told the network. Miami "makes for an interesting, dynamic place and a great symbol of how immigration has made our country unique."