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AG race drama: Jay Fant wants Ashley Moody barred from state GOP meeting

One Attorney General candidate is asserting that a rival for the Republican nomination should be barred from the party’s annual January meeting in Orlando.

In a letter to Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, Jacksonville Rep. Jay Fant wants it known that he believes retired Hillsborough County Judge and Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody is a “Clinton liberal” and has no business in a Republican Party meeting — or using GOP resources: “Our Party is being deceived into allowing a Clinton liberal access to our leaders, staff and financial resources … Ashley Moody is not a candidate we can trust but instead a true liberal and proud of it.”

The tripartite j’accuse cites “press accounts which demonstrate the Moody family’s long relationship with the Clinton family and their allies, including Moody’s father who received a lifetime appointment to the federal bench from Bill Clinton.”

As well, Fant notes that “Moody was as an assistant and speechwriter to left wing American Bar Association President Martha Barnett, a close ally to Hillary Clinton. She proudly represents this on her website.”

Fant also notes that “Moody sued Donald Trump for fraud.”

“I believe that it is in the party’s best interest that Ashley Moody, a closet liberal and Clinton ally who has sued Trump, be denied access to our meeting. The 2018 election ballot is absolutely critical from top to bottom and we simply cannot waste time with candidates who have to hide their past involvement with the Clintons in order to win,” Fant asserted.

Moody, via a spokesperson, finds this laughable.

“It is laughable that a candidate running to be Florida’s Chief Legal Officer would offer up such erroneous and egregious attacks on the proven record of a former and well respected federal prosecutor and circuit court judge. Ashley Moody is pro-Second Amendment and the only candidate who has supported Second Amendment priorities like Stand Your Ground in the courtroom,” said Christina Johnson on behalf of Moody.

“These are real world distinctions that matter to voters, and issues which Ashley Moody has shared with Republican activists across the state these last months and throughout her career. Not only is Ashley Moody a staunch supporter of our President, but she has secured the endorsements of those who worked tirelessly on behalf of the President’s campaign, including law enforcement officials and elected leaders across the state. We look forward to highlighting these conservative values at the January RPOF meeting,” Johnson added.

Fant has staked out the Trump lane in the primary, a crowded field of well-financed candidates.

Fant has nearly $1 million on hand between his political committee and campaign account.

Moody, between her political committee and campaign account, has over $1.2 million on hand.

However, both of them are chasing Pensacola Rep. Frank White, who has $1.95 million on hand between campaign and committee accounts.

Rep. Ross Spano, new to the race, has just $50,000 in his campaign account.

Seminole Tribe now going after Jax ‘gambling parlors’

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has filed suit against 25 operators of what’s called “electronic gambling parlors” in the Jacksonville area, saying they violate the Tribe’s deal with the state to exclusively offer Vegas-style games.

The suit was filed in Duval County Circuit Civil court last week, records show.

The gambling parlors “infringe upon the Tribe’s right to substantial exclusivity in the operation of casino-style gambling,” says the complaint, filed by the Tribe’s outside counsel, Barry Richard of Greenberg Traurig‘s Tallahassee office.

The defendants operate outlets with names like “Fun Cade,” “Fun Spot,” and “Big Chances Internet Café,” according to the complaint. Those who could be reached Wednesday declined comment.

Richard explained that the defendants named weren’t traditional “internet cafés,” also known as “strip-mall casinos,” which were banned by the state in 2013 after a multi-state investigation netted dozens of arrests.

“Most of these places don’t even offer internet access,” he said in a phone interview. “The games they offer are resident on an in-house server. We’re talking (electronic) blackjack, all other kinds of games.

“It’s just straight-up gambling,” he added. “People are betting money to win.” The Seminoles seek a court order shutting down the parlors.

Richard said the Tribe felt compelled to sue after the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates gambling, declined to police the operations because they weren’t serving alcohol.

As for local law enforcement, “it’s just not high on their priority list,” Richard added.

“Although these complaints are outside the jurisdiction of the Department, we are always willing to provide support or assistance to law enforcement where appropriate,” DBPR spokeswoman Suellen Wilkins said in an email.

Richard said the electronic gambling parlors—or EGPs—are “all over the state,” but most are concentrated in the Jacksonville area. The Tribe hired a gaming expert to go undercover and patronize the parlors, resulting in the suit.

Northeast Florida also is home of the “pre-reveal” games, slot machine-style entertainment devices, most often placed in bars. A Tallahassee judge’s ruling that they’re illegal slots is under appeal.

