Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 154

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@flordiapolitics.com or scottmichaelpowers@yahoo.com.

Two west Orange County mayors yank support for Bobby Olszewski in HD 44 race

Two well-connected west Orange County suburban mayors have withdrawn their support for Bobby Olszewski in the upcoming Republican special election primary for House District 44, over his support for term limits for local elections.

Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn and Ocoee Mayor Rusty Johnson announced in an open letter this morning that they are withdrawing their endorsements of Olszewski because of concerns over his commitment to the home rule paradigm that assumes cities and counties should have the rights to govern as they see fit.

The pair of mayors blasted Olszewski for supporting term limits for local offices, and stating in campaign fliers that as a state representative he would push for term limits.

Those fliers also called for ethics reform legislation that would address “secret government contracts” and increase the lobbying ban for local officials.

Olszewski responded Monday morning by doubling-down on that position, and challenging his opponents to state their positions on term limits.

The two mayors are more than just small-town mayors. Johnson serves as chairman of the National League of Cities’ Small City Committee. Bruhn is president-elect of the Florida League of Mayors.

“As local elected officials, we want to send people to Tallahassee that recognize our right to self governance and support that right. So when one candidate sends out flyer after flyer advocating that he will work to take away that right and advocates for term limits for local elected officials it goes against what we, the Florida League of Mayors and the Florida League of Cities strive for,” their joint letter states.

“Each of our cities and towns decide when our elections will be, how long our terms will be and if we should even have term limits. This is contained in every local government’s charter and it was the residents who decided that, not Tallahassee. This is our citizen’s right. It troubles us even more when a candidate has served at the local level and has forgotten the importance of Home Rule.,” they continue. “So with that, we can no longer support your candidacy to go to Tallahassee. We must put our resident’s rights first and speak out.”

Bruhn and Johnson were among the first endorsements of Olszewski, a former Winter Garden commissioner. He kicked off his campaign in April with a list of endorsements from Orange County municipal leaders.

At that time there was only one other Republican in the race, Dr. Usha Jain, an urgent care physician. Now Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce President John Newstreet and businessman Bruno Portigliatti have joined the race. The Republican primary is two weeks from Tuesday. The lone Democrat running is Paul Chandler, and the Republican primary winner will face him in the Oct. 10 special election to fill the vacant seat for southwest Orange County.

Olszewski responded in an email to Orlando-Rising Monday morning:

“I will not sell out my beliefs or conservative principles for an endorsement. I firmly believe that elected officials should be subject to term limits. I will not stop fighting for term limits and I believe this is a major distinction between myself and my opponents in this race. I am seeking to go to Tallahassee to represent the will of the people, not the priorities of politicians,” he stated.

Bruhn stated that his and Johnson’s response comes in part from their leadership roles in the municipal leadership organizations they represent.

“Mr. Olszewski served with us on the League of Cities Advocacy Committees and should know what the importance of home rule is. He also knows that the League has opposed efforts by the House [of Representatives] to mandate all local elections on a given day and ANY other intrusions,” Bruhn said in a statement to Orlando-Rising. “If he has already forgotten that as a candidate, how will he treat local government if he is elected when he is pressured from his leadership? Mayor Johnson serves as chairman of the National League of Cities Small City Committee. I am president-elect of the Florida League of Mayors. In these roles, our colleagues look to us to not only be advocates of home rule, but leaders. And that is why we must speak out.”

Barbara Cady bringing Democratic, feminist connections to HD 42 run

Are Osceola County and eastern Polk County ready for a determined, old-school feminist representing them in the Florida House of Representatives?

Democrat Barbara Cady, 59, of Kissimmee, filed last week to run against Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike LaRosa in House District 42.

She’s bringing a wealth of Democratic Party and feminist-leadership connections to run in a district where the Democrats have a solid advantage in voter registration but haven’t seriously backed a candidate in more than a decade.

Cady is determined to change that. A former secretary and real estate agent, and then longtime mother and homemaker, she transformed the direction of her life a few years ago when she attended college, in her 50s, in New York, majoring in women’s and gender studies. She became very active in Democratic and women’s issues activism.

