August 24, 2018

Gwen Graham might have gotten thousands from the kind of "secret money" she's denounced

TAILYR IRVINE | Times Democratic candidate for Florida Governor Gwen Graham speaks after Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced his endorsement at the Columbia Restaurant on Thursday, August 16, 2018 in Tampa.

Gwen Graham has spent much of her campaign for governor criticizing one of her opponents for refusing to denounce support from a “secret money” super PAC.

But over the last few weeks, she’s taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from political committees with murky donors, giving her a valuable boost leading up to Tuesday's primary.

A handful of political committees controlled by two lawyers have given her campaign more than $420,000 during the first two weeks of August, records show.

The specific special interests giving to her is unclear, since, like many committees, the ones giving to Graham function as a pass-through for campaign contributions by other committees and corporations.

But their most recent donors include Associated Industries of Florida, which has been supported by U.S. Sugar, and an Alabama organization backed by the coal industry, indicating her campaign might have received money from the groups.

The shift in fundraising in the final weeks of the primary goes against much of her campaign’s rhetoric over the last few months.

Since May, Graham and her campaign have been hammering Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum after an out-of-state super PAC started airing television ads against her. That super PAC, the Collective, has chosen not to disclose its donors.

Over that time, her campaign has issued at least 22 press releases quoting 28 different supporters criticizing Gillum and the Collective.

"There is no place for secret money PACs interfering in our elections,” Miami Gardens Representative Barbara Watson said in a Graham campaign press release, for example.

On Aug. 2, however, Graham's campaign received $31,000 from three political committees — Democratic Services Network, Florida Institute for Politics and Justice for Florida.

Since then, those three committees and three others have continued to give to her, usually on the same days.

But the source of the money is almost as mysterious as the "secret money" PACs she has denounced.

Collectively, most of the six committees' recent funding in the last few months has come from just three organizations:

  • An Alabama-based nonprofit called Jobkeeper Alliance and its committee. The organization advocates for coal interests and its press releases have blasted EPA regulations. Since June, it's given more than $200,000 to the six PACs that have given to Graham.
  • A Better Miami Dade, Inc., and its committee of the same name. The company has chosen not to disclose its donors. In February, it made headlines after paying for controversial robocalls in the South Miami mayoral race. Since June, it's given more than $150,000 to the six PACs.
  • AIF and its committees, which receives heavy funding from in-state businesses like U.S. Sugar, Florida Power & Light and Disney. Since June, it's given $66,000 to the six committees.

The six PACs have also given big to political committees managed by Christian Ulvert, the campaign manager for former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who is running neck and neck with Graham leading up to Tuesday's primary.

Between May and July, the six groups have given Ulvert's committees more than $280,000. In August, their efforts appear to have shifted in Graham's favor.

Ulvert did not responded to a request for comment.

Graham campaign spokesman Matt Harringer said, "We have disclosed all 48,000 of our contributions — and all of the political committees referenced also disclose their donors."

He added that Republicans have "weakened" campaign finance laws, and she has "consistently called out Secret Money Super PACs attacking fellow Democrats."

"Gwen is one of many Florida Democrats whose campaigns have legally and properly received donations from the committees," Harringer said. "As governor, Gwen will continue to fight for campaign finance reform."

The disguising of political donations by laundering them through political committees has been called "a giant shell game," allowing politicians to receive donations from special interests without the public knowing who exactly is behind the money.

It makes it nearly impossible to know whether JobKeeper Alliance, for example, intended to give to Graham and Levine. It does, however, offer slightly more disclosure than the Collective, which is a federal super PAC that does not have to disclose its donors.

Four of the six committees that gave to Graham are managed by Fort Lauderdale attorney Jason Blank, who declined to say whether the groups who gave to him intended to Graham.

"The one thing I’ll tell you is that my political committees are very active in the state of Florida," Blank said. "We are excited about the Democrats taking control of the House and the Senate."

The other two committees — and the JobKeepers committee — is managed by well-known Tallahassee elections lawyer Mark Herron, who did not respond to a request for comment. Herron has worked with Graham's campaign to try to stop the Collective's ads from airing.

