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Pam Bondi asks court to end lawsuit over charities

Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office is asking a court to put an end to a lawsuit claiming she forces businesses to donate millions of dollars to unregistered charities as part of settlements in consumer protection cases.

Bondi’s motion for summary judgment in part says “there is no statutory requirement that … settlements under (Florida law) be made to a charity, much less to a registered charity.” Summary judgments allow parties to win a case without a trial.

Another motion asks Circuit Judge Charles Dodson to suspend “discovery” in the case — the gathering of information from Bondi’s office in preparation for a possible trial.

Orlando entrepreneur John D. Smith had been investigated on a consumer fraud allegation by Bondi’s office in 2015 for his Storm Stoppers plastic panels, marketed as a “plywood alternative” to protect windows during storms.

He sued, saying some of the unregistered charities Bondi makes settling parties give money to is her own “Law Enforcement Officer of the Year” award and various “scholarship funds designated by the Attorney General.”

Scott Siverson, Smith’s attorney, said in a previous hearing that one of Bondi’s defenses is that donations to groups that weren’t registered as charities were OK because they were “unsolicited,” or not asked for.

“There is only one way for is to find out about that, and that’s to get discovery from” their office, Siverson told Dodson.

Since she first assumed office in 2011, Bondi’s office settled enforcement actions with 14 businesses in which they wound up paying more than $5.5 million to 35 unregistered charities, Smith’s suit says.

Smith also said Bondi was improperly directing contributions to her office’s nonprofit, Seniors vs. Crime, which is a “conflict of interest,” the suit says. Two of its directors work for Bondi.

Not so, Bondi’s office said. “(T)he two agency employees do not serve on the Board of Directors for Seniors vs. Crime, Inc., thus rendering this claim moot,” according to the motion.

Smith, in an email to Florida Politics, said state corporation records show that both Statewide Prosecutor Nicholas Cox and Victoria Butler, director of Bondi’s Tampa office, “have been listed on the Seniors vs. Crime Board of Directors since 2015.”

In a separate filing, Siverson asked Dodson to take “judicial notice” of the corporate filings, reserved for—among other things—”facts that are not subject to dispute because they are capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot be questioned.”

Bondi has called the legal action “meritless” and “harassment.” A hearing on her motions is set for Aug. 28.

Wildlife agency: Review won’t jeopardize panther protections

Wildlife officials say a federal review of the Florida panther’s endangered species status will not jeopardize protections for the big cats.

The panther is one of over a dozen animals whose listing status is being reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Panther biologist David Shindle said in a News-Press report that his agency’s review aims to gather the best available data on panther biology, habitat and conservation plans, as well as threats to their survival.

Shindle said any change to the panther’s status would require separate action from the wildlife service.

Public comments for the panther’s review will be accepted through Aug. 29. Officials expect to complete the review by 2019.

The panthers once roamed the entire southeastern United States, but now their habitat mostly is confined to southwest Florida.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.


Why won’t Donald Trump condemn white nationalism?

Why doesn’t President Donald Trump just unequivocally condemn white supremacists?

It’s a jarring question to ask about an American president. But it’s also one made unavoidable by Trump’s delayed, blame-both-sides response to the violence that erupted Saturday when neo-Nazis, skinheads and members of the Ku Klux Klan protested in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Trump has faced such a moment before — one that would have certainly drawn swift, almost predictable condemnations from his recent predecessors, regardless of party. As a candidate and now as president, when racial tensions flared or fringe groups rallied around his message, Trump has shown uncharacteristic caution and a reluctance to distance himself from the hate.

At times, his approach has seemingly inflamed racial tensions in a deeply divided country while emboldening groups long in the shadows.

On Saturday, as Trump read slowly through a statement about the clashes that left dozens injured and one woman dead, he condemned hatred, bigotry and violence “on many sides.” The president was silent when journalists asked whether he rejected the support of nationalists’ groups.

That silence was cheered by the white supremacist website Daily Stormer: “When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”

Trump denies that he’s racist or sympathetic to such groups. Son-in-law Jared Kushner, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, and daughter Ivanka, who converted to Judaism, are among those who have defended the president against those charges.

