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Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago loses State Department promotion posting

The State Department has removed its promotional posting about President Donald Trump‘s Florida resort, after a storm of ethics criticism.

In an April 4 blog post that was republished by several U.S. embassies abroad, Mar-a-Lago was described as “Trump’s Florida estate,” where he has hosted foreign leaders. “By visiting this ‘winter White House,’ Trump is belatedly fulfilling the dream of Mar-a-Lago’s original owner and designer,” the post said.

Left unsaid: Mar-a-Lago is part of Trump’s business empire. After his election, the resort doubled its membership fee to $200,000. As president, Trump has visited the property seven times, and its restaurant fills up when he’s in town.

The State Department said late Monday that its intention was “to inform the public about where the president has been hosting world leaders” and that it regrets “any misperception.” That statement now appears in place of the original blog post.

The White House did not respond to questions about whether it had any involvement in the original posting or the decision to take it down.

The post originated on “Share America,” a State Department project. Its website describes its mission as “sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.”

Other topics on the Share America page include a new U.S. coin honoring Frederick Douglass, debate over the Confederate flag and news about first lady Melania Trump’s participation in the State Department’s International Women of Courage award ceremony.

The Mar-a-Lago post was nearly three weeks old but gained traction Monday when several people noticed the U.S. embassy to the United Kingdom was featuring it. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, asked on Twitter why taxpayers are “promoting the president’s private country club” and referred to the incident as “kleptocratic.”

Norman Eisen, who was President Barack Obama‘s chief ethics attorney, said the promotion is “exploitation.”

Eisen compared it to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway‘s promotion of Ivanka Trump‘s clothing business, for which she was “counseled” but not otherwise reprimanded by the White House.

“This idea of using government for private gain is metastasizing,” Eisen said. “It must be stopped.”

On Twitter, Richard Painter, who served in an ethics role for President George W. Bush, called the State Department post “Use of public office for private gain pure and simple.”

Eisen, Painter and other attorneys have sued Trump, alleging violation of the “emoluments clause” of the U.S. Constitution. That provision says the president may not accept foreign gifts or payments without the consent of Congress.

The Trump Organization argues that this prohibition wasn’t intended to cover fair-market exchanges.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Marco Rubio speaks out against terror against gays in Chechnya, ties in Vladimir Putin

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio continued his campaign against worldwide human rights abuses by foreign dictators last night by speaking out against the Chechen terror campaign against gays, and tying it to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On the floor of the U.S. Senate Monday night, Rubio relayed reports of mass arrests, at least three killings of LGBT people and a campaign of sexual identity cleansing in Chechnya, the Russian-controlled satellite nation near the Caspian sea. He called Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov ruthless and a brutal tyrant and accused Russian President Putin of allowing and encouraging it.

He also said Kadyrov’s regime is encouraging families of gays to commit “honor killings” of LGBT people so that the state does not have to deal with gays.

“We should never, ever tolerate human rights violations against any person for their political views, their religious beliefs, their sexual orientation,” Rubio declared.

It’s a dicy topic for Rubio, whose attempts to show support, solidarity and protection of American gays last year blew up politically due in part to his past record on LGBT issues, and in part to mixed signals he gave following last June’s horrific slaughter by madman Omar Mateen at Orlando’s popular gay Pulse nightclub.

Last summer many in Florida’s LGBT community, and most Democrats, accused Rubio of being coldly exploitive when he announced his bid for re-election came in part because of his horror over that massacre, which killed 49 and wounded at least 53.

Rubio did not help his image in the LGBT community when, like many Republicans, he chose to largely frame the mass shooting as an Islamic-extremist terrorist act – Mateen pledged his support of ISIS – rather than as a hate crime against gays – Mateen was openly hateful of gays and targeted that club.

Rubio’s insistence that he was being wrongly portrayed by the gay community continued to backfire when he spoke in August at the American Renewal Project’s conservative Christians conference in Orlando, a few miles from Pulse. That conference drew other speakers who angrily vilify gays, and Rubio’s presence drew protests from Florida’s LGBT community, accusing him of validating the gay-haters by speaking side-by-side with them.

Yet Rubio gave a speech that day urging the Christian conservatives’ acceptance of gays, declaring, “Abandoning judgment and loving our LGBT neighbors is not a betrayal of what the Bible teaches; it is a fulfillment of it.” Still, the speech drew Rubio little support from the LGBT community.

His Chechnya address denouncing human rights abuses against gays in Chechnya Monday night was more in line with his ongoing campaign against dictators abusing all types of human rights worldwide, particularly Putin.