Efforts to reach Stephen Cody, the committee chairman of A Better Miami Dade, Inc., were not successful. In February, he told the Herald that he would not disclose his donors.

The number listed on JobKeeper’s Facebook page went to its former executive director, Patrick Cagle, who is now president of the Alabama Coal Association. Efforts to reach JobKeeper's current leadership have not been successful.

Until August, most of Graham's donors have been individuals or groups with relatively clear motives. Some of her top campaign donors, for example, have been her father, the National Education Association and Emily’s List, which helps elect pro-choice women.

August 23, 2018

Bob Graham cuts a $500,000 check in his daughter's race for governor

Gwen Graham and her father, Bob Graham, in the first television ad of her campaign for governor.

Former governor and Senator Bob Graham has written another big check for his daughter's campaign, this time pouring $500,000 into the final stretch of the primary race.

His Aug. 17 contribution makes him one of her biggest donors, having given more than $1 million since May of last year, according to her PAC's records.

Gwen Graham hasn't been shy about tapping her family's wealth, with her Washington Post-linked relatives also chipping in six figures to her campaign.

Like his daughter, Bob Graham's greatest source of wealth is in the family company, the Graham Companies - or at least it was during his last financial disclosure, in 2004, when the outgoing senator's report showed a net worth of between $5 million and $25 million.

Although she's not been involved in the family company since she was elected to Congress in 2014, the Graham Companies' involvement in a controversial mega-mall project has been used against her this primary.

August 20, 2018

A free Jimmy Buffett concert this week? Here are the details.

In this Friday, Nov. 4, 2011, photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett performs before some 3,500 of his fans on Duval Street in Key West. (AP Photo/Florida Keys News Bureau, Rob O'Neal)

Any Parrotheads in South Florida looking for a free Jimmy Buffett concert are in luck - as long as you don't mind putting up with a little politics.

On Thursday night, the legendary Florida singer/songwriter will host a get-out-the-vote concert for Democratic candidate for governor Gwen Graham, and it's free and open to the public.

The concert is at the ArtsPark at Young Circle amphitheater in Hollywood. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the concert starts at 7:30 p.m., according to Graham's campaign.

Buffett publicly endorsed Graham, the daughter of former governor and Senator Bob Graham, a week ago. 

"It's been too long since we have had a Governor for all the people," Buffett said in a statement released by Graham's campaign. "For that reason, I am supporting my friend, Democrat Gwen Graham, for governor and I encourage ya'll to do the same."

Buffett also performed for Graham in 2014, during her successful run for Congress. 

August 15, 2018

This labor union is the latest to launch attack ads against Gwen Graham over the American Dream mall

Graham Unite Here ad
A screenshot from UNITE HERE's ad attacking Gwen Graham over her affiliation over the American Dream Miami mega-mall.

A major labor union says it's launching a six-figure ad buy against Gwen Graham, targeting the Democratic front-runner for governor over her family's involvement in the American Dream Miami mega-mall.

UNITE HERE, which represents more than 260,000 mostly service industry workers across the country, says it's going after Graham because of her failure to take a stance on the project, of which her family's company is involved.

"We think that Gwen Graham can’t hide behind the fact that it’s her family who’s involved in the project," said Wendi Walsh, Secretary-Treasurer for UNITE HERE Local 355. "She skirts the issue at every turn."

The union has endorsed one of Graham's opponents, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, in the governor's race. 

The union says it's spending six figures to target more than 800,000 Democratic voters, mostly in South Florida. In addition to advertising on social media and websites, they're buying 50 30-second ad spots during morning and evening shows on CNN, MSNBC, OWN and BET in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area.

"While Graham and her family make millions," one of the TV ads says, "Florida will be stuck with poverty-wage jobs, endangered wildlife and massive traffic congestion."

The campaign is expected to start today and run through Tuesday.

Walsh says the union has tried to get Graham to come out against the project, to no avail. Graham has repeatedly declined to take a stance on it.

Her campaign's spokesman has said Graham "believes local communities should have the first and final voice on the project and to date, they have strongly supported it."

The union isn't the first to go after Graham about the project. Fellow candidate and Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene has already aired television ads attacking Graham. Levine has said he's been against the project from the beginning, but has so far stayed out of the fight.

