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Gambling amendment crosses 725K valid signatures

The proposed constitutional amendment to let Florida voters decide on future gambling expansion is about 41,000 signatures shy of making the November ballot three weeks ahead of the Feb. 1 deadline.

As of Monday, Voter Control of Gambling in Florida had 725,942 valid signatures out of the 766,200 it needs to make the ballot. That number pegged to 8 percent of the turnout in the most recent presidential election.

Amendments also need to hit signature quotas in 14 out of the state’s 27 congressional districts. As of Monday, the amendment had hit the mark in 12 seats, with CD 17 and CD 22 each about 5,000 signatures shy of the quota.

The committee backing bill, Voters in Charge, has said it would need to gather 1.1 million signatures in total before it exceeds the verified signature requirement. As of November, the group had collected a million.

Voters in Charge had also spent nearly $5 million pushing the amendment as of the end of November, with the bulk of that money coming from Disney. The Seminole Tribe of Florida, which has its own gaming interests, has also put in $1 million to back the effort.

Much of that money has gone to Carson City, Nevada-based National Voter Outreach, which is heading up the signature-gathering campaign. A significant part has also been paid out to county supervisors of elections for signature verification.

According to the ballot summary, the voter control amendment would “ensure that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling.”

If it makes the ballot, it would need to earn 60 percent approval from voters to pass.

Personnel note: Lauren Bankert, Caylee Underwood join On3PR

Lauren Bankert and Caylee Underwood are the newest members to join the woman-owned On 3 Public Relations firm.

“Their experience both in the public and private sectors, with skill sets in design as well as communications, will strengthen the services we provide clients in public relations, grassroots advocacy, coalition building and crisis communications,” President Christina Johnson announced Monday.

Johnson said Bankert will serve as an account manager and Underwood will work as an account coordinator for the decade-old public relations firm.

Bankert’s career in communications and public affairs began in the city of Jacksonville where she served as a public information officer. She most recently led the efforts for the Northeast Florida Regional STEM2 Hub.

Underwood, a graduate of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications, has worked in the editing and design team for Lee Enterprises. She most recently led marketing communications for an Ocala-based furniture design company.

Tom Steyer group to spend millions in Florida to bring out millennial voters

Billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer is nothing if not ambitious.

Steyer, a Democratic mega-donor and environmental activist, announced Monday the launch of the most extensive youth-organizing program in American history, with a commitment to spend $30 million in at least ten states, including Florida, this fall ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

“Today, we’re putting Donald Trump and the entire GOP on notice. Young voters are energized like never before, and have the power to make the difference in 2018,” said Steyer, the president of the group NextGen America. “NextGen America is going to do all that we can to elect a Congress that represents us all — and send failed leaders like Paul Ryan, Darrell Issa, and Barbara Comstock back home.”

Steyer announced the plan at a news conference in Washington D.C., adding that he would not be a candidate for political office in 2018. A resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, there had been speculation that he was considering a challenge to Dianne Feinstein for the U.S. Senate in California this year.

Considered a hugely successful hedge fund manager when he retired in 2012, the billionaire Democratic activist has since spent hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Democrats and against Republican candidates in every election since 2014.

In that year alone, Steyer spent tens of millions of dollars in attack ads against governors and lawmakers who didn’t believe in climate change, including a  reported $20 million against Florida Gov. Rick Scott in his ultimately successful bid for re-election.

Most recently, Steyer has blanketed the television airwaves with his “Need to Impeach” ad campaign calling on Congress to impeach Trump. He’s spent more than $20 million in that effort.

Representatives of NextGen Rising, the Steyer-funded group created to get more millennial voters to the polls in 2017, said Monday they intend to contact over half a million young voters before this fall’s midterm elections; register more than 250,000 young voters through face to face conversations, online and through the mail; develop and train at least 2,000 volunteer leaders on campuses and in communities, and hire at least 200 full-time organizing staff and train 500 student fellows on more than 300 colleges.