And after President Donald Trump won election in November, she decided she wanted to do more, with a little nudge from Democratic state Rep. John Cortes from neighboring House District 43.

“I looked and I thought, well, I know a lot of my neighbors and I know my community, and they’re very much Democrats. We do have Republicans, sure,” she said. “So why is this Republican in this seat? So I looked at the area, and the stats, and said, ‘Well, I’m going to run.’ That’s what I need to do. We need to win this seat for the Democrats, and get the Democrats out to vote.”

She and her husband Patrick Clarke had owned a home in Kissimmee since 2004 and moved there full-time in 2014, and she decided she wanted to get involved full-time in Democratic politics, particularly since Hillary Clinton was running for president.

She worked as a volunteer for the Clinton campaign, knocking on doors, hosting events. She became a Clinton delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. and provided lodging in her home for visiting campaign surrogates such as Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock and former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis.

She joined the Osceola County Democratic Executive Committee, and joined and even formed some women’s Democratic political groups. She is president of the Greater Orlando National Organization for Women, and treasurer of the Osceola County Democratic Women.

“I met a lot of great people and formed some really solid relationships,” Cady said.

She also became a licensed community association manager, working with home-owners associations.

She’ll be heading to Washington D.C. next week to talk to potential consultants there.

Cady also professes a powerful streak of patriotism, borne from her upbringing as the daughter of a Navy intelligence officer who was posted around the world, including in Morocco and Cuba.

“I’ve always had a strong sense of country and being patriotic, that is just borne in me. I disagree with a lot of things government is doing, but I always believe the flag is important, and being of service to your country is just part of who I am,” she said.

“I’m inspired by a sense of believing in my country,” Cady said. “With what’s going on with Trump, I’m disappointed with what has happened with the Republican Party. I grew up Republican, with a military family, and I think I think my father would be rolling over in his rave right now if he could see what Trump is doing with those Russians.”

HD 42 takes in southern and eastern Osceola and southeastern Polk, a huge swath that includes enormous rural areas, and the city of St. Cloud, but also pieces of Kissimmee and Poinciana in Osceola and towns such as Frostproof in Polk. It is no longer dominated by the cattle and agriculture economy and old-school Florida population. It is transforming by an increasingly younger, largely Hispanic, primarily Puerto Rican population, that has flocked to bourgeoning Poinciana and Kissimmee, changing the population and political balance just in the past decade.

Today the district is 38.2 percent Democrat and 32.4 percent Republican. The 2010 census found the population was 28 percent Hispanic and 10 percent African-American, and those numbers have been expanding.

On the other hand, it’s a conservative brand of Democrat-leaning, with plenty of independent voters, and went for Trump by three points in the 2016 election.

“I think we have a shot, because this is a swing district and there is a lot of discontent, with the whole Republican agenda,” Cady said

She said she’s not ready to present a platform, and is talking to people in the community and developing her positions and priorities. Planks addressing equal rights, the low-wage economy, the area homeless problems, and support for immigrants are likely to be in it.

“I’d like to see a level playing field where everyone has the opportunity to pursuit the American Dream,” she said.

FIU out of anti-Airbnb, hotel association research project

Florida International University has been dropped from a controversial research contract proposed by the American Hotel & Lodging Association that had been criticized as potentially unethical by the national watchdog group Checks & Balances Project.

A spokeswoman for the university advised FloridaPolitics.com that it has been notified that it is not receiving the AH&LA $68,209 grant for sponsored research into the emerging home-sharing industry.

The university did not indicate why it was not receiving the grant, and did not immediately respond to a FloridaPolitics.com inquiry about that.

On Thursday the Checks & Balances Project held a national telephone press conference criticizing FIU and two other universities for research projects sponsored by the hotel association, which Checks & Balances said appeared to be “pay to play” contracts, to sponsor research to support the AH&LA’s lobbying efforts to oppose Airbnb and other vacation rental home-sharing companies.

FIU had bid for an AH&LA grant to sponsor research “to determine if there are any safety/security issues that could/should be addressed in order to be sure that consumers have a consistently safe product” with home-sharing lodging.

Checks & Balances Project is doing its own study, at least partly funded by Airbnb, on the traditional hotel industry’s lobbying efforts.