The mall project, which would feature a theme park and an indoor ski slope, would be America's largest, and it has been strongly opposed by environmental groups over fears that it would encourage more development on the eastern edge of the Everglades.

Despite rhetoric by Graham's opponents, however, the mall is not in the Everglades, and Graham's campaign maintains that she's never had any involvement in its formation.

The mall is being built by Triple Five, the company that developed Minnesota's Mall of America, but part of the 175-acre property is owned by the Graham Companies. The Graham Companies is also planning to build a massive mixed-used development on 300 acres south of the mall.

Graham, like many members of her family, has a small stake in the family company that is worth millions. But she resigned as a member of the board in 2015, when she was elected to Congress, and her campaign says she owns less that 1 percent of voting stock in the Graham Companies.

August 13, 2018

Gwen Graham's latest endorsement? Jimmy Buffett

In this Friday, Nov. 4, 2011, photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett performs before some 3,500 of his fans on Duval Street in Key West. (AP Photo/Florida Keys News Bureau, Rob O'Neal)


Jimmy Buffett is again hitting the concert circuit, this time to host a rally for Democratic candidate for governor Gwen Graham.

In a statement released by Graham's campaign today, the singer/songwriter said he was endorsing Graham and performing at a "get out the vote rally" for her on Aug. 23 in South Florida.

"It’s been too long since we have had a Governor for all the people," Buffett said in a statement released by Graham's campaign. "For that reason, I am supporting my friend, Democrat Gwen Graham, for governor and I encourage ya’ll to do the same."

Graham, who has surged in the polls in the final weeks of the Democratic primary, cited Buffett's dedication to the environment.

“Jimmy isn't just a legendary musician, he is also a dedicated environmentalist who has worked with my family for years to preserve Florida's natural treasures," Graham said in a statement. "I am proud to have earned his vote on election day – come that Tuesday, it’ll be alright."

Her campaign said details of Buffett's rally would be released later.

In another state, an endorsement by Buffett probably wouldn't matter much.

But the Florida icon was one of a few big names who showed up at rallies to help Graham win her Congressional race against Republican incumbent Steve Southerland in 2014.

One of the others who hit the stump for her that year? Bill Clinton.

But Graham has been noncommittal about whether she'd welcome the former president on the campaign trail.

At the final Democratic debate earlier this month, she declined to answer a moderator's question about Clinton, who has been viewed differently in the #MeToo era.

At a later meeting with the editorial boards of South Florida's three major newspapers, she again declined to answer a question about Clinton. Pressed a second time, she said she would consider his support.

July 17, 2018

Gwen Graham gains support of former CFO and governor candidate Alex Sink

Gwen Graham Alex Sink
Gwen Graham and Alex Sink (Gwen Graham campaign)

Gwen Graham is now counting among her supporters the last Democrat elected to Florida's Cabinet, former CFO Alex Sink — a name that still haunts some Democrats.

“It’s an honor to have Alex Sink’s support," Graham said in a statement Tuesday. "She has been a trailblazer for Florida women in business and public service — and I wish I were running today to serve as Florida’s second woman governor.”

Sink served as the state's chief financial officer from 2007 to 2011, the last Democrat to win a seat on the Florida cabinet. But it's her failed campaign for governor that still frustrates some in the party.

Sink, a centrist Democrat, narrowly lost to Rick Scott in 2010 in a race that many felt she should have won. Her failure to turn out Democrats against Scott, a political newcomer with a controversial past, led MSNBC's Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie to dub her the worst candidate in the country that year.

Sink made another run for office in 2014, losing a Tampa Bay-area congressional race to Republican David Jolly, but has been out of the spotlight since.

Graham's campaign notes that she has the support of the only other Democratic woman elected to a Cabinet position, Betty Castor, who was education commissioner in the 1990s. (The position has since been eliminated.)

Sink said in a statement that Graham, a former Congresswoman and the daughter of former Governor and Senator Bob Graham, was a "proven dedicated public servant."

“Gwen shares my commitment to investing in public education, protecting our environment and building a diverse economy for Florida,” Sink said. "Now, more than ever, we need a leader who will defend Florida's women and families."

