June 20, 2018

Gwen Graham's second-biggest donor has been fined nearly $2 million for environmental violations

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham.

As Gwen Graham's campaign for governor continues to rack up financial contributors, one of her top money-makers stands out.

It's not her father, Bob Graham, the former governor and senator who's given a quarter-million dollars. Nor is it his old college fraternity brother, a Winter Park developer who's poured in $150,000.

It's actually a Lynn Haven contractor who's been fined nearly $2 million by state and federal authorities for various environmental violations.

James D. Finch, owner of Phoenix Construction Services outside Panama City, has given $290,000 to her campaign so far, making him the second-biggest donor to her campaign. (The top giver is easily Emily's List, the organization giving loads of money to "pro-choice Democratic women" across the country.) 

Over the decades, he's been cited multiple times, none bigger than in 2009, when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection levied a $1.7 fine for environmental permit violations.

Here's what happened, according to Politifact:

Finch, a former NASCAR team owner, has given to Republicans and Democrats over the years, but he's chosen to side with centrist Democrats as of late.

He gave more than $200,000 to then-Democrat Charlie Crist's run for governor four years ago, and got called out by Republicans for flying Crist around in his private plane. They dubbed him a "serial polluter" in campaign commercials.

Check out the extensive Politifact piece on Finch's record here.

Finch didn't respond to a request for comment left with his company, Phoenix Construction.

But a year ago, he told Politico that he thought Graham did a good job during her two years in Congress, citing her 2015 vote in support of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Since that quote, he's poured another $240,000 into her campaign. 

Graham's campaign isn't embarrassed by it, though.

"Yep, Finch has contributed. He obviously admires Gwen's leadership," campaign spokesman Matt Harringer said. "So does the Environmental Defense Fund, which has also given to Gwen — and the more than 20,000 individual supporters who have also contributed to Gwen."

The environmental nonprofit gave $1,000 this month, Harringer said.

June 07, 2018

Former Congressman Patrick Murphy to endorse Gwen Graham for governor

Former Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Graham

Former Congressman Patrick Murphy's flirtation with a run for governor is ending, with the Democrat expected to endorse his former Washington colleague, Gwen Graham, today.

The announcement is expected at a 2 p.m. press conference today in Pembroke Pines. The endorsement was first reported by Politico.

For the last few months, Murphy has been toying with the idea of running for governor with Republican Congressman David Jolly, with the two even making campaign appearances on national television together.

The Murphy campaign reportedly made the decision Wednesday, based at least in part on the lack of fundraising clout Murphy and Jolly had this late in the game. Many of the major donors have already "committed" to other candidates. The two campaigns then spoke about it either last night or this morning.

Graham and Murphy served in Congress together, where they were both centrist Democrats. Murphy was the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in 2016, losing to Republican Marco Rubio.

With Murphy's endorsement, the Democratic field for governor appears set. Graham is running against Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene, Orlando entrepreneur Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

Gillum's campaign used the endorsement to take a swipe at Graham, referencing her mention last month that she would consider Jolly, a staunchly anti-Trump Republican, as her running mate. Graham later said she would only choose a Democrat as her running mate.

"Does it come with David Jolly's endorsement too?" Gillum's communications manager, Geoff Burgan, wrote in a statement to the news media.

Herald/Times staff writer Emily Mahoney contributed to this report.

June 06, 2018

Gwen Graham launches first TV ad of her campaign for governor


Gwen Graham is launching the first TV ad of her campaign for governor today, a $1.1 million ad buy in the Orlando and Tampa markets.

And in it, the former congresswoman makes her introduction to voters: Mom. PTA president. Democrat. Daughter of former governor and senator Bob Graham

And her father makes an appearance. Doubtless, she's hoping the elder Graham is still a familiar face in a state where he was revered when he was in office. He hasn't been on the ballot since 1998.

The ad is airing on broadcast and cable over the next two weeks.

Here's the transcript:

Announcer: Whether raising three kids or in Gwen Graham’s service as a PTA president…
Graham: Everything I do is through the prism of being a mom
Announcer: Democrat Gwen Graham. In Congress, Gwen applied lessons from her father, Bob Graham. Now, Gwen is running for governor. 
Graham: Twenty years with one party running everything with all the wrong priorities. The Florida Legislature have not taken Medicaid expansion. They have hurt education. They have used the lottery to reduce funding. But we’re gonna take it back. 
Announcer: For Governor — Democrat Gwen Graham

Graham is facing off against Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene, Orlando entrepreneur Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine in the August primary.

June 04, 2018

Gwen Graham to spend more than $1 million on first TV ads

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

Gwen Graham is finally making the plunge into television with her first ad buy of the campaign.

The ad buy, worth $1.1 million, according to Politico, will air in the Tampa and Orlando markets starting mid-week.

Graham, a former Congresswoman and the daughter for former governor and senator Bob Graham, is the only one of the four (now five) candidates running on the Democratic side who hasn't yet had a presence on TV sets.