An official with the Florida chapter of NextGen Rising says that there are currently six full-time staffers working in the Sunshine State, and 51 student fellows.

Andrew Gillum’s campaign draws another $100K from George Soros

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum‘s December provided his strongest campaign fundraising since last March, and it turns out the two months have something else in common: $100,000 checks from billionaire George Soros.

The New York Democratic financier donated $100,000 to Gillum’s Forward Florida Political Committee on Dec. 29, according to the latest disclosures posted on the committee’s website. That contribution helped the committee turn its first six-figure month since March, a month that was bolstered in part by an earlier Soros $100,000 check.

Forward Florida also reported receiving $31,000 in December from a research and education organization called Collective Future of Washington D.C. Last week Gillum’s campaign announced that the committee raised a total of $167,000 in December, its best month since last spring.

“Andrew Gillum has the momentum in the Democratic primary, and supporters all across this state have powered us from Day One. George Soros has dedicated his philanthropic efforts to empowering grassroots communities to make their voices heard in our country, and we’re pleased to embody those same voices through our candidacy,” Gillum’s campaign communications director, Geoff Burgan, stated.

Gillum faces former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, and Winter Park businessman Chris King in seeking the Democratic primary nomination to run for governor.

In March 2017 Forward Florida brought in more than $428,000, which until December had represented more than half of the committee’s receipts over a two-year period. That month also benefitted from $50,000 checks from Soros’ son Alex Soros and from television producer Norman Lear.

Gwen Graham pays $1,200 to get Hollywood Hills records request

Gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham on Monday wrote a $1,200 personal check to the governor’s Office of Open Government, saying it is a “small price to pay” for information on the 12 Hurricane Irma-related deaths at a Hollywood nursing home.

“It’s disappointing that there are financial hurdles for the information that the people of Florida deserve to have,” Graham said.

Graham, a Democrat hoping to replace Republican Gov. Rick Scott in November, was billed the amount after she accused his administration of hiding the documents she requested. But Scott’s administration said the amount charged was a result of staffers working 100 hours to review and redact her the information at a $12 per hour rate.

McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said Graham’s request was “unique” and while other media outlets have made similar requests for information, Graham got the bill because she asked for the information first, which launched the “extensive work.”

Now that the governor’s office has received the check, Graham’s request is being finalized and will be made available online “very soon,” Lewis said.

Graham’s campaign spokesperson, Matt Harringer, said she plans to make the information available to the public as soon as she gets it.

Her request revolves around the call logs, text messages and voicemails that went to the governor’s private phone before the hurricane hit the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills and knocked the facility’s power out. His phone line was made available to nursing homes and assisted-living facilities for emergency purposes.

Graham wants to know what role the governor played in these deaths and why some voicemails were deleted, which she deems to be a violation of state public records laws.

“What I want are the voicemails,” she said, “that’s what I want and I hope the voicemails will be included in the request.”

If they are not included, she said she will “take the appropriate legal action.”

Following the evacuation of the Hollywood nursing home, fourteen elderly residents died. Twelve of those deaths have been ruled homicides and legal fights have ensued.

Adam Putnam has now raised $22M for gubernatorial bid

Republican candidate for governor Adam Putnam has posted over $22.5 million in his quest to be the state’s next chief executive, according to a Monday morning email.

Putnam’s campaign and political committee, Florida Grown, now have raised a combined $22.55 million to date, spokeswoman Amanda Bevis said.

They’re left with $16.25 million in combined cash on hand at the end of December.

For December, they collected a total of more than $1.19 million: Roughly $94,000 by Putnam for Governor and $1.10 million by the Florida Grown PC.

There have been “8,043 contributors to the campaign to date, and 6,103 small-dollar contributors (less than $500 each) to the campaign to date,” Bevis said.

The required finance reports will be filed with the state Division of Elections this week, she added.

Putnam, now the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, is term-limited in that post this year. He declared his long-expected run for governor in May.

