Influence Archives - Florida Politics

Sprint hires Ballard Partners amid deal talks

Sprint Corp hired a lobbying firm with close ties to U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration on Sept. 1, adding to Sprint’s stable of federal lobbyists as it nears a deal to merge with wireless rival T-Mobile US Inc, according to disclosures filed with the U.S. Congress this week.

T-Mobile is close to agreeing to tentative terms on a deal with Sprint that would merge the third and fourth largest U.S. wireless carriers, people familiar with the matter said on Friday.

The deal would face multiple regulatory hurdles, needing sign-offs from antitrust regulators and the Federal Communications Commission.

Sprint’s new hire, Ballard Partners, will lobby on “general government policies and regulations,” according to the disclosure, which did not include financial details.

The firm, founded by Brian Ballard, an early Trump supporter, joins a long list of Sprint in-house and contracted lobbyists. In the first six months of 2017, the wireless provider spent $1.2 million on lobbying in Washington, according to disclosure filings earlier this year.

In 2011, the Justice Department and the FCC shot down a deal between AT&T and T-Mobile USA. In 2014, the regulators told Masayoshi Son, founder of SoftBank, which owns a majority stake in Sprint, not to seek approval for a deal with T-Mobile USA, which prompted the companies to drop merger talks.

The lobbying effort would be difficult since the Sprint-T-Mobile deal would potentially result in massive job cuts at the retail level. T-Mobile has said it expects to have 17,000 retail locations by year-end while Sprint has said it has about 4,500 retail locations.

The companies would face serious questions about job cuts from merging retail networks.

“Opponents are going to argue why are we helping a German company and a Japanese company do better by laying off thousands of Americans. If I wanted to shoot this merger in the head, that’s how I would do it,” said Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics.

Trump met in December with SoftBank’s Son, who pledged a $50 billion investment and 50,000 new U.S. jobs. Son in February said the Japanese firm should benefit from Trump’s promised deregulation of American business.

But Trump and T Mobile’s chief executive officer, John Legere, have feuded publicly since 2015. Legere complained about a street drummer outside a Trump hotel, which prompted Trump to call T Mobile’s service “terrible” in a tweet.

The companies could also face questions from the Justice Department on the merger’s effect on consumers with pre-paid plans popular with lower-income consumers because they tend to be cheaper and do not require credit checks.

Derek Turner, research director for the advocacy group Free Press, estimated the deal would create a pre-paid giant with well over half of the U.S. market.

“T-Mobile and Sprint have lower prices, place a greater emphasis on credit check-free plans, and are the top suppliers to the more affordable reseller carriers. This merger will harm all wireless customers, but will bring disproportionate harm upon lower-income users, many of whom rely on T-Mobile and Sprint’s more affordable data services as their only home internet connection,” Turner said.

Ballard is a regional vice chair of the Republican National Committee and helps leads the party’s fundraising.

A lobbyist listed as the Ballard Partners contact on the Sprint account did not respond to a request for comment. Sprint declined to comment.

The transaction would significantly consolidate the U.S. telecommunications market and represent the first transformative U.S. merger with significant antitrust risk since Trump’s inauguration in January.

In January, Ballard opened a Washington outpost of his lobbying operation. Susie Wiles, Trump’s Florida campaign manager during the 2016 election, is also a member of the Ballard Partner’s Washington office but is not listed as working for Sprint.

Via Reuters. Republished with permission.

Marijuana law challenged over black farmer license

A lawsuit filed Friday challenges the constitutionality of part of a new state law that requires a coveted medical-marijuana license to go to a black farmer.

Columbus Smith, a black farmer from Panama City, filed the lawsuit, alleging that the law is so narrowly drawn that only a handful of black farmers could qualify for the license. The lawsuit contends that the measure is what is known as an unconstitutional “special law.”

The law, passed during a June special session, was designed to carry out a November constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana in Florida. A key part of the law was expanding the number of licenses that would be awarded to operators in what could turn into a highly lucrative industry.

While the law called for an overall increase of 10 licenses by Oct. 3, it also specified that one license go to a black farmer who had been part of settled lawsuits about discrimination by the federal government against black farmers. The law also said that the black farmer who receives a license would have to be a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association-Florida Chapter.

The lawsuit said Smith meets the qualification of being part of the litigation about discrimination against black farmers. But it said he has not been allowed to join the black farmers association, effectively preventing him from receiving a license.

