August 06, 2016

DNC emails reveal controversial reputation of South Florida billionaire


While prominent Democrats from Hillary Clinton on down regularly mock Donald Trump in public, he's not the only wealthy commercial real estate developer to be ridiculed by party operatives.

Stephen Bittel, a Miami Beach businessman who owns and operates more than $1 billion in real estate in South Florida and beyond, isn't the most popular fellow at the Democratic National Committee despite his large donations to the party.

A few of the DNC emails released last month by Wikileaks, which prompted the resignation of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz as chairwoman, contain trash-talking about Bittel among folks at top levels of its massive fundraising operation.

Bittel, who is co-chairman of the party's national finance committee, is cited in several emails looking ahead to a May 18 meeting of President Barack Obama with the Coconut Grove resident and a small group of other big donors at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington.

Two days before the event, DNC national finance director Jordan Kaplan and his Mid-Atlantic deputy Alexandra Shapiro were fretting about where to seat Bittel.

"Bittel said this morning he was coming so just plan on it, but he doesn't sit next to POTUS!" Kaplan told Shapiro.

POTUS is the Secret Service code name for President of the United States.

Shapiro quickly responded: "Yes -- Bittel will be sitting in the s-------t corner I can find."

The next day, in another email about seating for the elite fundraiser, Shapiro provided an update to Zach Allen, another DNC regional finance director.

Shapiro zeroed in on Bittel and Henry R. Munoz, a prominent San Antonio architect who is also co-chairman of the DNC national finance committee.

"So Henry and Bittel are both coming to the roundtable (with Obama) as punishment for something I did in a past life," she emailed Allen.

The two operatives mused about seating Bittel next to DNC finance vice chairman Chris Lowe and his wife, comedy writer Bonnie Datt.

"LOL, Chris and Bonnie think Bittel is a character," Allen told Shapiro. "So if you want to go that route, let me know so I can at least forewarn them but they'll be fine and if it makes your life easier, all the better."

In apparent reference to both Bittel and Munoz, Allen added: "I'm sorry you're having to deal with them."

Bittel, chairman of Terranova Corp., is a friend of Wasserman Schultz. He hosted a dinner for her at a Philadelphia restaurant during the Democratic National Convention shortly after she resigned as DNC head.

The Weston lawmaker quit the top Democratic post after some of the emails revealed disparaging comments by DNC aides about Sen. Bernie Sanders, who former Secretary of State Clinton bested to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

In a separate email exchange, Chadwick Rivard, a top DNC researcher, warned White House aide Bobby Schmuck about another donor with South Florida ties.

Coping the email to a half dozen other DNC operatives, Rivard sent Schmuck a long background description of Palm Beach billionaire George Lindemann Jr., board president of the Bass Museum in Miami Beach who was once an Olympic equestrian hopeful as a highly skilled horse rider.

The biography, part of which came from the Lexis-Nexis database, included Lindemann's 1995 conviction on three counts of wire fraud. That case resulted from a federal probe that found 50 horses had been killed over two decades in acts of insurance fraud.

Lindemann, who has donated to Republican and Democratic politicians, received a 33-month term in federal prison for his role in the scheme.

DNC compliance director Alan Reed, who'd been copied on Rivard's email, rendered his verdict on Lindemann two hours later.

"I vote fail....again," Reed wrote.

To browse the entire Wikileaks trove of 19,252 DNC emails, click here:


June 23, 2016

GOP super PAC accuses Patrick Murphy, Charlie Crist of 'straw donation scheme'


A conservative super PAC aligned with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says it has filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission accusing Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy of orchestrating a "straw donation scheme."

The complaint from the Senate Leadership Fund also names former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, because similar donors gave to Crist's 2010 U.S. Senate campaign as gave to Murphy's first U.S. House race in 2012.

The super PAC bases its accusation on connections that several joint donors to Crist and Murphy have in common with a friend and former classmate of Murphy's: Ibrahim Al-Rashid.

The super PAC has attacked Murphy for weeks over donations he's gotten from the wealthy Al-Rashid, who in 2014 pleaded guilty to a domestic assault charge. The revelation of that criminal case prompted Murphy, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and others -- including former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia of Miami -- to return or donate substantial contributions they'd gotten from the controversial donor.