Frank White crosses $2 million mark in 2017

New Year’s is a time for reflection, and when Pensacola state Rep. Frank White looked back on 2017, he liked what he saw.

The Republican attorney general candidate put out an infographic over the weekend touting his campaign’s 2017 successes in fundraising, endorsements and campaign stops.

Topping the year in review was a declaration that the campaign hit $2.05 million in total fundraising last year, including $100,025 in December, which it believes will allow White to comfortably hold the top spot in the money race.

While much of that money came from White’s own pockets, that’s a safe bet barring an unprecedented fundraising month from one of the four other candidates vying to replace termed-out AG Pam Bondi.

Former circuit judge Ashley Moody and state Rep. Jay Fant, both Republicans, have each broken the million dollar mark, but both are several hundred thousand dollars away from hitting $2 million.

The fourth Republican in the race, Tampa Rep. Ross Spano, has about $52,000 in his campaign account, but he hasn’t filed a full-month report since declaring he would run for Attorney General rather than re-election to the House, while Democrat Ryan Torrens hasn’t picked up much traction on the fundraising front and might not get a chance to if Tampa Democratic Rep. Sean Shaw decides to enter the race.

White’s infographic also showed off the 20 endorsements he’s pulled in since declaring in October, with top billing going to Okaloosa Sheriff Larry Ashley, Santa Rosa Sheriff Bob Johnson, Escambia Sheriff David Morgan, and U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, himself a former sheriff of Duval County.

The campaign also racked up some miles in 2017, with 17 campaign ranging from Miami and the I-4 corridor to the First Coast and, of course, his home turf on the Florida Panhandle.

The year in review closed out by dubbing the first-term House District 2 representative “the one true conservative for attorney general.”

The infographic is below:

Frank White Year in Review

Up to 30,000 state Medicaid clients warned of potential data breach

Thousands of Floridians enrolled in Florida’s Medicaid program are being notified that their medical records and personal information may have been compromised, the state’s Agency of Health Care Administration said.

The data breach occurred after a state employee opened a malicious phishing email last November. The incident may have exposed the  Social Security numbers, dates of birth, Medicaid ID numbers and private health care information of up to 30,000 Floridians, a two-month-review by the Inspector General found.

While the review is ongoing, AHCA has so far been able to confirm that the Medicaid IDs and/or Social Security numbers of approximately 1,800 clients have been potentially accessed.

In response, AHCA officials are offering those affected a free one-year membership to an identity theft protection program, even though they contend there is no reason to believe individuals’ information has been misused.

No other state systems or email accounts were targeted and AHCA is currently exploring additional security options to protect against further breaches.

For more information, including steps one may take to protect themselves from potential information, enrollees may call the Agency’s hotline at 1-844-749-8327.

Supreme Court ready to wade into water war

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Monday in a decades-old legal fight between Florida and Georgia over water flow into the Apalachicola River.

A court-appointed special master ruled in February that Florida had not proved its case that a water-usage cap should be imposed on Georgia to help the river and Apalachicola Bay, one of the most productive estuaries in the country, known particularly for its oysters.

Florida is asking for the case to be returned to the special master to develop a more “equitable” distribution of water between the states from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system. In briefs filed with the court, Florida has argued that an increase in water consumption by Georgia, including in the Atlanta area, since the 1970s is “effectively strangling the Apalachicola region.”

“For decades, Florida has done everything it could to avert that result – and Georgia has fought it at every turn,” a Florida brief said. “This litigation represents Florida’s last opportunity to stem Georgia’s inequitable consumption, and protect these irreplaceable natural resources, by apportioning the waters equitably between the states.”

In a brief asking the Supreme Court to uphold the special master’s report, Georgia said Florida is asking for “dramatic and costly reductions in Georgia’s upstream water use – cuts that threaten the water supply of 5 million people in metropolitan Atlanta and risk crippling a multibillion-dollar agricultural sector in southwest Georgia.”