“There is no rational basis for limiting the opportunity of black farmers to obtain a medical marijuana license to only the few members of that class of black farmers who are also member of a specific private association,” said the lawsuit, filed in Leon County circuit court.

The Florida Constitution bars “special” laws, in part, that relate to “grant of privilege to a private corporation.” The lawsuit alleges that the medical-marijuana law violates that part of the Constitution.

The lawsuit names the Florida Department of Health, which is responsible for awarding licenses, as the defendant. It seeks an injunction against issuing a license under the part of the law related to black farmers.

Licenses to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana have been one of the most-controversial issues in the rapidly developing industry.

Representatives of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association-Florida Chapter said Friday they could not comment on the lawsuit until their attorneys had time to review it.

Health officials granted the first medical marijuana licenses in 2015, after the Legislature authorized non-euphoric medical marijuana for patients with severe epilepsy, muscle spasms or cancer. Nurseries that had been in business for 30 years or longer in Florida and grew at least 400,000 plants were eligible to apply.

In expanding the number of licenses this year, the Legislature carved out a license for black farmers who complained that they were shut out from applying for the original licenses because none of the black farmers met the eligibility criteria.

Part of the reason that the black farmers don’t have operations as expansive as their white and Hispanic counterparts may be blamed on discriminatory lending practices by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that led to a class-action lawsuit, known as “Pigford I,” filed in 1981. A second lawsuit, called “Pigford II,” was finally settled by a federal judge in 2011. Many of the claimants have yet to receive their portions of the $1.3 billion settlement, and others have died waiting for the cases to be resolved.

“They have carved out most of the small farmers, not only the black farmers, but the small farmers. We can’t compete with those companies. It’s just a shame. It’s a travesty. Again, going back 30 years ago with the USDA, the same thing you saw in Pigford I and Pigford II. It’s the same thing again, right here in the state of Florida. It’s not right,” Howard Gunn, an Ocala farmer who is the president of the black farmers’ association, said in 2015.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Personnel note: FMPA names new general counsel

The Florida Municipal Power Agency has named Jody Lamar Finklea as its next general counsel and chief legal officer. The announcement came Friday.

Finklea, an graduate of the Florida State University College of Law who also holds a master’s degree in public administration, will take over for retiring General Counsel Fred Bryant. He has been with FMPA since 2001 and was Bryant’s deputy general counsel before the FMPA board of directors voted on the promotion.

“FMPA is fortunate to have someone with Jody’s knowledge and expertise,” said Bill Conrad, who chairs the FMPA board of directors. “Jody has a deep understanding of Florida law and its application to utilities and cities. He knows FMPA’s business in depth, making this transition seamless.”

Finklea, a board-certified expert in city, county and local government law, is also active in the American Public Power Association, the national trade group for public utilities. It recognized him as a “Rising Star in Public Power” in 2011.

In his new role, Finklea will also represent the Florida Municipal Electric Association, which has a membership largely mirroring the consortium of utilities that own FMPA.

FMPA is a wholesale power agency founded in 1978 and is jointly owned by 31 municipal power companies, including the Orlando Utilities Commission, Gainesville Regional Utilities and Ocala Electric Utility.

The group says its membership provides power to 2 million Floridians – about 10 percent of the state.

Kim Daniels wants state scrutiny of local school board financial management

State Rep. Kim Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat, filed a bill Friday that would tighten state oversight of local school board financial management.

HB 175 would require an annual “self-assessment” from school districts beginning in FY 18-19, as well as recommendations from superintendents and a noticed meeting in which school boards discuss results and recommendations.

Daniels’ concern about school board financing seems to have begun this summer, when she seconded Rep. Jason Fischer in his “deep concern” about the Duval County School Board not taking “formal action” to schedule an audit to account for $21 million of what Fischer deems to be overspending in the current budget year. [Letter].

Daniels wrote Joint Legislative Auditing Committee Chair Debbie Mayfield, noting “misstatements” by Duval School Board Chairwoman Paula Wright in the wake of Fischer’s call for an state forensic audit.

Wright claimed that there had been a vote to conduct a forensic audit at her recommendation, but Daniels and Fischer contended that did not occur.

Mayfield opted not to pursue an audit; Daniels’ bill is the logical outgrowth of that.