July 13, 2018

Russians targeted by Mueller includes source of leaks against Florida Democrats

Robert Mueller (Associated Press)

FBI special counsel Robert Mueller's latest round of indictments, against 12 Russian intelligence operatives, has a slew of Florida connections, including naming the source of the 2016 leaks against some Florida Democrats, including Gwen Graham.

The indictment also says that Florida elections officials were targets of the operatives, who worked for the Russian foreign intelligence service, the GRU.

They sent emails that contained malware to more than 100 "organizations and personnel involved in administering elections in numerous Florida counties," the indictment states.

The malware was embedded in Word documents that were contained in the emails. The indictment does not say whether the attacks were successful. In June, Gov. Rick Scott's administration received $19.2 million in election security money to be divvied up to the county elections supervisors.

Mueller's team alleges that the Russians did much of their work under the monicker of a fake hacker called Guccifer 2.0. "Guccifer" hacked into the Democratic National Committee in September 2016.

Among the documents was a 2013 internal research report vetting Democratic gubernatorial candidate Graham, who was then running for Congress. Parties and campaigns often do research on their own candidate, so that they can predict what their opponents might dig up.

When asked about it on Friday, Graham laughed about how little "dirt" was in the documents.

"My oppo research is barely boring," she said after a campaign event in Tallahassee. "It's really boring oppo research, so I don't think people were reading through it thinking, Oh, I got her there, I got her there. They're like, 'Wow, she's led a life that didn't result in much dirt.' But I did skip school once in the seventh grade."

Graham said she supported the work of the special counsel.

"I am supportive of the Mueller investigation, and I believe it should continue until we determine whether the president of the United States needs to be indicted as well," she said.

The indictment also appears to allude to Florida political operative Aaron Nevins, who reached out to Guccifer and asked for "any Florida based information," according to a Wall Street Journal report last year. Nevins also operated, a political gossip blog.

The report said that Nevins was given 2.5 gigabytes of information.

Mueller's indictment appears to mention the transaction, mentioning that in August, 2016, "the conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, transferred approximately 2.5 gigabytes of stolen data from the DCCC to a then-registered state lobbyist and online source of political news."

"The stolen data," the indictment says, "included donor records and personal identifying information for more than 2,000 Democratic donors."

July 11, 2018

Gwen Graham taps her Washington Post relatives for campaign contributions

Gwen Graham and her father, Bob Graham, in the first television ad of her campaign for governor.

Gwen Graham's father is her biggest political asset, a popular former governor and senator with deep ties to power brokers in the state.

But last month he became her biggest financial asset, too, giving another $250,000 to her campaign and becoming her top donor.

He's not the only Graham to give. Her campaign for governor is very much a family affair, with her Washington Post-linked relatives pitching in hundreds of thousands of dollars as well.

Although Graham doesn't mention it often, she's the niece of Katharine Graham, the famed former publisher of The Washington Post. (Meryl Streep played Katharine Graham in last year's critically-acclaimed movie, The Post.)

Together, they make up the Graham campaign's largest financial support network, about 7.5 percent of the $9.3 million she's raised so far. (Her campaign also touts that it's not just her family - she has more donors overall than all of her Democratic opponents combined.)

Here's how much they've given:

Bob and Adele Graham (parents) - $506,000

Bob and Adele Graham are now Graham's top donors. (Bob Graham's brother was married to Katharine Graham.) The source of the family's money comes from the Graham Companies, which founded Miami Lakes and is still an active developer in South Florida.

Stephen Graham (cousin) - $165,000

Stephen Graham, the youngest son of Katharine Graham, is a philanthropist and literature professor at Bard College in New York.

William W. Graham (cousin) - $28,000

William W. Graham, the middle son of Katharine Graham, was a lawyer, investor and philanthropist in Los Angeles, where he was also a professor at UCLA. He died in December.

Katharine Weymouth (first cousin once removed) - $4,500

Katharine Weymouth, the granddaughter of Katharine Graham, was the last publisher of The Washington Post before Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought the paper in 2013.