Georgia has argued that even if the court ordered a new water-distribution plan, it wouldn’t guarantee that Florida would receive more water, since water flow is controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers through a series of reservoirs and dams in the river system that, in effect, control “the spigot at the state line.”

In his report, Ralph Lancaster, a Portland, Maine, lawyer who served as the special master in the case, said that because the Corps was not a party in the lawsuit, it meant that a court ruling could not “assure Florida the relief it seeks.”

But citing subsequent comments from the Corps, Florida said the federal agency would adjust its water policies in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system based on the court’s decision.

“It is at the very least reasonable to predict that the Corps would respond to an equitable apportionment by this court just as one would expect – by adjusting its operations to effectuate that decree consistent with this court’s decision and other applicable law,” Florida said in a brief.

A key legal issue before the Supreme Court is Lancaster’s finding that Florida failed to prove “by clear and convincing evidence” that imposing a cap on Georgia’s water use “would provide a material benefit to Florida.”

In its briefs, Florida said it has provided evidence that Georgia’s water usage has damaged the Apalachicola River system. It cited Lancaster’s finding that “real harm” was occurring from decreased water flow into the system and from Georgia’s “largely unrestrained” agricultural water use.

But Florida’s lawyers argued that Lancaster erred in further applying the “clear and convincing” evidence standard to the yet-to-be-determined water redistribution plan.

“Never before has this court found both injury and inequitable conduct (as the special master did here) and yet held that the court is powerless to do anything about it,” Florida said in a brief.

Georgia said Lancaster was following precedents set in other multi-state water disputes and that he “correctly held Florida to the exacting burden of proof that this court has imposed on states seeking to upend the status quo at the expense of a coequal sovereign.”

Georgia’s position was supported by Colorado, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief raising concerns that a court ruling in the case could impact water agreements in the western portion of the country.

“The court has consistently made clear that the complaining state faces a heavy burden to prove both its injury and its right to relief by clear and convincing evidence,” Colorado said in its brief. “This court has never held, as Florida suggests, that the burden decreases, or `the equation changes,’ after a complaining state has proven only part of its case, namely, an alleged injury.”

The Supreme Court case is the result of a lawsuit filed by Florida in 2013 after the collapse in the prior year of the Apalachicola oyster industry, which normally supplies 90 percent of the oysters in Florida and 10 percent of the nation’s oysters.

But the fight between the states over water flow in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system has gone on for decades, leaving officials in both states bitterly divided over the issue and resulting in costly litigation.

Last spring, the Florida House Appropriations Committee estimated that Florida had spent some $72 million in legal fees in the fight from 2001 to early 2016.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Florida GOP leaders urge focus as mid-terms gear up

Florida Republican leaders Saturday talked of the need to drown out media chatter amid predictions of Democratic gains in this year’s mid-term elections and attacks on the GOP’s unconventional president.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio told members of the Republican Party of Florida gathered for an annual meeting in Orlando to stick with the game plan of policy and tax reform and judicial appointments pushed by President Donald Trump.

“All the headlines in the year to come are going to be about how Republicans are going to get wiped out because in a mid-term election, the president’s party always loses seats. But I would just say this is not a conventional president,” Rubio said to applause. “I think if we’ve learned anything in the last year-and-a-half is that Americans have changed a lot in the way they view politics and in the way they consume news and information. And the country is facing some real stark choices.”

Party Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, a state representative from Spring Hill, advised members to maintain “grassroots” efforts that worked in 2016, as the GOP tries this year to keep the governor’s mansion and state Cabinet in “capable Republican hands” and to “finally send (Democratic U.S. Sen.) Bill Nelson into a final retirement.”

“Then we (can) put the final nail in the coffin of the Florida Democratic Party,” Ingoglia added.

Still, the two-day conference was not all about rallying the troops and harmony.