Expect numerous Republican co-sponsors for this legislation, in a similar vein to Daniels’ “Religious Freedom in Public Schools” bill, a priority of more Republicans than Democrats in the last Legislative Session.

Daniels, meanwhile, is an interesting choice for sponsorship of this bill.

This year, the Florida Ethics Commission found probable cause that Daniels made material misrepresentations on financial disclosure forms from 2012 to 2014, when she was on the Jacksonville City Council.

Daniels had not listed certain properties owned by her churches.

Daniels has faced similar scrutiny related to campaign finance before: the Florida Elections Commission found probable cause that Daniels spent campaign funds advertising one of her religious books, the Demon Dictionary, in a vanity-press publication called Shofar.

Daniels, a traveling evangelist, went through a rocky divorce earlier this decade, one which led to sensational allegations regarding her management of household and church finances.

Beyond those issues, she recently made news by suggesting that “prophets” with a certain gnostic knowledge saw Hurricane Irma‘s “storm surge” coming.

“Nothing happens except God reveal it to prophets first,” Daniels observed as the death-dealing superstorm enveloped the peninsula.

 

Personnel note: Ana Ceballos joins Extensive Enterprises Media

Ana Ceballos, who was The Associated Press’ legislative session relief reporter in Florida this year, is joining the lineup of writers for Extensive Enterprises Media, publisher Peter Schorsch announced Friday.

Ceballos—whose stint included writing about immigration, the environment, criminal justice and social welfare for the AP—will join Capitol correspondent Jim Rosica in state politics and government coverage from Tallahassee. Michael Moline continues to cover the insurance industry for the organization.

She’ll also help edit and manage some of EEM’s growing portfolio of email newsletters, including the flagship SUNBURN, the “Last Call” evening news roundup, and “60 Days,” which comes out nightly during session.

“The first time I read one of Ana’s stories, I was deeply impressed,” Schorsch said. “There was an intellectual dexterity to her writing that told me she would be a perfect fit for our modular platform delivery system.”

Her original reporting will appear on the Florida Politics site, with guest appearances on SaintPetersblog and Orlando Rising, EEM’s newest website dedicated to Central Florida politics, as well as INFLUENCE Magazine, covering the personalities and policy in the legislative process.

Ceballos, who speaks English and Spanish and also is a photographer, lately has been covering immigration stories at the U.S.-Mexico border as a freelancer. She was born in California and raised in Mexico.

“It’s exciting to have the opportunity to come back to the country’s biggest swing state to cover important policy debates and nationally-watched elections,” she said. “I’m looking forward to joining the team.”

Ceballos, 26, previously worked for the Monterey County Weekly and Monterey County Herald, covering public safety and breaking news. She’s interned at the San Diego Union Tribune and the Trentonian in Trenton, N.J., the state’s capital.

Ceballos is a Chips Quinn Scholar and won the 2013 Roy W. Howard National Reporting Competition. She got her undergraduate degree from San Diego State University, and a  Photographic Arts Certificate from the University of California, San Diego.

She’s a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Online News Association.  

Follow her on Twitter: @anaceballos_

Aaron Bean takes aim, again, at sanctuary cities

State Sen. Aaron Bean‘s district, which encompasses Nassau County and part of Duval, lacks any sanctuary jurisdictions.

However, for the second straight legislative session, Bean will carry the “Rule of Law Adherence Act” (SB 308).

This bill, asserted Bean when he filed the bill originally, requires wayward local authorities to comply with federal immigration law – a priority of the Donald Trump administration. The bill defines what sanctuary cities are, and gives the State Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General the “right to nudge” non-compliant jurisdictions toward enforcement.

The bill creates a “duty to report” immigration violations for local authorities, while allowing for local ordinances compelling reimbursement of costs incurred on the local level in immigration enforcement.

The bill cleared the Florida House largely along party lines last session, but died in Senate Judiciary — the first of four committees that would have heard it.

When we asked Bean, who is perceived to be a moderate by some, if there was a path through committees to the Senate floor, the Senator allowed on Friday that there’s “not a clear path yet, but I am an optimist.”

Of the bill’s provisions, the sanctuary cities piece is the most notable — especially given that there has been some dispute in recent years as to what comprises a sanctuary city.

The state of Georgia banned these in 2009, and in 2016 required that local governments certify cooperation with federal immigration authorities to receive state funding, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported earlier this year.