Scott Peterson, executive director of the Checks & Balances Project, welcomed the development that FIU will not be conducting the AH&LA-sponsored research.

“No matter who decided to end this arrangement, Florida taxpayers are the winners, along with FIU’s long-term credibility,” Peterson said in a written statement to FloridaPolitics.com. “We have to figure that FIU felt the hotel lobby hadn’t been above board about its secretive, pay-to-play academics plan. Other universities would do well to hand back the hotel lobby’s money. It always has ropes attached.”

Extensive Enterprises wins three awards in Florida journalists’ ceremony

Extensive Enterprises Media and its media, including FloridaPolitics.com, won three statewide journalism awards Saturday night from the the Society of Professional Journalists Florida Pro Chapter, during ceremonies held in Coral Gables.

EEM’s magazine INFLUENCE took second-place for best magazine single issue, for the Winter 2016 edition. That category was won by City & Shore Magazine, published by the South Florida Sun Sentinel, for its August 2016 issue. The Mirror Magazine took third place.

EEM’s Peter Schorsch and his SaintPetersBlog took second-place in best blog writing. Again, the winner was from the Sun Sentinel, for food critic Michael Mayo and his The Eat Beat Blog. The Tampa Bay Times’ political blog, The Buzz, placed third.

Scott Powers took a third-place award for best in-depth blog entry, for a post he wrote for FloridaPolitics.com and Orlando-Rising.com on the Pulse nightclub massacre, headlined, “The Soul of Orlando to America: Give us a moment.” Both the first- and second-place winners in that category were written by Eric Barton of Florida Bulldog, one on the medical examiner, and one on Florida education.

The big winner in the awards ceremony was the Sarasota Herald Tribune, which won nine-first place awards in various newspaper and special categories, including the Gene Miller Award for Investigative Reporting, and the First Amendment Foundation Freedom of Information Award.

Among other major awards, WUFT.org won the James Batten Award for Public Service. The Florida Times-Union and Tia Mitchell won the Diversity Award. The Times-Union also won the Integrity Florida Award for Public Corruption Reporting.

Pat Beall of The Palm Beach Post was named Journalist of the Year in Florida. Lisa Peakes of WUSF Public Media was named Anchor of the Year in Florida.

Florida LGBTQ journalist, Orlando institution, Billy Manes passes

Orlando has lost its boldest conscience and Florida’s LGBTQ community its most passionate and omnipresent voice with the passing of Billy Manes.

Manes, 45, most recently editor of Watermark, the state’s leading LGBTQ newspaper, and before that a longtime columnist for Orlando Weekly, the city’s leading alternative journalism medium, died Friday. He was with his husband, Anthony Mauss, and others at Orlando Regional Medical Center.

His death led to an eruption of grief and memories on social media Friday, particularly within the city’s progressive and LGBTQ communities, but not limited to them. The journalist and advocate drew powerful eulogy messages from the city’s powerful, including Mayor Buddy Dyer, and even from those outside the usual Democratic and LGBTQ circles, such as socially-conservative Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon, who called to say he considered Manes a friend as well as a foil, and had valued that friendship.

Manes once ran for mayor against Dyer, in 2005, but the city’s longtime leader expressed deep regard for him Friday.

“Our hearts are heavy today as Billy Manes has passed away. Billy was a journalist, storyteller and community advocate. Sometimes a candidate for Mayor. Always a vibrant force of nature with a healthy dose of wit who loved Orlando and helped make our city fiercely unique,” Dyer stated in a Facebook post. “Billy will be missed.”

As a columnist for Orlando Weekly, Manes mixed fierce critical reporting of the follies and foibles of Central Florida politicians with biting, sarcastic wit that even had his targets usually smiling. At Watermark, a publication he left last Friday, he led the publication’s coverage of the June 12, 2016, massacre at Orlando’s popular gay nightclub, Pulse, bringing together hard reporting and heart.

“Manes became the voice of a grieving community, appearing on MSNBC and NPR,” Orlando Weekly said in an obituary published on its website Friday. “On the one-year mark of the tragedy, Manes reflected in a Watermark column that Orlando achieved the remarkable feat of pulling different people in the city together after Pulse.”