The Tribe zealously guards its exclusive right to offer Vegas-style gambling in Florida, including blackjack. An agreement known as the Seminole Compact generates over $200 million a year in gaming revenue share for state coffers and likely billions for the Tribe.

And Jim Shore, the Tribe’s top in-house lawyer, recently warned lawmakers that legislation explicitly authorizing fantasy sports play also would violate the Compact. Break that deal, the Tribe has said, and it’s entitled to pay the state not one more dime.

Women’s March national co-chair backs Ahmad Saadaldin for HD 58

Linda Sarsour, national co-chair of the 2017 Women’s March, has endorsed Ahmad Saadaldin in the House District 58 race in Hillsborough County taking place Dec. 19.

“Temple Terrace Seffner Plant City Thonotosassa LISTEN UP. VOTE for Hussam Ahmad for State House,” Sarsour wrote on her Facebook page Tuesday.

“There are only 5 days left of voting. If he wins, he will be the first independent candidate elected to Florida House of Representatives in history. He would also be the first Muslim. It’s a special election. He only needs 4,509 votes to win. He is bold, committed and has the most energetic campaign with 160 volunteers. Do what you can!”‘


Saaldaldin is one of four candidates in the race, and as Sarsour notes, an independent one at that. Officially he is non-party-affiliated, though he is very much in sync with the Green Party, who endorsed him in October and has contributed $200 to his campaign.

Republican Lawrence McClure, Democrat Jose Vazquez and Libertarian Bryan Zemina are the other three candidates on the ballot.

Sarsour is a prominent advocate for Muslim Americans, criminal justice reform and civil rights, and is the former executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. Her public profile became greater after her participation in last January’s march.

She’s also raised the hackles of conservatives who have accused her of supporting terrorists and promoting anti-Semitism, largely due to her support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and her criticism of Israel. BDS is an international economic movement designed to put pressure on Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian territories.

The 27-year-old Saaldaldin served as president for Students for Justice in Palestine and led the on-campus BDS campaign in 2014.

In an interview with Florida Politics earlier this year, Saaldaldin said he has been called a terrorist and anti-Semitic because of his involvement with the BDS movement, and strongly denied those allegations.

“It’s just the nature of the field of work that I’m in, and there are people who are passionate about the state of Israel, and I understand that,” he said. “I’m very critical of the state of Israel, and  I believe the Palestinian people are really suffering under the occupation.”

Florida is one of 23 states that has enacted legislation barring contracts with companies that participate in the BDS movement. Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine and St. Petersburg state Sen. Jeff Brandes have filed bills in the Legislature that would bar cities from doing business with companies supporting the BDS movement.

Saaldaldin is the most progressive candidate in the race, supporting a $15 minimum wage, criminal justice reform and affordable housing policies.

Saaldaldin has raised $11,659 in the race, the second most in the four-man field, but is nowhere near the $147,985 that McClure has taken through Nov. 6.

Zemina raised $7,322, and Vazquez just $1,907.

Philip Levine’s TV ads introduce his family extolling his work ethic, empathy

Two new television commercials from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine‘s political committee introduce his family, with his mother and fiancé extolling his work ethic, empathy for others, and a sense of family.

The commercial with his mother Diane Ziman, “Mom,” is in English, while the one with fiancé Carolina Murciano, “Familia,” is in Spanish. They begin airing Wednesday and will air for several weeks in major markets around Florida, according to his committee, All About Florida.

They are the second round of television commercials from the committee, following a set that began airing last month talking about Levine’s policy priorities.

Levine faces Democratic rivals former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King in the primary nomination bid. The leading Republican candidate is Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. No other candidates have hit TV.

In Mom, as shots trade between her looking into the camera and Levine being with family, or throwing a football, Ziman asks, “What makes a Mom proud? A son like Philip Levine. As a kid, he washed cars, swept floors––every job you could imagine. Then, with a pocket full of dreams, Philip turned $500 dollars into a major Florida business, before becoming the Mayor who fought rising seas and hateful prejudice. If I taught Philip one thing…”

“I know, Mom,” he replies. “Do the right thing!

“That’s my boy!” she concludes.

In “Familia,” Murciano declares, in Spanish, “If you want to know what drives Philip Levine, its moments like these. With his family. When he was young, Philip worked very hard. Washing cars, cleaning floors––truly in all kinds of jobs. It was with this commitment to hard work that Philip transformed $500 dollars into a major company known worldwide. And when other families need help, Philip is always there to help them.”

During last month’s fundraising stint, Levine topped $1 million between his campaign and committee accounts. The former Miami Beach mayor maintains a huge fundraising lead in the Democratic primary.