Still, he has a history of engaging in high-profile, racially fraught battles.

Early in his career as a developer, Trump fought charges of bias against blacks seeking to rent at his family-owned apartment complexes. He long promoted the lie that the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama, was not born in the United States. As a candidate, he proposed temporarily banning Muslims from the United States. He retweeted a post from accounts that appeared to have ties to white nationalist groups. And he was slow to reject the endorsement of former KKK leader David Duke.

Some of the president’s friends and advisers have argued that Trump is simply refusing to bend to liberals’ desire for political correctness. A boastful, proudly disruptive politician, Trump often has been rewarded for saying impolite and impolitic things. Some supporters cheered him for being someone who said what they could not.

Democrats frequently assert that Trump sees a political advantage in courting the support of the far right. Indeed, he has benefited politically from the backing of media outlets such as Breitbart or InfoWars. They have consistently promoted Trump and torn down his opponents, sometimes with biased or inaccurate reports.

Charlottesville’s mayor, Democrat Mike Signer, said Sunday that Trump made a choice during his campaign to “go right to the gutter, to play on our worst prejudices.”

“I think you are seeing a direct line from what happened here this weekend to those choices,” Singer said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

White House senior adviser Steve Bannon ran Breitbart before joining Trump’s campaign, and several of the president’s other aides believe Bannon continues to have influence over the website. In “Devil’s Bargain,” a new book about his role in the Trump campaign, Bannon is quoted as saying that attempts by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to tie Trump to the alt-right and nationalists did not move voters.

“We polled the race stuff and it doesn’t matter,” Bannon said, according to the book.

But there here’s no reliable public polling on the scope of Trump’s support among those with white nationalist leanings or the percentage of the electorate they comprise. The reaction from Republicans following Trump’s statement Saturday suggests there may be greater political risks for the president in aligning himself with bigoted groups.

“The president needs to step up today and say what it is,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who was one of several GOP lawmakers urging Trump to be more strident in calling out the nationalists and neo-Nazis that gathered in Charlottesville. Gardner said plainly: “It’s evil. It’s white nationalism.”

By Sunday, the White House was scrambling to try to clean up the president’s statement. The White House issued a statement saying the president does condemn “white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.”

The spokeswoman who issued the statement refused to be named. And the president himself remained silent.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump drawing criticism for not explicitly rebuking white supremacists

President Donald Trump is drawing criticism from Republicans and Democrats for not explicitly denouncing white supremacists in the aftermath of violent clashes in Virginia, with lawmakers saying he needs to take a public stand against groups that espouse racism and hate.

Trump, while on a working vacation at his New Jersey golf club, addressed the nation Saturday soon after a car plowed into a group of anti-racist counter-protesters in Charlottesville, a college town where neo-Nazis and white nationalists had assembled for march. The president did not single out any group, instead blaming “many sides” for the violence.

“Hate and the division must stop, and must stop right now,” he said. “We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and … true affection for each other.”

Trump condemned “in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” He added: “It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. It’s been going on for a long, long time.”

He did not answer questions from reporters about whether he rejected the support of white nationalists or whether he believed the car crash was an example of domestic terrorism. Aides who appeared on the Sunday news shows said the White House did believe those things, but many fellow Republicans demanded that Trump personally denounce the white supremacists.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., tweeted: “Mr. President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.”

Added Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.: “Nothing patriotic about #Nazis,the #KKK or #WhiteSupremacists It’s the direct opposite of what #America seeks to be.”

GOP Chris Christie of New Jersey, a staunch Trump supporter, wrote: “We reject the racism and violence of white nationalists like the ones acting out in Charlottesville. Everyone in leadership must speak out.”

On the Democrat side, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York said “of course we condemn ALL that hate stands for. Until @POTUS specifically condemns alt-right action in Charlottesville, he hasn’t done his job.”

The president’s only public statement early Sunday was a retweet saluting two Virginia state police officers killed in helicopter crash after being dispatched to monitor the Charlottesville clashes.

The previous day, Trump tweeted condolences to those officers soon after the helicopter crashed. His tweet sending condolences to the woman killed in the protests came more than five hours after the incident.

Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said Sunday that he considered the attack in Charlottesville to be terrorism:

“I certainly think anytime that you commit an attack against people to incite fear, it is terrorism,” McMaster told ABC’s “This Week.”

“It meets the definition of terrorism. But what this is, what you see here, is you see someone who is a criminal, who is committing a criminal act against fellow Americans.”

The president’s homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, defended the president’s statement by suggesting that some of the counter-protesters were violent too.

When pressed, he specifically condemned the racist groups. The president’s daughter and White House aide, Ivanka Trump, tweeted Sunday morning: “There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis.”

White nationalists had assembled in Charlottesville to vent their frustration against the city’s plans to take down a statue of Confederal Gen. Robert E. Lee. Counter-protesters massed in opposition. A few hours after violent encounters between the two groups, a car drove into a crowd of people peacefully protesting the rally. The driver was later taken into custody.

Alt-right leader Richard Spencer and former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke attended the demonstrations. Duke told reporters that the white nationalists were working to “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.”

Trump’s speech also drew praise from the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, which wrote: “Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us. … No condemnation at all.”

The website had been promoting the Charlottesville demonstration as part of its “Summer of Hate” edition.

Mayor Michael Signer, a Democrat, said he was disgusted that the white nationalists had come to his town and blamed Trump for inflaming racial prejudices with his campaign last year.

“I’m not going to make any bones about it. I place the blame for a lot of what you’re seeing in American today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the president,” he said.

Trump, as a candidate, frequently came under scrutiny for being slow to offer his condemnation of white supremacists. His strongest denunciation of the movement has not come voluntarily, only when asked, and he occasionally trafficked in retweets of racist social media posts during his campaign. His chief strategist, Steve Bannon, once declared that his former news site, Breitbart, was “the platform for the alt-right.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida NAACP chapter wants Confederate monuments removed

The president of a Florida NAACP chapter says a white supremacist rally in Virginia has prompted him to resume efforts to remove Confederate monuments.

James Muwakkil leads the NAACP chapter in Lee County, which is named for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The chapter’s 2015 efforts to change Lee’s portrait in county commission chambers were unsuccessful.

The News-Press reported that Muwakkil placed an American flag at a statue of Lee in Fort Myers on Saturday and said he would approach city and county officials about removing both monuments.

Fort Myers Councilwoman Teresa Watkins Brown said Lee is part of history, but she is “not always proud of what happened in our history.”

David McCallister, Florida Division Chief of Heritage Operations for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the Lee County NAACP was exploiting the turmoil in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Florida Democratic Party to organize statewide voter registration rallies in response to Charlottesville attack

In response to the hateful demonstrations and violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Florida Democratic Party will organize voter registration rallies across the state.

The FDP says it is inspired by Kentucky’s Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes, who recently issued the following tweet:

“They bring torches to push hate. We bring registration cards to promote democracy. Which side are you on? #Charlottesville #RallytoRegister”

After Grimes’ tweet, the Florida Democratic Party issued an email to its local Democratic Executive Committees, Democratic Clubs, and Democratic Caucuses to gauge interest.

The response from local Democratic leaders was overwhelming — “Democrats are fully committed to responding to hate with hope,” reads a release from the party.

As a result, the Florida Democratic Party will be organizing a statewide effort to #RallytoRegister on Saturday, August 19th.

“The white supremacists who organized the hateful demonstrations and violent protests in Charlottesville want to intimidate us — they will not,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel. “We will not fall silent, and we will not allow these acts of terror to subdue us. We are proud to be launching a statewide effort to expand the vote and counteract these acts of hate with hope. We are encouraging every Floridian to participate and #RallytoRegister on Saturday, August 19th. Take a stand — register to vote, join your local Democratic Party, and defend our democracy.”

Details on event locations and times will be forthcoming.

Donald Trump answers call of crisis with familiar bluster, spontaneity and norm-breaking risk that defined his political rise

A nuclear showdown. The world’s most unpredictable foe. A world on edge. What will the new president do?

Be Trump.