“Unfortunately, this is not a new reality for those living under the brutal tyranny of the Chechen leader, who by the way happens to be a loyal ally of Vladimir Putin,” Rubio told the Senate. “There have been reports in the past of similar abuses, although these reports seem to be the most brutal and should provoke anger in all of us.”

He said the Russian response to the reported atrocities in Chechnya has been denial.

“Well the actual complaints are all around us. They’ve been well-documented in publications throughout the world. But instead, Vladimir Putin is choosing to prop up Kadyrov, the Chechen brutal dictator, and prop up his brutal regime instead of holding them accountable,” Rubio said.

“The United States and other responsible nations should do more to ensure that all people are protected and those who harm them are held responsible,” he concluded. “We should use our voice on the global stage to call attention to these horrifying acts and to ensure they are condemned in the appropriate way, and ultimately in the hopes that they will be stopped.”

Rick Scott says he will sign ‘Uber bill’

Gov. Rick Scott tweeted on Monday that he will sign into law a bill creating statewide regulations for ride-booking companies like Uber and Lyft.

“I look forward to signing the @Uber/ @lyft bill,” Scott tweeted from his official account, @FLGovScott. The governor is in Argentina on a trade mission.

Colin Tooze, Uber’s director of public affairs, tweeted back, “Many thanks for your leadership, @FLGovScott ! All of us at @Uber are excited to have a permanent home in the Sunshine State.”

Lawmakers had considered legislation for four years before passing a bill this year.

The Senate finally approved a House measure (HB 221) on a 36-1 vote, with Sen. Jack Latvala the only ‘no’ vote.

The legislation, among other things, requires Uber, Lyft and similar “transportation network companies” to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged into the app, but hasn’t yet secured a passenger.

When a driver gets a ride, they need to have $1 million in coverage.

The bill also requires companies to have third parties run criminal background checks on drivers. It also pre-empts local ordinances and other rules on transportation network companies, or TNCs.

“On behalf of thousands of Uber driver partners and millions of Florida residents and visitors who rely on ride-sharing, we thank Gov. Scott for his commitment to ensuring our state remains at the forefront of innovation and job creation,” said Javi Correoso, Public Affairs Manager for Uber Florida, in a statement.

“Upon the governor’s signature, Floridians and tourists will have access to a safe, reliable and affordable transportation option,” Correoso added. “We look forward to his official signature on this landmark legislation.”

Enviro group fronting Florida’s ‘ban the bag’ effort spends next to nothing, accused of skirting lobbying rules

Single-use plastic bags, found at nearly every retail, grocery and convenience store in the nation, are now the latest target of environmentalists, as well as by state and local lawmakers.

However, in the case of the leading nonprofit behind Florida’s growing “ban the bag” movement, something is not quite right.

The Surfrider Foundation, headquartered in San Clemente, began as a small environmental organization to “champion surf and sand” of California beaches. Thirty years later, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit has evolved into a multimillion dollar nationwide concern, claiming to be “dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans and beaches through a powerful activist network” and focusing on such hot-button environmental issues like climate change.

Having a growing presence — 11 chapters in Florida — Surfrider is working to ban not only plastic bags but also polystyrene, balloons, plastic water bottles, plastic drinking straws and the like.

But through financial secrecy, open politicking and skirting state and federal lobbying rules, Surfrider seems to be expending a lot of energy to “ban the bag” — while spending next to nothing to get it done. A closer look at the Surfrider network reveals a dubious lack of spending on lobbying efforts, clearly disproportionate to its actual activities.

Steven Allen writes in The Orange County Register: “According to the group’s Form 990, Surfrider generates $6.7 million in annual revenue, supposedly to combat climate change, but claims to spend minimal sums on political advocacy and lobbying. From 2010 to 2014, the group’s total lobbying limit, given its 501(c)(3) status, was roughly $2.3 million, yet Surfrider reported less than $70,000 in lobbying expenditures — 3 percent of the total limit.”

“During that period,” Allen notes, “Surfrider’s total grassroots lobbying limit was about $600,000, yet the group only spent a reported $24,909 on grassroots lobbying — 4 percent of its limit.”

Surfrider — which sends groups to lobby legislators in Washington D.C. — primarily targets local ordinances, as they seek to block or undermine statewide measures for uniformity of commerce (as described by Surfrider CEO Chad Nelson).

The group urges cities to mount legal challenges in parts of the county (such as Florida) where the regulatory authority to tax and single-use plastic bag bans is reserved exclusively for the state.