He also was a board member of the national Pride Fund To End Gun Violence.

“Billy was an integral member of Pride Fund to End Gun Violence and was one of the LGBTQ community’s most outspoken advocates,” Executive Director Jason Lindsay stated in a news release. “He touched so many lives as a selfless friend, community supporter and a willing mentor. We will greatly miss him and his contributions to the gun violence prevention movement and the advancement of LGBTQ equality.”

Manes won over everyone with his sincerity, intelligence, humor, and ever-impressive passion for what he believed in.

“I’m at a loss for words. Orange County is just a little darker tonight,” Orange County Democratic Chair Wes Hodge stated in a Facebook post.

“A very talented, passionate, and sincere man died today,” posted Wade Vose, a Republican attorney.

“Picking up a copy of the Orlando Weekly at Panera was a ritual for me when Billy Manes was covering city council meetings. His dispatches were biting, witty, delicious and never sterile. Whenever he came to campus for our internship fairs, he always greeted me with a hug. I’m saddened to learn of his passing. RIP, Billy,” posted University of Central Florida Journalism Professor Rick Brunson.

“And I’ll take with me the memories
“to be my sunshine after the rain.
“It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday.
“Rest In Power Billy Manes
“Goodbye friend,” posted Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith.

 

Buddy Dyer urges united Orlando to go forward

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer declared Friday that the state of the city is united, and that that unity, drawn from Orlando’s darkest day, is needed as the city confronts its future with challenges of transit, homelessness, housing and a development of a high-tech economy.

“Two words,” Dyer concluded in his annual State of the City address, given at City Hall, “Orlando united.”

That has been the catch phrase of a city, a region, a people, embracing one another in the days and now the 13 months since the Pulse nightclub massacre of June 12, 2017. Dyer said the unity had been crafted long before Pulse and saved the city in the aftermath. It had shown the world a remarkable resiliency. And now, he said, it is needed going forward.

Dyer’s 36-minute address was short on new, bold plans or project announcements. Mostly, the mayor of 14 years pushed for a staying on the current course, completion of current projects, and expansion of current services, and programs, more urban planning, and continuation of his policies.

But he also made it clear that a new police headquarters, new developments at Lake Nona, the expansion of the city’s Interstate 4, the foundations of the University of Central Florida’s new downtown campus and the related Creative Village multi-use development, and other brick-and-mortar projects were relatively small accomplishments of the past year compared with the city’s reaction to Pulse.

“We have transformed Orlando from a place which was packed with potential to a place that has realized its potential. Most of the attention over these last several years has been on tangible projects, things we can see, touch, and quantify in dollars and cents. But the past year has been very different,” Dyer said.

“In the most challenging year in our city’s history, the intangible has defined Orlando,” he added.

It didn’t happen by accident, he insisted.

“Think about it: We spent years talking about partnerships, diversity and inclusion. Our response to Pulse showed the world that isn’t just lip service,” he said. “We showed the world what it truly means to love, to respect, and to accept your neighbor. And why partnership matters so much: We showed the world we have our differences, but when it really matters, when it really matters, we’re in this together.

“Knowing this fact is why we can say, in this national climate that is so divided, so divided, Orlando is different. Knowing this allows us to say with pride and confidence that the state of our city is united and unbreakable,” he added.

The challenge ahead, he continued is to apply that unity as Orlando transitions from a city everyone wants to visit into a city in which everyone wants to live. Those challenges, he said, include development of affordable housing, expansion of transit, public safety, the fostering of a high-tech economy, the city’s main street programs developing multiple neighborhood hubs throughout, and promotion of sustainable energy from buses to housing.

“Being Orlando United will be our advantage, as we work together to address these challenges,” Dyer said.

Chris King issues bold, forward-thinking statement on climate change

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King declared Thursday that Florida can fight climate change and spur the economy, while he recounted forecasters’ worst fears for Florida if sea levels and temperatures rise as scientists project.

In a lengthy statement placed as a blog post on his campaign website, King outlined his concerns for weather, sea level rise, and economic impacts to Florida under projections for the next couple of generations, declaring, “fighting climate change could be the smartest investment Florida makes this century.”

