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Money pumped into ads for felons’ rights initiative

A political committee backing a proposed constitutional amendment on felons’ rights spent nearly $3.6 million in late August, with almost all of the money going to advertising-related expenses, according to a newly filed finance report.

The committee Floridians for a Fair Democracy spent $3.579 million from Aug. 25 to Aug. 31, with $3.557 million of that amount listed as going to a “media buy” and digital advertising. The report also showed that the committee had about $4.88 million in remaining cash on hand as of Aug. 31.

The proposed constitutional amendment, which will appear on the November ballot as Amendment 4, would automatically restore voting rights for all nonviolent felons who have served their sentences, completed parole or probation and paid restitution. Felons convicted of murder and sexual offenses would not be eligible.

The proposal, which would require approval from 60 percent of voters to pass, comes after years of political and legal fights about restoring the rights of felons who have served their sentences.

Judge refuses to scuttle NRA lobbyist case

A federal judge has refused a request by a California man to dismiss part of a lawsuit in which the National Rifle Association’s longtime Florida lobbyist alleges she received harassing and threatening emails in the aftermath of the February mass shooting at a Broward County high school.

Lobbyist Marion Hammer filed the lawsuit in July against California attorney Lawrence Sorensen and three other men because of emails they sent to her after the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and amid the subsequent debate on gun-control issues. The lawsuit sought damages and an injunction against further emails.

Sorensen, who works as an arbitrator and mediator, argued in seeking dismissal that a federal court in Florida does not have “personal jurisdiction” over him. The argument was based on Sorensen saying he lacks any substantial connection to Florida and arguing that two emails he sent to Hammer in March do not provide such a connection.

“Mr. Sorensen simply sent two email in one half hour in March to an email address that was published to the world on the internet,” the motion to dismiss said. “That email address, on its face, gave no indication that it was in Florida. Nothing in the text of the email mentioned or suggested a connection to Florida. In today’s age, those two email could have been opened anywhere.”

But U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle on Friday rejected dismissing the case against Sorensen.

“To be sure, Mr. Sorensen says he did not know his email would be routed to Florida,” Hinkle wrote. “But this record shows that Mr. Sorensen could easily have learned — had he cared where he was sending his email — that Ms. Hammer was a Florida resident. In short, Mr. Sorensen intentionally sent the email to Ms. Hammer, wherever she might be, and he should have known the likely destination was Florida.”

In a document filed last month, Hammer’s attorneys wrote that the emails caused harm to Hammer, a former national president of the NRA, and argued that the case against Sorensen should continue.

“This court has specific personal jurisdiction over Mr. Sorensen because he made a conscious decision to seek out Ms. Hammer, a well-known Florida resident and lobbyist, and sent her two emails containing graphic images of gunshot victims, including a photo of President John F. Kennedy’s exposed cranial cavity and photographs of gaping wounds to an unidentified man’s leg,” Hammer’s attorneys wrote.  “Without doubt, Mr. Sorensen selected and sent these particular images to Ms. Hammer because of their gruesome nature and immediate shock value.”

Hammer filed the lawsuit against Sorensen, Connecticut resident Christopher Risica and two men, Howard Weiss and Patrick Sullivan, whose places of residence were unknown. The lawsuit alleged that the men sent harassing and threatening emails, with at least some of the emails using vile language.

Hinkle’s ruling last week also found that Risica was in default for failing to respond to the lawsuit and approved a request by Hammer’s attorneys to conduct investigative “discovery” to determine the identity and residence of Weiss. Hinkle, however, denied such as discovery request related to Sullivan.

“His (Sullivan’s) email was profane and disgusting, but he threatened only to scream in Ms. Hammer’s face if ever he encountered her,” Hinkle wrote. “This is unlikely to be actionable and is not enough to warrant disclosure of Mr. Sullivan’s true identity.”

Hinkle also turned down a request from Hammer’s attorneys to issue an injunction barring the men from sending threatening emails to her during the lawsuit.

