Brecht Heuchan says ethics complaint is part of 'smear campaign - Florida Politics

Brecht Heuchan says ethics complaint is part of ‘smear campaign

A member of the Constitution Revision Commission says he’s become the victim of a “smear campaign” after proposing a constitutional amendment creating a “bill of rights” for nursing home and assisted living facility residents.

On Wednesday, Conwell Hooper, head of an Atlanta-based group called the American Senior Alliance, issued a press release that he had filed a state ethics complaint against Commissioner Brecht Heuchan for filing a “special interest proposal designed to boost the bottom line of one law firm.”

Complaints filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics are confidential and exempt from public record disclosure until there’s been some initial determination as to their merit.

But Hooper explained that Heuchan “is a paid, registered lobbyist for Wilkes & McHugh, a law firm that specializes in personal injury cases against nursing homes.”

Heuchan, an appointee and ally of Gov. Rick Scott, is a lobbyist and political consultant, and founder of Contribution Link, a political data analytics firm. 

His proposal came after a South Florida nursing home lost air conditioning during Hurricane Irma. Up to 14 residents later died, with 12 of those having been ruled homicides by the Broward County Medical Examiner.

Heuchan’s amendment “would make it far easier for law firms to sue nursing homes, revoking provisions of a law enacted in 2014 over Mr. Heuchan’s objections on behalf of his client Wilkes & McHugh,” Hooper said. 

Moreover, “several provisions of Mr. Heuchan’s proposal mirrors policy positions advocated by Wilkes & McHugh … This is as clear-cut a conflict of interest as one is likely to find,” he added.

On Wednesday evening, Heuchan shot back: “This out-of-state organization appears to be a shill for whatever industry is paying him. It takes some nerve to call into question my intentions and integrity when (Hooper) holds himself out to be something he is not.”

Heuchan suggested American Senior Alliance is what’s known as an Astroturf group working with the Florida Health Care Association, a nursing-home advocacy group that has slammed his proposal.

Its head, Emmett Reed, has similarly criticized Heuchan: “A professional lobbyist representing trial attorneys has ignored his broader obligations in order to serve the narrow interest of his clients. The proposed amendment is an egregious governmental overstep, one that overreaches to a monumental extent.”

American Senior Alliance is listed as an “associate member” of the Florida Health Care Association, according to its website.

The Alliance “is known for its consistent advocacy for seniors, including the quality of nursing center care in Florida, so it’s no surprise to us that they have taken an interest in this issue,” said FHCA spokeswoman Kristen Knapp.

“We have had discussions with Mr. Hooper about our mutual concerns regarding this proposal, which we don’t believe belongs in the state Constitution,” she said in an email. “It adds nothing to residents’ quality of life. We believe the organization is raising valid concerns and (we) will be following this closely.”

Still, Heuchan called the ethics complaint a “typical Tallahassee tactic: When you can’t win on the merits, attack the proposer. Oldest trick in the book.”

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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