The Senate Leadership Fund is milking that narrative further by now alleging Murphy, Crist and a dozen of their donors "appear to be part of a highly suspicious network of contributors" to the two politicians. The super PAC alleges that Al-Rashid used several relatives and friends as "straw donors" to circumvent federal campaign contribution limits in giving donations to Murphy's and Crist's campaigns.

Murphy's campaign said the allegations are "totally false."

Continue reading "GOP super PAC accuses Patrick Murphy, Charlie Crist of 'straw donation scheme'" »

June 13, 2016

In 'clerical error,' a dead man donated to Patrick Murphy's U.S. Senate campaign


MurphyEighteen months after he died, a southern California businessman was reported to have cut two $2,700 checks to Democrat Patrick Murphy's U.S. Senate campaign in Florida.

The max donation to Murphy's campaign that was attributed to the late Vincent Gorguze was revealed by The San Diego Union-Tribune in a story late last week.

The U.S. Senate campaign for Murphy, a Jupiter congressman, told the Herald/Times on Monday it was a "clerical error" that caused the donation to be incorrectly tied to Gorguze, when it should have been listed under his widow's name.

The Union-Tribune reported that Gorguze -- father-in-law to California Democratic U.S. Rep. Scott Peters -- was listed as a campaign contributor for $8,000 in donations since his death in October 2013.

Most of it went to Murphy's campaign in two donations totaling $5,400 on April 14, 2015. The remaining $2,600 went to the re-election campaign of another California member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, the newspaper reported.

Like Murphy's campaign explained, Peters' campaign told the Union-Tribune that the contributions to Murphy were mistakenly made under Gorguze's name instead of his widow, Gloria Gorguze.

But the Peters campaign also appeared to lay blame on Murphy's campaign for not verifying the source of the donation.

"Donors can’t control how a campaign receiving a contribution reports that contribution," Peters spokeswoman MaryAnne Pintar told the Union-Tribune. "It is incumbent upon that receiving campaign to report contributions correctly. These errors were not on the part of the Peters family."

Murphy spokesman Joshua Karp said in an email to the Herald/Times that Murphy's "campaign has a process for ensuring the correct attribution of donations."

"Our campaign received a check from a joint checking account and a signature that was difficult to read," Karp said. "In a clerical error, the check was misattributed to Mrs. Gorguze's late husband. As soon as we found out about this error, we filed a correction."

Karp said that correction was filed Friday -- which was the same day the Union-Tribune story was published online.

Photo credit: Walter Michot / Miami Herald

May 16, 2016

Conservative group files FEC complaint against Patrick Murphy, super PAC



A conservative watchdog group wants the Federal Election Commission to investigate Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy and a super PAC supporting him that's funded mostly by Murphy's father.

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, or FACT, said it lodged an official complaint with the FEC in a letter dated Friday.

"Murphy's super PAC has been primarily funded by Murphy's own company and a family member with whom he has financial ties, which appears to be unlawful coordination between a candidate and his super PAC," the group wrote.

MORE: Read FACT's complaint

Murphy's campaign declined to comment on Monday about the complaint.

It previously denied accusations of illegal coordination when the Herald/Times reported last month on Murphy's father's connections to the super PAC, called "Floridians for a Strong Middle Class."

Continue reading "Conservative group files FEC complaint against Patrick Murphy, super PAC" »

February 09, 2016

Florida Strong launches ad attacking lawmakers' special interests


The independent advocacy organization Florida Strong is going after state lawmakers for receiving campaign money from special interests before the 2016 session.

The group debuted a new web ad, called "Agenda," which it said it plans to run on social media and on state news websites. The ad cites data reported by the Herald/Times last month in an article that found special interests gave Florida legislative campaigns more than $28 million in the six months leading up to the start of session.

Florida Strong said the 60-second spot is the first in a campaign, which will later target individual lawmakers receiving special interest money.

The group declined to say how much it was spending on the ad.


January 29, 2016

Alan Grayson announces $591,000 in fundraising - including new personal loan - to end 2015



Despite "an army of small-dollar progressive donors," U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson continues to lag well behind fellow U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy in fundraising for the Democratic primary of Florida's high-profile U.S. Senate contest.