The Winter Park developer of affordable housing touted his business successes and decried that Republicans always accuse Democrats of not understanding business or the economy.

King first must win a Democratic primary in which he is facing Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee. The leading Republican is Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, with other prominent Republicans mulling the race. Also considering a run is Democratic Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine, whose city is literally Ground Zero for climate change risk.

“As someone who has built a business from the ground up during the biggest economic recession of our lifetime, I will tell any Republican opponent that I know how to grow Florida’s economy — and it’s not by ignoring climate change. In fact, fighting climate change could be the smartest investment Florida makes this century,” King stated in a news release.

In his post, King laid out foreboding projections, declaring, “Florida has the most property vulnerable to climate change-related flooding, with $69 billion of it at risk. Many of Florida’s coastal communities, including portions of Miami Beach and the Keys, will become chronically inundated with rising sea levels, flooding every other week on average.

“Climate change is also making storms more frequent and destructive, a trend that will only get worse. Storm-related losses will increase by an average of $1.3 billion every year until 2030, a cost which will rise to $4 billion by 2050,” King continued.

The secondary economic impacts would be statewide, affecting Florida’s agriculture, manufacturing, and energy, as average temperatures rise, he added.

King then attacked policies and positions of Florida Gov Rick Scott, particularly for reportedly banning mention of climate change or global warming in the state’s environmental agencies. He also criticized the Florida Legislature for doing too little to address changes.

“Florida needs a Governor who will tackle climate change and the threat it poses to our economy head on — not one who ignores it,” King stated.

He also attacked President Donald Trump for pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords, and accused Scott of “standing idly by.”

“If Florida were to invest in renewable energy for all energy needs, we would create more than 300,000 long-term jobs in those industries,” he continued. “By 2050, our state would save $41 billion per year in health costs resulting from air pollution, the equivalent of 1.8 percent of our GDP. Energy costs would decrease, energy efficiency would increase, and lives would even be saved.”

Among proposals he outlines in his statement, many of which he had previously announced:

– Banning fracking and off-shore drilling [though the drilling issue is in federal hands.]

– Investing in renewable energy solutions.

– Supporting hurricane research and disaster-relief funding.

– Conserving and protecting valuable lands and coasts, including through the land-purchase fund set up by constitutional amendment.

– Commit Florida to the national U.S. Climate Alliance and uphold the spirit of the Paris Agreement in Florida.

 

 

Anna Eskamani announces star-studded fundraiser for HD 47 candidacy

Democrat Anna Eskamani‘s House District 47 campaign announced Thursday it will be holding an August fundraiser with co-chairs including Alan Grayson, Alex Sink, Bob Poe, and Steve Schale.

The August 15 fundraiser will be held at The Abbey, a popular downtown Orlando watering hole, especially for Democrats.

Eskamani, a Planned Parenthood director of external affairs and progressive Democratic organizer from Orlando, is first-in seeking to replace Republican state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park, who announced last month he’ll run for Congress rather than seek election.

The district serves north and central Orange County, including Winter Park and downtown Orlando.

The Democrat who ran against Miller last year, television producer Beth Tuura, is among the event chairs. Former Congressman Grayson, Former Florida Chief Financial Officer Sink, Democratic fundraiser Poe, Democratic operative Schale, former Orange County Comptroller Martha Haynie, lobbyist Kelly Cohen,  and fundraisers Jim Kitchens, Ted Maines, and Jeffrey Miller are among those listed as co-chairs.

“Some say that fundraising during the summer is tough, but with a community like ours, anything is possible,” Eskamani said in a news release.

Money pouring in for Florida’s Congress members in tough districts

Members of Florida’s congressional delegation vulnerable because of their balanced districts each raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the second quarter of 2017, new reports show.

The latest campaign finance reports posted this week, covering money raised and spent in April, May and June, shows that Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Mast of Palm City and Carlos Curbelo of Miami had the biggest hauls in the second quarter, while Democrats Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg and Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park were not far behind.

The reports also show the heat already rising in Florida’s 27th Congressional District based in Miami, where longtime incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement and numerous Democrats and Republicans are scrambling for her seat.