HD 2 Republican Alex Andrade tops $50K in first finance report

Republican Alex Andrade brought in more than $50,000 in his first month campaigning to replace Rep. Frank White in House District 2.

“We’re excited and encouraged by the strong start to our campaign. Throughout this first month we worked hard to take our conservative, results-oriented message to each and every part of the district and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’re committed to continuing to work hard to grow our base of support and ensure Florida is the best state in the country to live, work, retire and vacation,” Andrade said.

“I can’t thank our supporters enough for the trust and confidence they’ve placed in me and our campaign. I’m energized and humbled by the start to the campaign and I’m looking forward to the months ahead.”

Andrade took in $42,626 in contributions and put $10,000 of his own money into his campaign last month. After spending a little under $2,000 on fundraising, event expenses and travel reimbursements, he finished the month with $50,678 in the bank.

Making the inaugural donor roll were a few other Andrades, each pitching in $1,000, as well as lobby shop Suskey Consulting, Orlando attorney Chris Dawson, Pensacola physician Sidney Clements and wife Katherine Clements and a handful of real estate and construction firms.

Andrade filed to run for the Pensacola-based district early last month after White announced he would leave the House next year to take a crack at succeeding termed-out Attorney General Pam Bondi.

The Moore, Hill & Westmoreland attorney is a two-time alumnus of the University of Florida, earning both his bachelor’s degree and J.D. from the state’s flagship school.

During his time at UF’s Levin College of Law he served as President of the Trial Team and Chief Justice of the UF Supreme Court, earning himself a slot on the UF Student Affairs Hall of Fame in 2014 via a vote by a committee including faculty, staff and two hall-of-famers.

So far, Andrade is the only Republican filed to run for HD 2 next year. Democrat Raymond Clayton Guillory filed for the seat back in March, but hasn’t gained any traction on the fundraising trail and stands little chance of winning the heavily Republican seat.

According to voter registration statistics from 2016, HD 2’s electorate is 48 percent Republicans and 33 percent Democrats, with the bulk of the rest holding no party affiliation.

When White ran to replace former Republican Rep. Mike Hill last year, he won with 61 percent of the vote compared to about 39 percent for Guillory.

Democrat Hillary Clinton lost the district to President Donald Trump 56-39 on the same day, with the bulk of “Never Trumpers” in HD 2 preferring to cast their ballot for Libertarian Gary Johnson rather than a Democrat. Johnson’s 3.5 percent score was his second highest among all House districts.

Committee backing voting restoration amendment raises $1.1M in November

The committee backing a 2018 ballot initiative that would automatically restore voting rights to nonviolent Florida felons brought in more than $1.1 million in contributions in November.

November’s $1.16 million haul marked the best fundraising month yet for Floridians for a Fair Democracy, which headed into December with $562,134 on hand.

The vast majority of the money came in from Laurie Michaels, a Fort Worth, Texas, psychologist and philanthropist who founded Open Road Alliance, a fund that that provides grants and loans to fill a market demand for fast, flexible contingency funding in philanthropy.

Also on the donor roll were Washington, D.C.-based political committee New Approach PAC, Atherton, California, Retiree Liz Simon and Massachusetts-based Gamechanger. Each of the three chipped in $100,000.

Expenses for the political committee came out to $800,000 for November, with $712,385 of that sum heading to Calabassas, Calif.-based PCI Consultants, a firm that gathers petition signatures for ballot initiatives.

The rest of the money was split up between business services and payments to county supervisors of elections for petition signature verification fees.

The initiative would restore the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation. Certain felons, such as those convicted of murder or sexual offenses would not be eligible for automatic restoration.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Florida Division of Elections showed the ballot imitative had 495,455 valid signatures.

To make the ballot, initiatives need signatures equal to 8 percent of the voter turnout in the most recent presidential election. That equals 766,200 signatures for initiatives aiming for the 2018 ballot, which is a significant jump from the 683,149 needed to make the cut in 2016.

Floridians for a Fair Democracy’s Chair Desmond Meade told Florida Politics two weeks ago that the committee has gathered more than 900,000 signatures.

“Knowing that we set the goal of collecting 1 million, the fact that we are less than 100,000 petitions away from our goal is an amazing attestation to the growing energy, excitement, and support around second chances,” he said.

Senate spends $25K on outside attorneys for Jack Latvala probe

The Senate has spent nearly $25,000 in taxpayer money on outside attorneys in connection to the sexual harassment allegations against Sen. Jack Latvala, according to Senate records.