As part of its campaign, Surfrider has become a regular fixture at legislative lobby days and fly-ins, most recently in support of legislation that would authorize localities to enact pilot ordinances to ban or tax plastic bags.

Pushing its legislative agenda in Tallahassee, Surfrider helped write the statewide “ban the bag” bill sponsored in 2017 by Miami Beach Democrat David Richardson. HB 93 would allow water-adjacent municipalities of less than 100,000 residents to pass pilot programs banning single-use plastic bags. The Senate companion (SB 162), is now in the Community Affairs Committee.

In addition to its statewide campaign, Surfrider’s most recent local victory was in Coral Gables, which became the first city in Florida to move toward a total ban on the single-use plastic bag.

On March 14, the Coral Gables City Council gave the OK to a preliminary ordinance prohibiting plastic bags used by retailers or at special events. A vote May 8 could make the ban permanent.

Coral Gables represents a key part of Surfrider’s strategy. All they need is a single city to contradict state policy, provoking a lawsuit and giving the group an opportunity to legally challenge the entire state law. For this, Surfrider is willing to pay for the fight.

That enthusiasm to provide financial support to a range of political, legal and legislative battles raise a number of red flags.

For example, Surfrider’s spending irregularities have caught the attention of the Capital Research Center, a Washington, D.C.-based investigative think tank.

In February, the CRC published an extensive examination of the Surfrider Foundation’s activist history as a 501(c)(3) organization, which included several examples of financial filing discrepancies, potential political underreporting and activist training. Soon after, the group issued a shorter synopsis following up on Surfrider’s possible abuses of nonprofit status.

On March 22, CRC submitted a formal complaint against Surfrider Foundation with the Internal Revenue Service.

As a nonprofit, tax-exempt public service organization, federal rules prohibit Surfrider Foundation from engaging in direct action politics. To most taxpayers, it is straightforward — tax-exempt, nonprofit service organizations should not be in the business of politics.

In stark comparison, Surfrider wears its political activates like a badge of honor — claiming more than 400 campaign victories since 2006, and an activist campaign school for members (even offering courses such as Advocacy 101, Campaigns 101 and Lobbying 101 courses).

An egregious case of this gray area between nonprofit and active politicking is demonstrated in a YouTube video posted June 2016 — “How Political Hardball Can Save Our Oceans and Coast” — which features a Surfrider attorney openly colluding with candidates and talking strategy of using PACs and fundraising.

The video brings up an interesting issue: a lawyer for a 501(c)(3), onstage with a c(4) director and a candidate for public office, holding a panel with the theme “politics and grassroots DO mix.”

As part of the Environmental Media Association Speaker Series, the conversation also preceded a candidate fundraiser — with suggested donations to said candidate — something undoubtedly troublesome in light of candidate prohibitions for (c)(3)s. Flyers promoting the forum, and a fundraiser for Salud Carbajal running for California’s 24th Congressional District, were at the same address, with overlapping times.

It is also somewhat unwise for a candidate to speak openly about how a (c)(3) works in concert with a (c)(4), acknowledging that specific political issues/candidates/ballot discussions are being raised in (c)(3) chapter meetings.

What’s more, financial records show Surfrider claimed to spend no more than $25,000 on political activities since 2012 — well below its legal caps. That alone is improbable, given the degree they have been active in Florida and nationwide: lobbying Tallahassee this year, as well as its actions in Coral Gables and helping craft bills such as Richardson’s HB 93.

The fundamental question is this: How can a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) get away with open politicking, claiming political activities nationwide and “hundreds” of victories, all while spending practically nothing on the politics and lobbying to do so?

Gov. Scott heads to Argentina for trade mission

Gov. Rick Scott is scheduled to leave Sunday for Argentina for a trade mission organized by the state’s embattled economic development agency.

Scott delayed the trip by a day to monitor wildfire conditions across the state, but he is also making the visit during a time when parts of his agenda remain unresolved in the waning days of the 2017 session of the Florida Legislature.

One of the items that Scott is battling over is whether to keep intact Enterprise Florida, the agency that put together the trade mission.

House Republicans are pushing to dismantle Enterprise Florida despite objections from both Scott and Senate leaders. Scott has strongly criticized House leaders including House Speaker Richard Corcoran over their proposal, contending it cost the state jobs.

During his trip to Buenos Aires, Scott is expected to meet with Argentina President Mauricio Macri and discuss trade opportunities, a spokesman for Scott said.

“Just like he has fought for jobs all session long, and has made his priority of job creation abundantly clear, Gov. Scott is going to Argentina to bring more jobs to Florida,” said McKinley Lewis in a statement.