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has spent millions already introducing himself to voters on TV and on social media, and leads Graham in most polls. Orlando businessman Chris King has already aired two ads.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum hasn't spent money directly on ads, but a Super PAC supporting him has dropped more than $700,000 to attack Graham on television.

“After 20 years of one-party Republican rule, Floridians are ready for new leadership,” said Graham’s campaign manager, Julia Woodward, in a statement. “We’re excited to share our positive message with even more Democrats across the I-4 corridor.”

June 01, 2018

Gwen Graham would end private prisons and decriminalize pot possession

Gwen Graham 10 EKM
Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham.

Gwen Graham would phase out private prisons in Florida and decriminalize the personal possession of marijuana if elected governor, according to a nine-point plan her campaign laid out today.

"For too long, the politicians in Tallahassee have ignored the inequity and pervasive prejudice in Florida’s criminal justice system," Graham said in a statement. "While they’ve failed to act, Floridians have been hurt by mass incarceration, increasing costs and devastating cuts."

Graham, one of four Democrats running for governor, laid out proposals that she thinks can pass in Florida's Republican-dominated Legislature, where some Republicans have led the charge for criminal justice reform - with mixed success.

Graham said she supports reforming the bail bond system, which keep poor people who can't afford to pay bail in jail longer. Orlando-area State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced in May that prosecutors in her office would no longer seek bail for low-level offenders, one option that Graham says she is considering.

Some of her other ideas include:

  • Pay raises for prison guards.
  • Require state attorneys to get the opinion of a panel of in-house prosecutors before seeking the death penalty.
  • Reduce sentencing for nonviolent drug possession.
  • Restore voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences.

Graham said her first priority is "upholding the will of the people" and making medical marijuana accessible to those who need it. But she also believes that possession of marijuana in small amounts should not have a criminal penalty.

Some Florida counties have changed their ordinances so that being caught with small amounts of marijuana results in a civil fine, rather than an arrest.

"Florida should embrace the principle that no young person should go to jail or have their lives ruined over an incident of marijuana use — we can and should decriminalize," she said in a statement.

Her ideas were endorsed by former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, state Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, Leon County Public Defender Nancy Daniels and the state's largest police union, the Police Benevolent Association.

“We believe Graham’s plan to better support officers, close the state’s private prisons, and expand rehabilitation programs will make Florida safer," PBA executive director Matt Puckett said in a statement.

Her ideas didn't go quite as far as Orlando businessman Chris King's, who is trailing in the polls. King wants to eliminate the death penalty in Florida and legalize marijuana completely.

Graham's plan prompted King campaign spokesman Avery Jaffe to take a shot at her, calling it "half-hearted" and "lame."

May 24, 2018

The Republican Governors Association has a target in Florida: Gwen Graham

Screen Shot 2018-05-23 at 11.23.01 AM_1
A screenshot of the Republican Governors Association website from Wednesday, May 23, 2018.

If there is a candidate for Florida Governor that the Republican Governors Association doesn't seem to like, it's Gwen Graham.

Nine of the association's latest news releases from Florida take aim at the the former Congresswoman, who is considered a front-runner but slightly behind in polls to former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

The releases, all in the month of May, have the typical headlines you'd expect from members of the opposite party, calling Graham "desperate" or "phony" or having been "caught misleading voters." 

The association, whose stated purpose is "electing and supporting Republican governors," apparently has someone surreptitiously recording the candidate. Its latest release features a video by someone secretly recording while asking Graham a question about taxes at a campaign event.

The RGA hasn't focused solely on Graham, though. The last time they did a press release that targeted another candidate was back in March, when they did a post mentioning that Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is "catching fire" among Democrats. (They previously noted that Gillum is "surging" among Democrats.)

Why the focus on Graham? The RGA didn't respond to a request for comment. The current chairman of the RGA is Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for senate, was vice chairman of the organization last year.

As for Graham's camp, they're brushing it off:

"Focusing so many of their attacks on Democrat Gwen Graham, seems like 'R.G.A.' really stands for 'Republican Graham Anxiety,'" Graham campaign manager Julia Woodward said in a statement. "The Republican Governor’s Association fears 20 years of one-party rule is coming to an end in Florida, and they clearly know Gwen is the one who’s going to end the Republican lock on the governor’s office in November."

May 11, 2018

Former Florida Democratic Party chairs denounce attack ad aimed at Graham

Gwen Graham 10 EKM
Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, who is running for governor.

Three former leaders of the Florida Democratic Party denounced a new attack ad against Gwen Graham from a group that supports one of her rivals in the governor's race, Andrew Gillum.

"This is the type of unethical, disgusting trick we’ve come to expect from Republicans in Tallahassee," former party Chairman Rod Smith said in a statement, sent to the media by Graham's campaign. "To see Andrew Gillum embrace secret-money attacks is disappointing and disqualifies him from earning my support.

"If he is truly the progressive Democrat he claims to be, Gillum should immediately call for his secret-money allies to immediately take this ad off the air."