In mid-November, Senate President Joe Negron hired a trio of attorneys from the GrayRobinson law firm to help him navigate the investigation into sexual harassment and groping allegations against Latvala, one of the chamber’s most powerful senators.

Negron sought the help from the Orlando-based firm after the Senate general counsel, Dawn Roberts, recused herself from any involvement in the case, citing a potential conflict of interest because of her close association with Latvala over the years.

Since the contract was signed on Nov. 9, George Meros, who has represented embattled high-profile Republicans in the past, attorney Brian Bieber and attorney Allison Mawhinney have worked a total of 46.8 hours.

The attorneys charge an hourly fee, and according to the contract, their rates are $600 for Bieber, $550 for Meros and $345 for Mawhinney.

The contract with GrayRobinson states the attorneys will provide “legal and consulting services to the Senate” until Negron or his designee decides the services are no longer needed.

In recent weeks, one of the six women who accused Latvala of sexual harassment accused him publicly, intensifying the strategy behind his legal defense, which has led Sen. Lauren Book to file a formal complaint with the Senate Rules Committee, where she accuses him of interfering with the investigation.

Legal battles are also starting to appear even as some senators speculate the Senate investigation may be coming to an end.

Rachel Perrin Rogers, who publicly accused Latvala of sexual assault and harassment, has not ruled out the possibility of suing Latvala, according to her attorney Tiffany Cruz.

Cruz said the lawsuit would not be dependent on whether a special master finds probable cause in the Senate investigation, and the Tallahassee-based attorney may also be eyeing a potential lawsuit against the Senate.

“My client had hoped for a fair and impartial process in the Senate, but due to recent actions, we have serious concerns,” Cruz said.

Last week, Cruz asked the Senate to preserve all records related to the case, including emails, text messages, spreadsheets and documents.

Two days after that request was made, Lily Tysinger, a former Senate Majority Office colleague of Perrin Rogers who has helped Latvala mount his defense with sworn statements that take aim at Perrin Rogers’ credibility, filed a defamation suit against Perrin Rogers.

Cruz said she is “absolutely” filing a counterclaim against Tysinger.

Tysinger’s attorney, Marie Mattox, who has been behind several sexual harassment cases settled with the state, said the case is related to the “unsafe working environment” Rogers created for her at the Senate Majority Office.

Email insights: Gwen Graham’s bold claim — more supporters than any Gov. candidate

In the race for Florida Governor, if anything, Gwen Graham is audacious.

As well as announcing a “strong fundraising streak” through November, a new email from the Democratic hopeful makes a bold declaration — her campaign “has more supporters” than any other candidate in the race, either Democratic or Republican.

That’s quite a statement for a Democrat in a state controlled by Republicans for the past 20 years.

“While [Republicans] Adam Putnam and Richard Corcoran continue to fill their campaigns with special interests’ donations, we are taking on Tallahassee’s self-serving politicians and building a grassroots campaign to put real Floridians back in charge of our state,” Graham said.

Graham is backing up her self-assurance with some solid numbers — more than $300,000 raised for eight consecutive months, bringing in more than $240,000 in her campaign account, as well as more than $100,000 for her political committee “Our Florida” — totaling more than $350,000 in November.

In her bid for Governor, the former North Florida congresswoman now has raised more than $4.36 million dollars, as with about $2.78 million on hand.

While those numbers are impressive, what about the statement of “more supporters than anyone else?”

Good question; Graham added more than 1,400 new grassroots donors in just the last month, meaning she now has more than 11,500 unique supporters — more people than any other candidate in the race.

According to Matt Harringer, Graham’s communications director, the numbers of supporters are solid — using state records —  and speak for themselves. Among Democrats, Philip Levine has 604; Andrew Gillum, 8,451 and Chris King, 1674. As for Republicans, Jack Latvala has 2681; Putnam, 10,133 and Corcoran, 569.

It is this metric that Graham’s campaign says will become the strong foundation to take the ultimate challenge in Florida — facing a Republican in the general election.

Graham takes a parting shot at “Tallahassee Republicans” who are preparing for the upcoming 2018 Legislative Session the same way they have for more than two decades — holding committee week fundraisers with lobbyists.

“While they’re partying in Tallahassee,” Graham says her campaign “traveling the state building support from real Floridians and talking about the issues that matter to them.’

This leads to her boldest statement of all — that she “will take back the governor’s office and set Florida on a brighter path forward.”

While it’s too early to tell how the Governor’s race will ultimately pan out, there’s little doubt Graham has an abundance of confidence in both herself and her campaign.

We’ll see if that’s enough.