Scott is expected to return to Florida on Thursday.

This is Scott’s 13th trip abroad since he became governor in 2011. Former Gov. Jeb Bush took 16 trade missions during his eight years in office.

He traveled previously to the South American countries of Brazil, Colombia, Chile, as well as Japan, Israel, England, France, Spain, Canada and Panama.

Scott is scheduled to be joined on his trip to Argentina by first lady Ann Scott, airport and port officials as well as top officials with several Florida-based corporations, including Eric Silagy, the president and CEO of Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest utility company.

While Enterprise Florida’s operations are primarily paid by tax dollars, Scott’s travel expenses are usually covered by private donations to Enterprise Florida.

Donald Trump names Floridian Heather MacDougall to OSHA Review Commission

Heather MacDougall

President Donald Trump has named employer relations expert Heather MacDougall of Melbourne to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Since January, MacDougall has been acting chair of the Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission. In 2014, then-President Barack Obama nominated her to the Commission in 2014, unanimously confirmed by the Senate.

MacDougall brings 20 years of experience in labor, employment, occupational safety and health law, most recently with Akerman LLP law firm based in West Palm Beach.  In addition, she served as Chief Counsel to OSHRC Chair W. Scott Railton in 2002-2003 under the George W. Bush administration. OSHRC is the independent federal agency as an administrative court deciding contested OSHA citations. MacDougall also served as associate general counsel of a Washington, D.C. trade association standing for human resources executives of Fortune 500 corporations.

Earlier in her career, MacDougall was Associate General Counsel to the HR Policy Association, a public policy organization that advocates for human resource officers of major employers, where she stood for the association as amicus curiae in U.S. Courts of Appeals and Supreme Court cases. As a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), MacDougall also gave expert guidance to employers on all aspects of the employer-employee relationship.

She received her B.A. from the University of Wisconsin and a J.D. from Marquette University Law School.

Local investment in public safety communications infrastructure pay off during Florida disasters

Last year, Floridians endured one of the most active hurricane seasons in more than a decade. During Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew, those impacted received only a taste of what has earned our state the reputation of being a hot spot for tropical weather.

Thankfully, the loss of life and damage was extremely minimal and the state’s emergency response went off without a hitch.

What you didn’t read following the storms were stories about first responders’ inability to communicate. That’s because local communities, especially in rural areas, have spent the last decade investing heavily in the communications infrastructure necessary to create stability and additional capacity during normal times and times of crises.

One of the companies that have been integral to this success is Aviat Networks, a California-based microwave provider that is working in several Florida counties and local municipalities with the technology they need to communicate when residents depend on them the most.

Aviat provides microwave technology – the network that transmits data and voice communications for first responders and other public safety users – in Miami-Dade, Broward and West Palm Beach counties, as well as for Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue, and the South Florida Water Management District. All of these entities had a role in keeping South Floridians safe and prepared during Hurricane Matthew, which was at one point a deadly Category 5 storm.

Beyond Florida, Aviat’s microwave is the backbone for 25 statewide public safety networks across the country and is deployed in every one of the 50 states.

Aviat’s microwave has been chosen by Florida cities and counties because of its proven reliability and security. According to the Aviat website, their solutions lead the industry in a key technology attribute known as ’output power‘ – which allows microwave signals to transmit further and more reliably through weather effects such as rain. This means public safety communications stay up during the harshest of conditions including severe hurricanes. Beyond this according to Aviat, the technology enables agencies to reduce the total lifecycle cost of microwave by up to 50 percent through the deployment of smaller antennas and fewer towers.

These are added bonuses for Floridians since the costs, and communications tower needs will undoubtedly increase as Florida’s NIMBY populations continue to grow.

If you’ve ever experienced a Wi-Fi outage at your home or business, it’s a mere inconvenience. But for public safety agencies, it could be a matter of life or death. That is what local governments have been putting a premium on reliable and secure microwave technology during a time when Florida has enjoyed a relatively inactive tropical weather period.

For all of Florida’s success in developing its public safety communications infrastructure in recent years, challenges remain. As we have seen with the recent wildfires in Collier County, responding to emergencies requires significant coordination among government at the local, state and federal levels. In rural areas, the success of traditional fiber optic technology may be limited, and the real solution for tomorrow’s technology lies in building smarter microwave networks that can fully integrate with local agencies’ networks. And most importantly microwave technology has built-in security safeguards.