Grayson's campaign told the Herald/Times today the Orlando congressman took in $591,000 for the three-month filing period between October and December, with average donations around $28 from 9,300 individuals representing more than 240 Florida communities and all 50 states.

The total includes a new $100,000 loan Grayson gave his campaign, which is in addition to previous personal loans he's made, the campaign said.

Spokesman David Damron said the campaign is still calculating exactly how much Grayson had in cash on hand as of Dec. 31, but Damron said it's around the same amount "or slightly less" than what Grayson had heading into October.

Grayson reported $258,700 in the bank, as of Sept. 30.

Meanwhile, Murphy -- the party establishment's favored candidate -- announced his fourth-quarter fundraising totals last week.

The Jupiter congressman said he raised $1.46 million from October through December -- which, by comparison, is about 2.5 times as much as Grayson said he took in during the same time-frame. Murphy said he had nearly $4.3 million on hand in his U.S. Senate campaign, as of Dec. 31.

Fourth-quarter fundraising reports are due to the Federal Election Commission by Jan. 31. Senate campaigns typically file paper copies through the secretary of the Senate, so specific details on Grayson's and Murphy's most-recent fundraising aren't yet available.

Grayson's campaign expressed optimism for 2016, saying it "already set a new, one-month record for contributions in January" and has new, continuing pledges that total $60,000 a month going forward.

“This campaign is fueled by retirees and veterans, and people who work in classrooms or drive buses, not wealthy lobbyists and special interests," political director Mario Piscatella said in a campaign statement.

North Palm Beach attorney Pam Keith is also seeking the Democratic nomination. Her fundraising has been nominal.

The Murphy-Grayson contest is drawing a lot of national attention, as Murphy has built momentum off support from key Democrats and union groups, while Grayson has picked up endorsements from notable progressives and grassroots supporters, including both the state and national Progressive Democrats of America.

Florida's U.S. Senate race is seen as one of the pivotal seats for both Republicans and Democrats to win, because it could decide which party controls the upper chamber of Congress next year.

Four candidates are running in the Republican primary: U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami, and Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox.

Photo credit: AP

December 02, 2015

Miami-Dade commissioner wants to crack down on PAC $$$ in local races


In her first-ever run for office last year, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava experienced the shadowy world of campaign finance firsthand — thanks to political action committees that supported her opponent.

“It was very difficult, if not impossible, to trace exactly where that money was coming from,” Levine Cava told the Miami Herald on Tuesday, after introducing a proposed county ordinance that would require greater PAC disclosures.

Levine Cava’s legislation is similar — though not identical — to existing state law, which requires state lawmakers, the governor and Cabinet members to disclose if they are affiliated with certain types of political action committees.

“It’s like a local loophole to not have the same requirement be in place for county officials and local municipal officials,” Levine Cava said.

If approved next year, Levine Cava’s new rules would require local political candidates to file reports for any political action committees for which they are fundraising. Those reports would have to “identify each contribution solicited, directly or indirectly, by the candidate, the name of the person or entity contributing the funds … the amount of the contribution, and a description of the relationship between the candidate and the political committee.”

More here.

October 31, 2014

Scary thought for candidates: Fundraising gates shut at midnight. Here's what we know

Gates AP photoBoom, clang, lock.

If there had been a sound associated with the end of the campaign finance season it would be that. At midnight Thursday, the gates closed on what has been the most expensive political season in Florida history.

Have citizens united to rejoice yet? 

They should. Donors can't be haunted by fundraising calls from the candidates and their surrogates any more and, in four days, the public will see the end to the incessant bloodletting of the television ad war. 

What have we learned so far? 

Through Monday, $206 million had been raised in state campaigns this election cycle, more than half of it on the race for governor.

If that fact is not enough to scare you about the fate of union, consider this: the poor accountants at the Republican Party of Florida and Florida Democratic Party have until midnight tonight, yes Halloween, to compile their reports detailing how much they raised and spent in the last three months. Talk about turning into a zombie. 

We also know that Scott’s political committee, Let’s Get to Work, raised a whopping $45.7 million while Crist’s raised a stunning $30 million through Wednesday.