Stephen Hurm (husband) - $4,000

Hurm, Graham's husband since 2010, was a police officer-turned-lawyer who is general counsel for the Leon County Sheriff's Office. He's also director of the Policing Research & Policy Institute at Florida State University. He and Graham married in 2010.

Mark Logan (ex-husband) - $3,000

Logan isn't just Graham's ex-husband. He's also her campaign treasurer, resuming the job he had in her 2014 Congressional campaign. Logan, a Tallahassee lawyer and lobbyist who also worked on Bob Graham's 2003 presidential bid, was married to Graham from 1985 to 2005. They have three children together, who are all in their 20s.

Gwen Graham (herself) - $3,000

Graham's net worth is $14.4 million, according to her latest financial disclosure, with nearly all of it stock in the Graham Companies.

July 10, 2018

Gwen Graham's health care plan: Medicaid expansion and signing people up for Obamacare

Gwen Graham released a new digital ad Tuesday, April 3. Credit: Gwen Graham for Governor via YouTube. [Screen grab from YouTube.]

Gwen Graham is out with her health care plan, and while she doesn't call for "Medicare for all" like one of her opponents, it's the first detailed look at what the Democrat would push for if elected governor.

Her four-page plan, given to the Times/Herald on Monday, boils down to five basic points:

Expand Medicaid: Graham says she would expand Medicaid to Floridians with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about 500,000 people. The federal government would pick up 90 percent of the tab, according to her plan. How would she force this on the Legislature? Her plan says she "will demand the Legislature expand Medicaid, or else she will veto their pet projects and take the issue to the ballot as a constitutional amendment in 2020."

Allow Floridians to get the same insurance as Florida politicians: Graham says she would have the state's Office of Insurance Regulation require insurance companies that serve state employees also offer insurance on the Affordable Care Act exchange.

Eliminate waiting lists for senior-based programs: Graham says there are long waiting lists for state programs like Community Care for the Elderly, which provides services like adult day care, and Home Care for the Elderly, which provides subsidies for seniors living at home. She cites an Ocala Star Banner story in which an official says, "Many will die while they are waiting for services." Graham says she will "urgently conduct research to learn more about those who die while waiting, and then use the results to ensure that the State of Florida is doing everything it can to eliminate waiting lists and prevent tragic outcomes."

Help sign people up for Obamacare: The Trump Administration has slashed the budget for organizations that help sign people up for Obamacare (aka the Affordable Care Act). To make up the difference, Graham says the state will pick up the tab and fund outreach efforts, "if necessary."

Limit increases in premiums through 'reinsurance' programs: Graham would join a handful of states that have asked for a federal waiver to use reinsurance pools, in which an assessment helps pay for the most expensive insurance claims. She cites this Families USA post as an explanation for how the system works.

June 22, 2018

St. Petersburg mayor blasts attack ads on Gwen Graham, calls them "dirty Republican tricks"

Four of the Democratic candidates for governor, clockwise from top left: Philip Levine, Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum and Chris King.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman blasted attack ads on Gwen Graham funded by a secret money group that supports one of her opponents.

Taking to Twitter and Facebook, Kriseman called the ads "dirty Republican tricks and tactics."

"It is disappointing to see an out-of-state secret money Super PAC come in to our city and attack a fellow progressive Democrat," Kriseman wrote. "St. Petersburg Democrats will reject smear campaigns. They want something to vote for - not against."

The Collective, a group that works to elect black candidates around the country and supports Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, is airing a new round of ads accusing Graham of not being liberal enough. They're airing this week on network and cable channels in Tampa Bay.

Collective SuperPAC, an arm of The Collective, has chosen not to divulge its donors.

St. Petersburg was the first city in the nation to limit how much money someone can give to PACs involved in local elections.

Kriseman has not endorsed anyone in the governor's race. Both Graham and Gillum stumped for him last year.
Geoff Burgan, a Gillum spokesman, has said the campaign welcomes the Collective’s help.
“They’re working to level the financial playing field between us and our multi-millionaire and billionaire opponents - one of whom has a net worth 11,000 times that of Andrew’s, and another whose income comes from her family’s stock holdings,” Burgan told the Times/Herald Thursday morning.