Closer to home, Clay County had been listed by the Center for Immigration Studies as a sanctuary jurisdiction; however, Sheriff Darryl Daniels — who has developed a reputation for playing to the right since elected — told WJXT that “national security” required cooperation with ICE.

 “I want illegal immigrants who commit crimes in Clay County to bear the full weight of the law. If that means deportation, then so be it,” Daniels said.

If Bean’s reboot of this bill can get traction in the Florida Senate, there may be state guidance on sanctuary policies.

If not, they will continue to be handled on a more localized basis.

Lawmakers seek tax exemption for diapers

Buying diapers for babies or adults would be free of sales taxes under a proposal filed Thursday in the Florida House.

Minority Leader Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat, filed a measure (HB 163) that would provide a sales-tax exemption on diapers, incontinence undergarments, pads and liners and disposable “baby wipes.”

Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat who gave birth to twins in February, filed a similar measure (SB 56) last month. The bills are filed for the 2018 legislative session, which starts in January.

A similar proposal was filed in the 2017 session but did not make the Legislature’s final tax-cut package.

A Senate staff analysis for the 2017 session estimated that the tax exemption would cut state revenue by $52.1 million a year. Without the exemption for baby wipes, the number would be $40 million.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Highway bill would honor Greg Evers

A 13-mile stretch of State Road 4, a highway that cuts through the Blackwater River State Forest in the Panhandle, would be named after the late former Sen. Greg Evers, under a measure filed Thursday by Rep. Jayer Williamson, a Pace Republican.

Under Williamson’s proposal (HB 171) State Road 4 would be designated the “Senator Greg Evers Memorial Highway” between Munson Highway and State Road 189 in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties.

Evers, 62, died Aug. 21 in a single-vehicle accident near his home in Okaloosa County.

Evers, a Republican, served nine years in the Florida House before his election to the Senate in 2010. Evers left his Senate seat last year to make a bid for the U.S. House but lost the Republican primary to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.

Williamson’s bill is filed for the 2018 legislative session, which starts in January.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Personnel note: Richard Reeves opens RLR Consulting

Lobbyist Richard Reeves, a month after departing GrayRobinson, has set up his own shop, RLR Consulting.

“I have a proven track record of working successfully with individuals and issues across the political spectrum, and I look forward to promoting good public policy before the legislative and executive branches,” Reeves said in a press release.

He originally was with Dean Cannon’s Capitol Insight, which merged with GrayRobinson. Reeves became GrayRobinson’s Senior Director of Government Affairs in Tallahassee after the merger.

The 46-year-old began his career in Florida politics working for now-U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, during Nelson’s 1990 gubernatorial campaign, according to his bio.

In 1995, Reeves moved to Tallahassee to serve Nelson in his role as Insurance Commissioner, acting as an external affairs liaison, including board appointments and legislative affairs related to what is now Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association (FIGA).

Reeves later served as campaign director for Nelson’s 1998 re-election campaign. After the re-election, he went on to become Finance Director for Nelson’s successful U.S. Senate Campaign in 2000.

In 2001, Reeves formed his own firm and began lobbying, “specializing in education, workforce development, insurance, utilities and appropriation issues,” his bio says. 

He also has served as a political consultant for political committees and candidates, including now-U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, in 2004-05. Reeves was finance consultant during Rubio’s successful campaign to become Speaker of the Florida House. 

Joe McCann

Personnel note: Joe McCann to Pittman Law Group

Joe McCann, a former House Democratic Office staff director, has joined the Pittman Law Group as Senior Policy Director, the firm announced Wednesday.

McCann will work alongside attorney Sean Pittman to direct the firm’s lobbying efforts.

McCann was a founding member of Ballard Partners, where he served as senior executive vice president.  

“We are very excited about Joe McCann joining our team,” Pittman said in a statement. “Joe was instrumental in helping to grow one of Tallahassee’s most successful firms, and we look forward to him bringing that experience and expertise.”

Before entering the private sector, McCann held various positions in federal and state campaigns, including serving as campaign manager for Attorney General Bob Butterworth’s final election.

He also was senior legislative aide to former state lawmaker Ron Klein, and a legislative correspondent for former Florida Congressman James Bacchus, both Democrats.

“I’m honored to have the opportunity to add my knowledge and experience to the team at Pittman Law Group,” McCann said. “I have worked with Sean for many years, and have always admired his work ethic and effectiveness on behalf of his clients.”

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