“A defendant would show poor judgment at a near-world record level to send Ms. Hammer another threatening email — or any impolite email at all — while this litigation is ongoing,” Hinkle wrote. “The likelihood that a defendant will send such an email is remote. If it happens, Ms. Hammer may renew her motion, and an appropriate injunction can promptly issue.”

Look for the union label: AFL-CIO backs Nikki Fried in Ag race

Nikki Fried, the Democratic candidate for Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, earned the nod of Florida’s AFL-CIO Tuesday.

“I’m thankful to have earned the endorsement of the Florida AFL-CIO—as your next Commissioner of Agriculture, we will work together to ensure Florida’s working families have the strongest consumer protections against fraud and abuse,” Fried, a medical marijuana lobbyist by trade, asserted.

“Together, we will build a state where we support our local farmers, where everyone has access to clean water and a fresh and healthy food supply, and we have a thorough and complete concealed weapons permitting process to keep our communities safe,” Fried added.

“The hardworking men and women represented by Florida’s unions believe Nikki Fried will bring a bold and innovative approach to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services that will put the needs and rights of consumers first,” stated Florida AFL-CIO President Mike Williams. 

“Nikki Fried will be the Commissioner of Agriculture Florida workers deserve and will take on our state’s growing need for access to fresh and healthy foods in our local communities and stronger consumer protections from exploitative business practices,” Williams added.

Fried, at least for the moment, leads Republican nominee Fort Myers state Rep. Matt Caldwell, in the money race, with $220,000 on hand compared to $72,000 for Caldwell.

Rick Scott touts education accomplishments in new ad

Days after Sen. Bill Nelson released an ad charging that Gov. Rick Scott has “failed” when it’s come to education, Scott may have the last laugh — with his own spot touting Florida accomplishments in the sphere.

A new spot from Scott, per the campaign, “highlights how Florida’s incredible economic turnaround under Governor Scott has led to unprecedented achievement and funding for education in Florida.”

The script asserts that Florida’s “strong economy” has led the state to lead in “fourth-grade reading and math scores … eighth-grade reading … High school AP classes and college education … ranked first in the nation.”

Scott links that to “our highest education funding ever,” which is a claim that doesn’t necessarily hold true in terms of real dollars.

As Politifact spotlighted in March, Scott contends that “for the sixth straight year [in the budget process], we have secured record funding for K-12 and state universities.”

The site noted that in real dollars, that didn’t hold true, and over the last decade, schools have had more unfunded mandates, such as increased safety measures and mental health, that weren’t the case pre-recession.

U.S. marks 9/11 with somber tributes, new monument to victims

Americans are commemorating 9/11 with somber tributes, volunteer projects and a new monument to victims, after a year when two attacks demonstrated the enduring threat of terrorism in the nation’s biggest city.

Debra Sinodinos was among the thousands of 9/11 victims’ relatives, survivors, rescuers and others expected at Tuesday’s anniversary ceremony at the World Trade Center. She headed into the memorial plaza with her extended family to honor her cousin Peter Carroll, a firefighter.

“It’s a nice way to remember without everyone sitting around being depressed,” she said.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will head to the two other places where hijacked planes crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, in the deadliest terror attack on American soil.

The president and first lady Melania Trump planned to join an observance at the Sept. 11 memorial in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where a new “Tower of Voices” was dedicated Saturday. Pence is attending a ceremony at the Pentagon. Trump, a Republican and native New Yorker, took the occasion of last year’s anniversary to issue a stern warning to extremists that “America cannot be intimidated.”

Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks on 9/11, when international terrorism hit home in a way it previously hadn’t for many Americans. Sept. 11 still shapes American policy, politics and everyday experiences in places from airports to office buildings, even if it’s less of a constant presence in the public consciousness after 17 years.

A stark reminder came not long after last year’s anniversary: A truck mowed down people, killing eight, on a bike path within a few blocks of the World Trade Center on Halloween.