Faced with perhaps his gravest international crisis yet, President Donald Trump this week responded precisely as his some of supporters hoped and his critics long feared. The mix of plain-spoken bluster, spontaneity and norm-breaking risk that defined his political rise defined his approach to a round of fresh threats from nuclear North Korea. When Pyongyang punched, Trump counterpunched harder — much as he did on a debate stage flanked by political opponents.

But this was not a Florida debate stage or a low-stakes celebrity Twitter war of the sort Trump perfected before entering politics. It was a standoff over North Korea’s rapidly developing nuclear program, complete with trading threats of war and the safety of millions in the balance. Over the course of the week, Trump unleashed provocative rhetoric and dismissed the careful or precise diplomatic language favored by his predecessors.

“They should be very nervous,” Trump said of North Korea. “Because things will happen to them like they never thought possible, OK?

Still, Trump’s strategy was familiar. He tweeted regularly. He took it personally. He spoke off the cuff. He talked — a lot — holding a two-day blitz of press conferences, each yielding moments that immediately sparked chatter, confusion, criticism and attention.

On Friday, after striking a slightly toned-down message to North Korea, Trump offered that he would consider military action in Venezuela, where the president has consolidated power and sparked widespread international condemnation. In the course of a 12-minute exchange with journalists, the remark raised the prospect of the use of military force against two countries in two different hemispheres.

Trump’s pugnacious public talk is matched by his private conversations with aides and allies. Trump has told associates that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has disrespected him and the United States and that he believes the rogue nation will only respond to toughness and the threat of force, according to two people who, like others interviewed, requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss private conversations.

Some aides were surprised when Trump declared Tuesday, soon after word spread that North Korea had made a nuclear breakthrough, that the isolated nation would face “fire and fury” if the threat continued. The president had not used those words in a conference call with advisers beforehand when discussing the matter.

He also told aides, including new chief of staff John Kelly, that he had no intention of softening his tone, according to two White House officials, who also demanded anonymity to discuss the conversations.

The president has gone out of his way to discuss the threat posed by North Korea, tweeting frequently and engaging reporters at length four times over two days in his golf club.

On Thursday, as he fielded questions from a small group of reporters, he ignored press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who repeatedly held up a hand-written sign that urged him to take just one final question. Instead, he frequently made eye contact with individual reporters to seek out their inquiries. He ended up talking for 30 minutes, much of it in ominous language about North Korea.

His plain-spoken tough talk, which is easily distilled into tweets and the ticker headlines that crawl across cable television, has frequently thrilled supporters.

“Trump is simply trying to communicate in vivid, clear language to a dictator not used to listening to anybody that they are facing the potential end of their regime,” said frequent Trump adviser Newt Gingrich. “I think that what he’s trying to do in the short run is to communicate with great intensity that we are serious.”

For others, Trump’s rhetoric only appeared to be escalating the crisis.

“Presidents have used tough language about adversaries,” said Julian Zelizer, history professor at Princeton University. “The difference is how unscripted this is … this is ad hoc and improvised, which most presidents have understood to be dangerous when nuclear weapons are involved.”

Trump dismissed such criticism on Friday evening, as he answered more questions from reporters, and issued more threats.

“My critics are only saying that because it’s me,” Trump said. “We have tens of millions of people in this country that are so happy with what I’m saying because they’re saying finally we have a president that’s sticking up for our nation and frankly sticking up for our friends and our allies.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

GOP gathering gives preview of governor’s race

Florida’s next governor won’t be elected for more than a year, but Republican leaders from across the state got a taste of what’s in store — literally — during a gathering in Orlando this weekend.

Over ice cream and petit fours Friday night, party faithful heard from state Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who filed paperwork to run for governor hours before appearing at the popular desserts event and is expected to formally announce his entree into the race Wednesday.

On Saturday morning, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — who has been running for months to replace Gov. Rick Scott — delivered a classic campaign speech over eggs, bacon and orange juice, winding up the “Up & Adam” breakfast by giving away a bag full of swag.

Later Saturday, Congressman Ron DeSantis addressed a local caucus, sharing his frustration about the GOP’s inability to follow through on President Donald Trump‘s pledge to “drain the swamp,” something DeSantis blamed on Republicans in the U.S. Senate. The Palm Coast Republican is mulling a bid for governor but said he won’t make a decision until sometime this fall at the earliest.