Smith was referring to a $782,000 ad buy by The Collective, an organization that supports black candidates running for office around the country. The largest donors to its SuperPac are George Soros and Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

The ad paints Graham, a former Congresswoman from Tallahassee, as not liberal enough to be governor. It's scheduled to run on network TV in West Palm Beach and in cable markets across the state starting Thursday, according to Politico.

"We must stand together and unite the Democratic Party," former Chairman Karen Thurman said in the same statement put out by the Graham campaign. "After 20 years of Republican rule in Tallahassee, there’s too much on the line for Democrats to attack each other."

Former Chairman Terrie Brady said in the statement that Democrats running for governor "should be running on their ideas for Florida's future."

"They should not be attacking other Democratic candidates," she said. "I hope that Mr. Gillum and the other contenders will take a positive approach going forward."

Gillum's communications director on Thursday brushed off the criticism.

"In this race no candidate will be able to run from their voting record, but if we had a choice in this ad, we'd want Mayor Gillum's progressive record to be the focus," Geoff Burgan said. "The Graham campaign seems to be uncomfortable with her own voting record."

May 10, 2018

Gwen Graham fires back at negative ad by group that supports Andrew Gillum

Democratic candidates for governor of Florida, clockwise from upper left: Philip Levine, Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum, Chris King.

Gwen Graham's campaign is fighting back against a negative ad hitting Florida airwaves that's sponsored by a super PAC that supports opponent Andrew Gillum.

“I am disgusted that Andrew Gillum would allow a secret-money group to run a false attack against a fellow Democrat,” Graham said in response to the ad.

The ad was paid for by The Collective, a PAC that supports black candidates. It will air in West Pam Beach and in cable markets throughout the state, according to Politico.

According to Politico, the PAC is spending $782,000 for the 30-second spot. But the PAC's Federal Elections Commission reports show it's only taken in $167,000

The spot criticizes Graham, a former Congresswoman from Tallahassee, for not being liberal enough to be governor.

"Gwen Graham says she is the progressive Democrat for governor," the ad says. "But while in Congress she voted against President Obama 52 percent of the time. Graham trashed Obamacare. Voted with the big banks. And she voted for the Keystone XL pipeline - twice. Graham stood with Republican leaders over President Obama and Florida Democrats. Gwen Graham is not the progressive she claims to be."

That's been a consistent theme for Gillum, who is trailing in the polls but hopes to gain traction among the four Democratic candidates for governor by appearing the most liberal. 

The Graham campaign shot back by noting that Gillum denounced "dark money flowing into Florida" in a February tweet.

The Gillum camp responded to the ad by doubling down on their criticism:

"In this race no candidate will be able to run from their voting record, but if we had a choice in this ad, we’d want Mayor Gillum’s progressive record to be the focus," communications director Geoff Burgan said. "The Graham campaign seems to be uncomfortable with her own voting record."

Gwen Graham boasts $1 million fundraising haul in governor's race


Gwen Graham raised more than $1 million in April toward her campaign for governor, marking the best month yet for one of the Democratic front-runners.

She now has $4.7 million cash on hand, according to her campaign, and has raised $7.5 million overall.

Her campaign also claims it's raising money from more grassroots supporters than any over her three opponents, with more than 18,500 total donors.

“This campaign is fueled by Floridians and grassroots supporters who are passionate about sharing Gwen’s positive message and dreams for Florida. Democrats are tired of dirty campaigns and outside secret-money groups interfering in elections,” Campaign Manager Julia Woodward said in a statement.

May 08, 2018

Gwen Graham to Pam Bondi: "stop stalling" and sue the drug companies

Gwen Graham 10 EKM
Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham stands with supporters for a photo after she announced that she is running for governor at a park in Miami Gardens in 2017.

Democratic candidate for governor Gwen Graham called on Attorney General Pam Bondi to "stop stalling" and sue the drug companies that many believe are responsible for creating the nation's opioid crisis.

"Florida families are tired of waiting," Graham, an attorney, said in a statement. "If Pam Bondi, the attorney general and a lawyer, can’t find an attorney to file a lawsuit, she can call me directly and I’ll help guide her through the process."

Bondi has spent months searching for a lawyer to take the case, while hundreds of other states, cities and counties - some in Florida - have already filed lawsuits.

The suits generally target the makers of powerful prescription drugs and the companies that distributed them, arguing that the companies either turned a blind eye to or knowingly sold highly addictive opioids.

Bondi has said that Florida will be filing a separate lawsuit and won't be joining a massive multi-state action taking shape in a federal court in Ohio.

Graham first called on Bondi to sue back in September. State Democratic lawmakers have also urged the attorney general to take action.

"For years, Attorney General Bondi looked the other way as powerful drug companies profited off abusive practices and fueling the opioid addictions of countless Floridians," Graham said. "Finally, after thousands of Floridians have died, Bondi says she'll sue — but words are meaningless without action."

She said that as governor, "I will hold the drug companies accountable and use all the powers of the office to address the opioid epidemic."

Bondi's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.