In a surprisingly divisive contest among “Trump Republicans,” Kathleen King was elected to complete the final two years of the term of former Florida Republican National Committeewoman Sharon Day.

Day, a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, stepped down last year when she was named by Trump as ambassador to Costa Rica.

King, the Manatee County Republican chairwoman, was appointed in the fall as an interim replacement for Day. She received 128 votes Saturday from among 177 state party members to defeat Karen Giorno of West Palm Beach.

Giorno served as Trump’s state director during the 2016 primary. But she was moved out of that role during a campaign shakeup in September 2016 that saw veteran campaign strategist Susie Wiles become the new Florida director, a matter that was played up in support of King on social media prior to Saturday’s vote.

Tony Ledbetter, chairman of the Volusia County Republican Executive Committee who backed Giorno, denounced the online attacks against his candidate’s lack of party credentials as “fake news.”

“For 25 years (Giorno’s) been working presidential campaigns,” Ledbetter said of Giorno while both candidates met with various party caucuses Friday night.

Giorno said Saturday it was “not fair” to call her an outsider, pointing to her resume as a strategist for national Republican figures and existing relationships with Trump and Gov. Rick Scott.

She had criticized King as an “establishment figure” with no national political experience.

The party’s committeewoman, committeeman and party chairman represent the state on the Republican National Committee.

Saturday’s meeting also came on the heels of U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Republican from Palm Coast, vowing to “drain the swamp in Tallahassee” as he formally jumped into the gubernatorial contest on Friday.

Rival candidate Adam Putnam, who was among a number of statewide candidates making the rounds at the conference Friday night, dismissed the notion that the Republican-dominated state Capitol resembles the Washington quagmire.

“Washington is a swamp. A big part of the reason I left was to come home where you can make a difference, you make an impact, you can drive an agenda,” said Putnam, a congressman before getting elected in 2010 to the first of his two terms as state agriculture commissioner. “And that’s exactly what we’ve done. We’ve transformed the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in the last seven years. And with Gov. Scott we have brought Florida back from the brink. I think you can pull any random 20 people out of a Circle K and ask them where the real swamp is and all of them would know that it is Washington.”

DeSantis, who on Saturday gave a partisan overview of where Congress is going in 2018, told reporters that his “swamp” comparison was more in reference to a culture where sexual harassment and entitlement behavior are rampant in both locations.

“I think the thing that we’ve seen in Tallahassee is a lot of people having to resign from the Legislature. A lot of bad conduct has come out. I think there are problems with harassment that need to be addressed,” DeSantis said. “In Washington, the bureaucracy really doesn’t change when Republican get in there. It’s a permanent bureaucracy. So, it’s a little bit different.”

A number of this year’s statewide candidates addressed different caucuses Friday, with some hosting ice cream socials.

State Rep. Jay Fant of Jacksonville, running for attorney general on a platform of “God and family, the United States Constitution and free enterprise,” vowed to prosecute elected officials who support “sanctuary cities” and told party members that “you want to see Planned Parenthood go away. I want to see them go away the very first day I’m attorney general.”

Former Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Ashley Moody, also running to replace term-limited Attorney General Pam Bondi, pointed to courtroom experience on issues ranging from the opioid epidemic to human trafficking and senior abuse.

“These are complicated prosecutions,” Moody said. “You need somebody who has handled these in the past. This is not time for Florida to elect an attorney general who is a politician. We need a practitioner.”

While Ingoglia noted statewide candidates in attendance, he acknowledged that some state lawmakers were excusably absent on Saturday, as this was the final weekend to raise money before Tuesday’s start of the 2018 legislative session. Legislators are prohibited from fundraising during the 60-day session.

Scott, meanwhile, is widely expected to challenge Nelson for the U.S. Senate seat, though he has not declared his candidacy. Scott was not in attendance at the party meeting.

A schedule released by the governor’s office had him in Hollywood on Saturday afternoon to attend services for Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael David Ryan, who died Dec. 31 after collapsing outside a jail.

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