November fundraising boosts Adam Putnam to $15.35M on hand

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has more than $15 million on hand for his gubernatorial bid after bringing in nearly $1 million last month between his campaign and committee accounts.

Putnam brought in $267,070 through his campaign account and another $704,550 through his committee, Florida Grown, for a total of $971,620 raised in November.

The Republican’s largest single donor last month was from “Floridian’s United for Our Children’s Future.” The committee, chaired by Ryan Tyson, cut a $100,000 check. Following that were five checks for $50,000, including one from Publix and another from University of Florida trustee and businessman James Heavener.

Florida Jobs PAC, Herzog Contracting and PepsiCo chipped in at the $25,000 level, with a host of additional donors chipping in between $5,000 and $15,000.

Putnam’s campaign money came in through more than 1,000 contributions, including 18 for the election maximum of $3,000.

Publix and Heavener chipped in with max checks to the campaign in addition to their committee contributions. The supermarket chain’s chairman, Howard Jenkins, and his wife Patricia Jenkins also chipped into the campaign account, as did lobbyist Mark Anderson and Tampa entrepreneur Chris Sullivan.

The biggest bills last month came from Forward Strategies, which received $43,430 fo fundraising consulting via Florida Grown, The Tarrance Group which took in $20,704 for surveys, Lockton Affinity, which received a $13,397 payment for insurance, and Direct Mail Systems, which received $11,040 for mailers.

In all, Florida Grown spent $204,714 last month and has $12.83 million on hand, while the campaign account spent $83,730 and has about $2.52 million on hand. Combined, the two accounts add up to $15.35 million on hand.

That total puts Putnam far ahead of all other candidates running for governor, with former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine in a distant second place with about $7 million in total fundraising between his campaign and committee accounts.

Putnam’s only major primary challenger so far, Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala, has not yet filed his campaign finance report for November, though his committee account saw contributions slow to a halt last month.

Latvala’s fundraising arm, Florida Leadership Committee, finished November with $5,347 in contributions and just under $4 million in the bank. His campaign account had $872,374 on hand at the end of October.

Supreme Court to rule on judge, Facebook friend

With potential ramifications in courthouses across the state, the Florida Supreme Court on Monday said it will take up a dispute about whether a judge should be disqualified from a case because she is a Facebook friend with a lawyer.

Justices issued an order saying they will consider an appeal of an August ruling by the 3rd District Court of Appeal that rejected a request to disqualify Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko. The dispute stems from Butchko being a Facebook friend of attorney Israel Reyes, who was hired to represent an insurance-company executive in a case before her.

The Herssein Law Group, which had sued a former client, United Services Automobile Association, for alleged breach of contract and fraud, is seeking the disqualification. In a Supreme Court brief filed in October, the Herssein Law Group said the 3rd District Court of Appeal ruling conflicted with an earlier decision of the 4th District Court of Appeal that said a judge should be disqualified from a criminal case because of being Facebook friends with a prosecutor.

“The Third District Court of Appeal’s opinion, therefore, creates completely different standards for judges in Florida, depending on which district the judge sits in, to determine when and whether they are violating the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct,” the brief said. “This is untenable for both judges and the public perception of the judiciary. The application and interpretation of the Code of Judicial Conduct must be uniform for all judges in the state of Florida.”

Attorneys for the insurance company, however, filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to turn down the case. They argued, in part, that the Herssein case has different circumstances from the earlier case involving a prosecutor.

“Further, petitioners (the Herssein Law Group) are sophisticated litigators who have practiced in Miami-Dade County for many years,” the insurance-company brief said. “It is highly questionable whether any reasonably prudent person in petitioners’ situation would have a well-founded fear of not receiving a fair and impartial trial simply because the trial judge and Reyes are Facebook `friends.’ “

The Supreme Court, as is standard, did not explain its reasons for deciding to take up the case. It said it would schedule oral arguments in a separate order.

In its ruling in August, the 3rd District Court of Appeal concluded that “a `friend’ on a social networking website is not necessarily a friend in the traditional sense of the word.”

“To be sure, some of a member’s Facebook `friends’ are undoubtedly friends in the classic sense of person for whom the member feels particular affection and loyalty,” the decision said. “The point is, however, many are not. A random name drawn from a list of Facebook `friends’ probably belongs to casual friend; an acquaintance; an old classmate; a person with whom the member shares a common hobby; a `friend of a friend;’ or even a local celebrity like a coach. An assumption that all Facebook `friends’ rise to the level of a close relationship that warrants disqualification simply does not reflect the current nature of this type of electronic social networking.”

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