Just one of the Republicans thus far considering joining the race — House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes — did not attend the Republican Party of Florida’s quarterly meeting at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort, which drew local party leaders who will play a critical role in what will almost certainly be a contentious GOP primary.

All four GOP candidates in the race to replace Putnam as agriculture commissioner — state Sen. Denise Grimsley, state Rep. Matt Caldwell, former state Rep. Baxter Troutman and Orlando businessman Paul Paulson — also made the rounds at the weekend event, which included about 250 state committeemen and committeewomen and county party chairs.

Putnam — who mentioned “the American dream” at last a half-dozen times — delivered a 30-minute speech that was a mix of folksy charm and retail politics, with a splash of disdain for liberals like the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.

Putnam complained about receiving “hate mail from those freakin’ dudes at PETA,” prompted by his and his daughter’s participation in the Wausau Possum Festival, an annual Panhandle event where candidates hold a live possum by the tail. He then handed out red “Possums for Putnam” T-shirts, along with elephant-themed ties and scarves, as well as baseball caps and cell phone chargers emblazoned with his campaign logo.

“I know our state. I’ve been down every dirt road. … I know all the best barbecue restaurants,” Putnam, who won races for agriculture commissioner in 2010 and 2014, told about 200 breakfast goers Saturday.

Putnam, a former congressman who’s also made a pivot to the right over the past few months, urged Republicans to join forces and issued a warning that “the left is coming for us” in Florida, pointing to “sanctuary cities” as “the kind of foolishness” Democrats support regarding immigration policy.

And Putnam, 43, bragged about the expansion of the state’s concealed-weapons licenses under his watch, saying Florida’s crime rate is at its lowest point in decades.

“I think there’s a connection,” said Putnam, whose agency oversees the licenses.

Putnam’s fiery speech was a contrast to Latvala’s brief remarks at the dessert event Friday night.

The Clearwater lawmaker highlighted his longtime participation in Florida GOP politics, dating back to 1975 when Republicans were vastly outnumbered in the Legislature by Democrats.

Latvala, a moderate, also painted himself as a mature businessman who has the life experience other candidates may not share.

“When I look at some of the other people who are thinking about running, or who are running, I see people who have been in government their entire life, that have never made a payroll, that have never written a workers’ comp premium check, that have never had the challenges that those of us that have businesses have,” Latvala, 65, said. “I just think that’s an important dimension for the party that nominated Donald Trump, as a businessman, to be different in government. It’s important for us to continue with that kind of approach, someone who has both some business experience and some government experience.”

The quarterly meeting came at a critical juncture for Republicans throughout the country, with many of the party’s most loyal members fuming after the U.S. Senate failed to adopt a measure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, one of Trump’s top priorities.

Many of the party leaders gathered in Orlando expressed concern that the lack of movement by Republicans in Washington could have a negative impact on the GOP’s chances in Florida next year.

“If they don’t get the health-care law changed and put through tax reform PDQ, I think we’re in serious trouble in the next elections,” Walton County Committeeman Bill Fletcher told The News Service of Florida on Saturday.

Speaking to a caucus meeting Saturday morning, DeSantis was asked if the Republican Party is at a “tipping point,” given voters’ dissatisfaction with Washington.

Voters need to be convinced “that things are changing for the better,” DeSantis said in an interview later.

“And that requires you to actually accomplish some things. So I think the danger for us is, if we’re not successful on doing some of these items we promise, that the average voter is like, it doesn’t matter who you elect, nothing’s going to change,” he said. “I think the party right now, we’re teetering on, is this really going to be a big disappointment or are you going to be able to rack up a couple of victories.”

In the meantime, Florida GOP leaders are struggling to capture voters who overwhelmingly backed Trump but may have been registered as independents or Democrats.

“We need to meld the Trump supporters with being Republican,” national Committeeman Peter Feaman told a meeting of state committeemen and committeewomen Friday.

Feaman offered some talking points to convince voters to join the GOP, saying if they believe in “peace through strength,” “putting American workers first,” for example, “then you’re a Trump supporter but you are also a Republican.”

Florida Republicans “haven’t recovered from the presidential election, as a party,” said Scott Hopes, a Manatee County School Board member.