Think about it. We thought it was a big deal when Crist raised $24.6 million to get elected in 2006 -- as a Republican. Now, as a Democrat, his political committee has topped that. He is expected to top the $43 million raised by the Democrats four years ago for Alex Sink, who lost to Scott by 62,000 votes -- and Scott's $85 million.

As expected, the fundraising continued into the final week. Crist’s political committee raised $624,000 through Monday, most of it from lawyers going back to the well.

Scott’s Let’s Get to Work committee would have been dry this week if it hadn’t been for the Republican Governor’s Association stoking another check for $500,000 into the campaign. The RGA total: $18.3 million.

Both candidates have steered much of their money to the political parties, which gets better rates on the massive television ads the candidates have financed. Those numbers are due at midnight. 

Another take-away: the Senate race for president in 2016 has bitterly divided the GOP. We're even watching traditional GOP backers like Disney steering money to the Democratic Party in the hopes of perhaps defeating some of the pro-casino advocates, like former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, and protecting incumbent Democratic Sen. Maria Sachs who faces Bogdanoff in Broward. 

More to come. We'll be digging into the crypt for more details. 

Photo: Courtesy of the Associated Press

February 11, 2014

Waldman's Justin Timberlake event is not 'N Sync

Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, had an idea to raise money for his 2016 Senate campaign: Hold a fund-raiser as a tie-in with an upcoming concert appearance by Justin Timberlake at BB&T Center in Sunrise. There's just one problem: Timberlake is performing there on March 4, the opening day of the 2014 legislative session.

Legislators are forbidden from soliciting or raising campaign money during regular sessions. But lobbyists all over Tallahassee got solicitations from Waldman's campaign, seeking $1,000 checks to an event that lists Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter as a host.

Waldman says it was a mistake. "It went out in error. I hadn't given clearance," the lawmaker said. "I hadn't approved the invite."

Waldman said he received a verbal opinion from Tallahassee lawyer Mark Herron, an expert in campaign finance laws, that it would be legal to hold the event on March 4 as long as all contributions were received before that date and no fund-raising took place at the event. (Waldman himself couldn't attend because he has to be in Tallahassee).

Herron confirmed that version of events, and said he was not aware of another candidate who has arranged a fund-raiser in the same manner.

Waldman joked that Timberlake, former lead singer of the boy hand 'N Sync, wouldn't re-schedule his concert tour to accommodate fund-raising rules of the Florida Legislature. Waldman is a candidate for the Northwest Broward Senate seat that will be vacated by the term-limited Democrat Jeremy Ring in 2016.

As questions swirled about the suspect timing of the event, campaign strategist Jeff Ryan sent an email to lobbyists. "Please disregard the flyer e-mailed today for the concert fundraiser," the Monday email read. "The scheduling of this event is not set."

February 07, 2014

Next step in campaign finance reform could be web site overhaul

When Florida lawmakers raised campaign contribution limits last year, they said the goal was to make the money in politics more transparent. There was one problem: the state’s campaign finance web site.

The 9-year-old system is difficult and cumbersome and it has no provision for tracking the explosion in soft money checks to the candidates and issues the money is intended to target. Campaign finance watchdogs, the National Institute on Money in State Politics, gave the state a D grade for that oversight in a report last year.

Lawmakers proudly touted the reforms they passed last year: raising the minimum contribution limits for legislative campaigns from $500 to $1,000 and to $3,000 for statewide candidates, and increasing the frequency of reporting, making the web site data more current. But the law did nothing to make the independent expenditures, or soft money, easier to track or to make the web site more user-friendly.

Now there is new momentum to address that issue. The new law included a little-noticed requirement that the state submit a proposal for replacing Florida’s outdated web site with a statewide electronic filing system for all state and local campaign finance data.

In a December report to House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, the Division of Elections recommended the state require all state and local candidates to submit their campaign finance information to a statewide web site, and offered two pricetags and timelines to do it: The state could use existing staff and spend three years and $534,000 or hire a private contractor and, according to estimates from 10 companies, the cost would be $1 million and time frames would range from three to 18 months. Story here.   Download SEFS Final Proposal_11272013 Full Version