Two of them, Democrat Kristen Rosen Gonzalez Miami Beach, and Republican Bruno Barreiro, raised at least $175,000 each last quarter, more than most Florida incumbent members of Congress managed.

Regardless of what they did in the second quarto of 2017, the candidates with biggest war chests all were Republican incumbents who hold fairly safe seats, U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan and Ron DeSantis each sit on more than $1.5 million in cash more than 15 months before the 2018 general election.

Among challengers, only Louis Sola raised at least $50,000 during the quarter, and that’s because he fueled his campaign to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson in Florida’s 24th Congressional District with a $99,000 personal loan. That’s all he reported.

Among Florida’s incumbent members of Congress:

Mast, in the 18th District, raised $733,964 in the quarter, spent $303,010, and finished the quarter with $797,222 in the bank.

Curbelo, in the 26th District, raised $705,026, spent $231,831, and finished with $1,078,588.

Crist, of the 13th, raised $551,811, spent $102,558, and finished with $1,121,494.

Murphy, of the 7th, raised $412,924, spent $150,642, and finished with $518,970.

Republican Neal Dunn of Panama City, in the 2nd, raised $337,793, spent $134,271, and finished with $270,857.

Republican Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, in the 25th, raised $296,319, spent $81,541, and finished with $748,837

Republican Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, in the 12th, raised $264,221, spent $122,127, and finished with $302,261.

Republican Dennis Ross of Lakeland, in the 15th, raised $256,313, spent $149,872, and finished with $932,904.

Buchanan, in the 16th, raised $241,662, spent $66,606, and finished with $1,982,876.

Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, in the 23rd, raised $216,626, spent $238,332, and finished with $215,220.

Democrat Darren Soto of Orlando, in the 9th, raised $157,596, spent $37,417, and finished with $171,175.

Democrat Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, in the 21st, raised $149,962, spent $132,693, and finished with $943,810.

Democrat Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, in the 22nd, raised $142,658, spent $125,991, and finished with $277,383.

Democrat Alcee Hastings of Miramar, in the 20th, raised $121,314, spent $112,396, and finished with $92,074.

Republican John Rutherford of Jacksonville, in the 4th, raised $116,784, spent $16,287, and finished with $132,332.

Democrat Kathy Castor of Tampa, in the 14th, raised $102,675, spent $64,744, and finished with $629,803.

Republican Ted Yoho of Gainesville, in the 3rd, raised $96,327, spent $42,183, and finished with $157,680.

Republican Bill Posey of Merritt Island, in the 8th, raised $93,627, spent $47,364, and finished with $506,876.

Republican Francis Rooney of Naples, in the 19th, raised $89,981, spent $57,435, and finished with $305,685.

Democrat Al Lawson of Tallahassee, in the 5th, raised $86,468, spent $38,501, and finished with $147,206.

Republican Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, in the 1st, raised $80,901, spent $40,417, and finished with $170,046.

Republican Tom Rooney of Okeechobee, in the 17th, raised $70,097, spent $49,182, and finished with $114,763.

Republican Dan Webster of Webster, in the 11th, raised $66,655, spent $59,304, and finished with $83,295.

Wilson of Miami Gardens, in the 24th, raised $63,709, spent $21,873, and finished with $401,544.

DeSantis, in the 6th, only raised $52,379, while spending $51,153, yet he was sitting well going in, and finished with $1,674,185 in the bank.

The Federal Election Commission did not post second-quarter reports for Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando, in the 10th District. Her first quarter report showed she finished March with $189,021 in the bank.

Among other challengers, Tim Canova of Hollywood, seeking a Democratic primary rematch with Wasserman Schultz in the 23rd, reported raising $49,117 in the second quarter, spending $32,819, and finishing with $19,641.

Two Democrats in the 15th, James Pilkington of Indian Lake Estates and Andrew Learned of Valrico, put up somewhat respectable fundraising numbers seeking a challenge with Ross. Pilkington raised $26,338, spent $6,699, and finished with $19,739. Learned raised $22,289, spent $6,162, and finished with $16,127.

Robert Tager of Clearwater, seeking to take on Bilirakis in the 12th, reported raising $12,404, spending $3,320, and finishing with $11,823.