In December, a would-be suicide bomber set off a pipe bomb in a subway passageway near Times Square, authorities said. They said suspects in both attacks were inspired by the Islamic State extremist group.

Sinodinos, who works near the trade center, said she tries not to let the recent attacks unnerve her.

“You have to move on,” she said. “Otherwise, you’d live in fear.”

The 9/11 commemorations are by now familiar rituals, centered on reading the names of the dead. But each year at ground zero, victims’ relatives infuse the ceremony with personal messages of remembrance, concern and inspiration.

Hours after the ceremony, two powerful light beams will soar into the night sky from lower Manhattan in the annual “Tribute in Light.”

People stand around the 93-foot tall Tower of Voices at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, Pool, File)

This year’s anniversary comes as a heated midterm election cycle kicks into high gear. But there have long been some efforts to separate the solemn anniversary from politics.

The group 9/11 Day, which promotes volunteering on an anniversary that was declared a national day of service in 2009, routinely asks candidates not to campaign or run political ads for the day. Organizers of the ground zero ceremony allow politicians to attend, but they’ve been barred since 2011 from reading names or delivering remarks.

Memorials to 9/11 continue to grow at Shanksville, where the Tower of Voices will eventually include a wind chime for each of the 40 people killed there, and ground zero, where work is to begin soon on a pathway honoring rescue and recovery workers.

It will serve as a way to honor those who became sick or died from exposure to toxins released when the Trade Center’s twin towers collapsed. Researchers have documented elevated rates of respiratory ailments, post-traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses among people who spent time in the rubble.

About 38,500 people have applied to a compensation fund, and over $3.9 billion in claims have been approved.

Meanwhile, rebuilding continues. A subway station destroyed on 9/11 finally reopened Saturday. In June, doors opened at the 80-story 3 World Trade Center, one of several rebuilt office towers that have been constructed or planned at the site. A performing arts center is rising.

However, work was suspended in December on replacing a Greek Orthodox church crushed in the attacks; the project hit financial problems.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Coalition aims to ban assault weapons by constitutional amendment

Two organizations created in the aftermath of February’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have joined together to ban assault weapons in the state of Florida.

Americans for Gun Safety Now (AFGSN) and Ban Assault Weapons Now (BAWN) say they have combined forces to create a bipartisan coalition to ban those weapons, with the goal being the passage of an amendment in 2020.

BAWN had already announced the push for an amendment earlier this year. Now, AFGSN says it will join those efforts by “spending its resources educating Florida residents and opinion leaders on this critical issue,” according to a release obtained by Florida Politics.

“Our collaboration with BAWN is a natural progression for AFGSN,” said Al Hoffman, founder of AFGSN.

“We are still dedicated to passing the six common-sense gun reform principles our organization was founded on, but by working alongside BAWN, we have the opportunity to make our own state safer first. This is a critical step to protecting future generations of Floridians.”

BAWN is a political committee primarily comprised of several family members of mass shooting victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and Pulse nightclub.

The group is still working on potential language for that 2020 amendment to define exactly what constitutes an “assault weapon.” As of yet, that definition remains unclear.

That could be a sticking point for voters deciding the fate of any potential amendment. “There’s no technical definition of an ‘assault weapon,'” notes The Washington Post in this explainer. While some associate the term with fully automatic weapons, those have been banned from public purchase since 1986, with some limited exceptions.

Others use the term to describe semi-automatic rifles with certain additional features which allow them to mimic military weapons.

The 1994 federal assault weapons ban made distinctions between semi-automatic weapons that were cleared for purchase and those that were banned under the law. But that led to some confusion and created loopholes. The Washington Post again notes“Any semi-automatic rifle with a pistol grip and a bayonet mount was an ‘assault weapon.’ But a semi-automatic rifle with just a pistol grip might be OK. It was complicated.”

Overly broad language could reel in a larger-than-intended number of gun models into the ban, provoking gun enthusiasts’ ire.