Companies like Aviat are on the forefront of helping Florida prepare and respond to future emergencies. With hurricane season set to start June 1, the next test may be here before we know it.

Disgraced Sen. Frank Artiles paid Hooters, Playboy models as ‘consultants’

Artiles hired Heather Thomas (left) and Brittney Singletary (right) as campaign consultants

A newspaper is reporting that a Florida state senator who resigned this week after using a racial slur hired a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model with no political experience to be consultants for his political action committee last year.

The Miami Herald reports Saturday that state records show that Frank Artiles‘ PAC, Veterans for Conservative Principals, had paid former Hooters model Heather Thomas $2,000 and former Playboy model Brittney Singletary $1,500. They were listed as consultants.

Artiles’ political consultant David Custin refused to answer the paper’s questions. Singletary said she did fundraising for the PAC. Thomas declined to comment.

Artiles, a Republican, resigned Friday after he used vulgarities and a variation of the N-word in a barroom conversation with two black colleagues earlier in the week.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Gov. Scott delays trip to Argentina due to wildfires

Gov. Rick Scott is delaying his planned trade mission to Argentina due to wildfires that are burning in several parts of the state.

Scott was scheduled to leave late Saturday for a five-day trip to Buenos Aires. A final decision has not yet been made on whether to cancel the trip completely.

The governor has been monitoring the wildfires and visited one site in southwest Florida.

The Argentina trip is supposed to be Scott’s 13th trip abroad since he became governor in January 2011.

Scott has defended the trips as a way to open doors for Florida-based companies seeking business abroad.

He has taken previous economic development trips to the South American countries of Brazil, Colombia and Chile, as well as Japan, Israel, England, France, Spain, Canada and Panama.

Charlie Crist leads Florida congressional pack in first quarter fundraising

First quarter fundraising numbers are in for U.S. Representatives and first-term Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist leads the Florida Delegation with $720,000 raised between Jan. 1 and March 31.

Crist brought in $578,000 of that money through individual contributions, while $137,000 came in through committees. He also kicked in $5,400 of his own money for his CD 13 re-election campaign. He started the second quarter with $672,000 in the bank.

Crist’s performance was far and away better than any of the other incumbent Democrats, though fellow first-termer Stephanie Murphy posted a strong $286,000 report in the Orlando-based 7th Congressional District.

She spent just $41,000, leaving her with $256,000 in her war chest at the end of the quarter.

Former Democratic Party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz also broke the $250,000 mark for the quarter with $287,000 in total receipts which left her with $236,000 on hand on March 31.

The only other Democrat to break the six figure mark was Lois Frankel, who raised about $206,000 in her re-election campaign for CD 21. The South Florida Democrat spent about $65,000 leaving her with $926,500 in her campaign account on April 1.

The other Democrats didn’t fare as well. Freshman Rep. Al Lawson brought in $72,000 in CD 5, and Darren Soto raised $41,000 in CD 9. Rep. Ted Deutch raised $51,000, Fredrica Wilson brought in $33,000, Alcee Hastings added just under $29,000, Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor raised just $23,500, and Val Demings has yet to file a report for the quarter.

Republicans had more incumbents breach the six-figure mark, though none were close to Crist’s monster Q1.

The top GOP fundraiser this quarter was Brian Mast, who took over the CD 18 seat from former Rep. Patrick Murphy after he decided to run against Marco Rubio for Senate. Mast was able to raise just under $430,000 and spent about $114,000, leaving him with $410,000 in the bank.

Rep. Vern Buchanan came in second among Florida Republicans with $395,000 raised. His $1.8 million in cash on hand is the highest among Republican incumbents.

Not far behind in total assets is Ron DeSantis, who despite only raising $14,500 for the quarter has nearly $1.7 million in the bank.

The bulk of the rest of the GOP incumbents hovered around the $100,000 zone in fundraising.

Gus Bilirakis raised just shy of $150,000 and has $160,000 on hand; first-term Rep. Matt Gaetz brought in $122,000 and has $129,000 on hand; Neal Dunn brought in $114,000 and has $67,000 on hand; Daniel Webster raised $105,000 and finished the quarter with $76,000 in the bank; and Dennis Ross raised $146,000 and has $126,000 in the bank.

The other incumbents are lagging behind the pack.

Rep. Tom Rooney took in $73,000 and spent $60,000 to finish the quarter with $85,000 on hand, while John Rutherford raised $45,700 and spent $16,000 for an on hand total of $32,000.

Finally, Gainesville Republican Rep. Ted Yoho raised a lowly $15,000 for the quarter and has about $100,000 in the bank.

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