No one else raised $10,000 in the quarter.

However, several former members of Congress and former candidates kept their FEC paperwork updated.

Republican former U.S. Rep. Cliff Sterns reported raising $51,704, nearly all on interest, and spending $6,618, nearly all on account management, and finished with $1,579,227 in the bank in the 3rd.

Democratic former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who served in the 9th and moved his paperwork to the 11th; and his wife, Democrat Dena Grayson, who ran in the 9th and moved her paperwork to the 8th, both reported activity too. Alan Grayson raised $68,532 in the quarter, spent $50,340, and finished with $455,584. Dena Grayson reported raising $9,821, spending $10,117, and finishing with $729.

Watchdog group claims hotel industry, FIU, teaming for anti-Airbnb research

A watchdog group called the Checks & Balances Project is charging that the leading hotel industry association may be paying Florida International University to produce research for the industry’s lobbying against Airbnb and other home-sharing marketing companies.

“The hotel industry’s hotel industry’s lobbying arm, the American Hotel & Lobbying Association, has an aggressive pay-to-play academic scheme, that Florida International University seems to have been caught up in,” Checks & Balances Project Executive Director Scott Peterson said in a telephone news conference Thursday morning.

He questioned the academic ethics and integrity of any particular outcome-driven research work, particularly at a state university.

“Universities such as FIU, Penn State, and potentially the University of North Carolina, take often substantial amounts of money from the hotel lobby in exchange for producing research that reinforces industry lobbying points,” Peterson said.

Peterson cited the AH&LA board books, initial responses from FIU and published reports, including a Miami Herald story, to indicate the association had provided $68,210 to produce research. However, Peterson said, FIU has declined to offer any grant applications, contracts, communications or other records to explain the direction or scope of the research.

Peterson said Thursday his group is publicly calling on FIU to clarify its public relationship with AH&LA, and to release the records the group requested under Florida’s Public Records laws.

Peterson said the association and Penn State University were previously found to have worked together to produce lobbying research for the hotel group, citing a New York Times article.

Neither FIU nor the hotel association immediately responded Thursday to a FloridaPolitics.com’s request to respond to the group’s claims.

The group acknowledges it has received a grant from Airbnb to look into the matter, and has been looking into the hotel association’s influence of academic research for about 10 months.

However, Peterson insisted his nonpartisan group is operating in complete independence, as it has on other national investigations of what it asserts are improper ties between lobbying and public agencies and officials, involving the fossil fuel, shipping and other industries.

“We receive private and public funding from sustainable economy donors. Over the years we’ve been approached by many interested in supporting our work. These donors have been public and private,” he said. “So when Airbnb asked us if we’d be interested in examining the hotel lobby, frankly, we weren’t sure. How is it that home sharing fits into our niche of sustainability? So we researched … we decided it did. So we accepted their donation. But I would like to add as in all of our work, we decide the course of our investigation.”

Though there are other home-sharing marketing companies, notably HomeAway.com, Airbnb is the giant of the quickly expanding vacation home rental industry, worldwide and in Florida, where it has thousands of host homes on its roster.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association released its own study in March contending that Airbnb was marketing “illegal hotels,” properties that were not, in fact, homes, but residential properties bought up by investors and converted into by-day rentals that were centrally controlled and marketed, without the host having to face any of the safety and consumer protection regulations hotels follow.

Airbnb, HomeAway and other home-sharing companies and the hotel industry have been battling in Tallahassee and elsewhere. This past spring the Florida Legislature rolled back regulations on home sharing.

Peterson said FIU responded to its first request about the AH&LA research by denying it had any records of funding or communication with the association. After Checks & Balances provided FIU with information from the American Hotel & Lobbying Association’s board indicating it had, the university confirmed it had received money from the research, Peterson said. But further records requests were met with denials based on a records exemption involving grant proposals.

“The question we think Florida taxpayers deserve to know is, ‘How fully was FIU aware of AH&LA’s pay-to-play secret academic scheme?'” Peterson said. “We know there was an initial grant application sent back by AH&LA asking for a tighter scope of work. That suggests a robust back-and-forth between the university and they hotel lobby.”

 

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