Hopes pointed out that Scott hasn’t attended an RPOF meeting “in years,” and that, aside from Putnam, none of the state’s Republican Cabinet members had bothered to show up, either.

Next year’s elections “are going to be a challenge,” Hopes said. “The Democrats are on the same page, at least. Unfortunately, I think we’re not”

Adam Putnam: Nobody knows Florida better than I

Adam Putnam assured the 200 or so delegates to his breakfast at the Republican Party of Florida quarterly meeting in Orlando Saturday that he knows their towns, he knows their roads, he knows their barbecue places, and he knows their hopes, dreams, and struggles of living somewhere that’s not on an Interstate exit.

The Florida agriculture commissioner and former state lawmaker and former U.S. Congressman running for governor spun his theme of Florida being the greatest state, where everyone wants to visit or live, while pressing conservatism, urging that Florida must be “the launching pad of the American dream,” and warning of liberal uprisings, with “The left is coming for us!”

And, most of all, the candidate turned on his folksy side, reminded everyone he’s a fifth-generation Floridian with a ranch outside of Bartow, and strove to connect with Republicans in too-often-ignored rural areas and small towns from the Keys to the western panhandle.

Putnam, alone in the Republican race for governor until Friday, now has serious competition for the Republican primary nomination. State Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater filed to run Friday and addressed the Republican convention Friday night. Potential candidate U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach was to address the crowd Saturday afternoon. House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’ Lakes also is a real prospect.

On Saturday morning, Putnam was positioning himself as the grassroots candidate.

He spoke of how two-thirds of Floridians don’t have college degrees so the state must put more emphasis on technical training and less on trying to get everyone to go to college. He spoke of making sure everyone has the chance to start their own businesses, and don’t dismiss someone starting out with a lawn-care business.

“I know our state,” Putnam said. “I know every corner of our state. I’ve been down every four-lane, every dirt road. I know all the barbecue restaurants. If you need a tip I can tell you where the best pulled-pork meal is, where the best brisket is, who’s got the best chicken. I know our state like the back of my hand. I am dedicated to the future of our state.”

From there, he appeared to respond to Latvala’s comments Friday night, when the House Appropriations Committee chairman lashed out at other candidates, whom he didn’t name, whom he accused of forgetting the needs of the Republican Party of Florida while they pursued their own careers, and of raising money for their own causes, without contributing to the party.

“We’re going to bring this state together. And this party is a part of that. It’s an integral part of that,” Putnam said to the party loyalists at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort. “It’s not us against them. It’s not Bradford versus Highlands. It’s not the party versus the electeds. You have seen me at your meetings and in your Lincoln Days…. I can’t succeed as a governor if we don’t succeed as a party.”


Disney donates another $500K to initiative to limit gambling expansion

Disney doubled down on its support for a proposed ballot initiative that would limit gambling expansion in the Sunshine State.

Disney cut a $500,000 check to the committee backing the amendment, “Voters in Charge,” last month. Since April the company has given $1.15 million for the cause, which accounts for more than 80 percent of the committee’s total contributions.

If it makes it onto the 2018 general election ballot and passes, the amendment would force any future gambling expansions to be decided on by Florida voters

Anti-gambling expansion group No Casinos Inc. has given most of the rest of the money raised by the committee, as well as thousands of dollars worth of in-kind contributions.

Disney has long contended that casino-style gambling would damage Florida’s image in the eyes of tourists, especially the variety that visit the company’s four Orlando theme parks.

No Casinos’ asserts expansion would increase gambling addiction and ratchet up crime rates while shutting down local business due to what casino proponents call the “substitution effect,” where gambling as well as a casino’s on-site restaurants, amenities and services leech business away from non-casino businesses.

The initiative cleared its first hurdle in April, when the Florida Supreme Court signed off on the proposal’s ballot wording. Voters in Charge must now collect 766,200 petition signatures to get on the ballot.

Collecting those signatures is the major expense of most ballot initiatives.

So far, the nearly all of the committee’s $943,858 in expenditures have gone toward petition gathering and petition verification.

As of Friday, the initiative had 151,476 valid signatures.

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