But BAWN Chairman Gail Schwartz says the partnership with AFGSN will help the organization achieve its goal of making the assault weapons ban a reality. For a 2020 amendment to be successful, it would need to earn 60 percent of the vote from the public.

“The BAWN and AFGSN partnership is a powerful step toward improving safety in our schools and our communities,” said Schwartz, who lost her nephew, Alex Schachter, in the Parkland shooting.

“Our goal is to take military-style firearms off the shelves, thus saving the lives of innocent people.”

The groups say they intend to appeal to lawmakers of both parties to pass future legislation, where necessary. Gun control advocates did achieve a victory following the Parkland massacre with the passage of a bipartisan law which raised the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21, among other restrictions.

Tough primary drains Matt Caldwell’s coffers

A fierce four-way primary for Agriculture Commissioner left Republican nominee Matt Caldwell running low on funds as the general-election campaign got underway, according to numbers posted on the state Division of Elections website.

Meanwhile, his Democratic opponent, attorney and medical-marijuana lobbyist Nikki Fried, had a little more than $220,000 on hand as September began, even as she once again had to find a new bank for her campaign account.

Caldwell, a state House member from North Fort Myers, started September with about $72,000 in cash on hand in his personal campaign account and the political committee Friends of Matt Caldwell, finance reports show.

As of Aug. 31, Friends of Matt Caldwell had raised $1,794,744, while spending $1,788,846. The spending included $763,808 on advertising between Aug. 11 and the Aug. 28 primary. Caldwell’s personal campaign account had raised $833,881 and spent $767,352 as of Aug. 31, including $178,500 for advertising in the final weeks of the campaign.

Caldwell received nearly 37 percent of the 1.5 million votes cast in the GOP primary.

Meanwhile, Fried, who handily defeated two other Democrats in the primary, started September with $112,844 available in her campaign account. Fried’s political committee, Florida Consumers First, had $111,823 on hand as of Aug. 31.

Fried drew attention last month after Wells Fargo announced it was closing her campaign account because of her ties to the medical-marijuana industry. Wells Fargo issued a statement that it had to “comply with federal law on the topic of marijuana, even in instances where state laws may differ.”

Fried said Monday during a media conference call that she also was informed Aug. 29 by BB&T that an account she had opened was being closed.

Fried said BB&T singled her out for her “political views and my advocacy to expand patient access to medical marijuana in Florida.” She said she’s been approached by a state bank about handling her finances.

New elections complaint for Rick Scott ‘New Republican’ PAC

Liberal PAC End Citizens United on Monday filed a FEC complaint against Governor Rick Scott, his Senate campaign and New Republican PAC.

The charge: “illegal coordination resulting in excessive in-kind campaign contributions to Scott’s Senate campaign from New Republican PAC.”

“New Republican PAC ran television ads within the 120 day period following Scott’s tenure as chairman of the Super PAC, likely relying upon non-public, strategic campaign information obtained through Scott’s involvement with the PAC,” the group asserts.

This is the second such FEC complaint toward Scott’s PAC (which was repurposed for his Senate bid earlier this year).

Scott had chaired the PAC, then relinquished that chair during a pre-candidacy period ahead of his filing. The PAC ran ads targeting Nelson, and the complaint contends these are “illegal in-kind coordinated contributions by running ads that likely used strategic campaign information obtained through Scott’s involvement with the PAC.”

For End Citizens United, the misuse of the PAC has been an ongoing concern.

The PAC released a poll of the Senate race Mar. 29.

Gov. Scott entered the Senate race on Apr. 9; at the time the poll was conducted and the memo was circulated, the PAC was still devoted to President Donald Trump.

When asked about the PAC previously, Scott disclaimed responsibility.

Scott disclaimed responsibility for the PAC in Jacksonville Wednesday.

“As you know, I’m only responsible for the campaign account. The campaign account is what we’re responsible for,” Scott said.

“You’d have to reach out to people at New Republican. We’re very transparent in what we do,” Scott added. “I’m responsible for the campaign account. You have to separate it when you have federal races.”

Scott was coy before his candidacy when discussing New Republican, for which he was heavily fundraising ahead of his run.

“You should — you know, there’s polls that come out publicly. You should talk to the people who want to be pundits,” Scott advised in February.

In 2017, the PAC was largely fundraising from traditional state donors. In comments to this reporter, Scott gave no indication of the committee’s current purpose.

The PAC is “focused on how do we rebrand the Republican Party,” Scott said.

“The Republican Party ought to be the party of open government, choice, bottom up economy,” Scott said. ” … Younger voters should be voting Republican. We should target everybody because they believe what we believe in. People want a job.”

For the New Republican PAC, the journey has been at least as interesting as the destination.

Bill Nelson: Rick Scott ‘is a creature of Trump’

In the past week or so, President Donald Trump‘s presence in statewide Florida Republican election politics may have all but vanished, leading Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on Monday to essentially say that his opponent Gov. Rick Scott might run but can’t hide from his past with Trump.

“My opponent is acting as if Trump has the plague. You can’t turn away from being a creature of Trump, which is exactly what he is,” Nelson said.

Nelson was responding to a question about whether he expected his campaign would push the message that Scott and Trump have been close now that polls show Trump with a low popularity among independent voters, and that Republican candidates such as Scott do not seem to be highlighting their relationships in recent events. In particular, at a campaign kickoff for state candidates last week in Orlando, there was only one fleeting reference to Trump during an hour of speeches, and it did not come from Scott.

Scott’s campaign spokesman Chris Hartline responded by writing, “Gov. Scott supports the President when his policies help Florida and disagrees with him when they hurt our state. We were happy to welcome Vice President [Mike] Pence to Florida literally last week to campaign for us.”

The senator did not explicitly say his campaign was going to seek to make hay of Scott’s relationship with Trump, but he sought to spell it out Monday.

“Trump urged him to get into the race. They have been buddy-buddies for years. He’s tried to implement Trump’s policies on killing the Affordable Care Act, on denying climate change and sea level rise, you name it. What Trump has done, he has embraced it,” Nelson said.

“And all of the sudden he sees that Trump may not be so popular and so all of the sudden he has changed his complexion 180 degrees,” Nelson added.

Rick Scott says Democrats want ‘big government socialism’

Gov. Rick Scott continued his “Make Washington Work” bus tour Monday morning with a Jacksonville stop.

As opposed to a previous stop, which saw Scott change his schedule in apparent aversion to protesters of HB 631, a controversial beach access law that the Governor signed then suspended weeks later, the Jacksonville appearance at Mac Papers on the Southside drew no protesters.

Scott has outspent incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, yet polls of the race for the U.S. Senate seat show a dead heat.

“We’re going to win the race because it’s a clear choice,” Scott said, between the Republicans and Democrats like gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and Nelson, who are “both for higher taxes and they’re both for — they don’t want to secure borders.”

“Andrew Gillum wants to get rid of ICE,” Scott said, and “Nelson wants catch and release.”

“If you look at why people are going to the polls to vote, they’re going to vote on what they want their future to be,” Scott said.

“Do we want to continue the future we have in Florida where we have jobs and record funding, or do we want to go down the path where we want higher taxes,” Scott asked rhetorically, adding that “we’re going to win the race because people want a better future.”

Scott has painted Nelson and Gillum as too radical for the state, and his stump remarks continued that theme.

“These Democrats are all in for higher taxes, more debt, and that’s not good for us as a family,” Scott said. “They just want big government programs that don’t work.”

“The Democrats are talking about big government socialism, [saying] ‘oh, it’s fair,'” Scott said. “Yeah, it’s fair — we all do bad. We all do poorly under socialism.”

Gov. Rick Scott visits Mac Paper in Jacksonville on his statewide “Make Washington Work” Bus Tour.
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