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Michael Beltran sues for defamation over HD 57 ‘hit piece’

Michael Beltran, Republican candidate for House District 57, is suing his GOP rival for the seat, along with his political consultants and others, for defamation because of an “attack mailer” that went out.

The suit was filed earlier this month in Hillsborough County Circuit Civil court.

Beltran, a Harvard Law alum, says Republican opponent Sean McCoy and the newly formed political committee Veterans for Truth are responsible for a “defamatory hit piece” that accused him of helping an illegal alien guilty of multiple re-entries into the U.S. to “get out of jail and back on our streets.”

Beltran says that’s a lie. He claims the only time he represented an illegal alien was when a judge appointed him to represent a former client who faced a life sentence; Beltran allegedly requested a 15-year sentence followed by deportation, which would save taxpayer money.

Sean McCoy

He names consultants Anthony Pedicini and Thomas Piccolo of Tampa’s Strategic Imagement Management, as well as Veterans for Truth chair Bill Helmich, a Tallahassee lobbyist, as defendants. McCoy is a West Point graduate and U.S. Army veteran.

Beltran seeks “compensatory damages exceeding $15,000.00, plus court costs (and) injunctive relief.” He says the mailer also has his head Photoshopped onto someone else’s body.

His “reputation as a conservative Republican” is an asset in his campaign, Beltran adds. Among other things, he believes that “immigration laws must be enforced, the border must be secured, that frivolous asylum claims should be promptly denied, and that all illegal aliens should be deported promptly.”

Messages seeking comment have been left with the lawyers involved.

HD 57 is currently represented by Lithia Republican Jake Raburn, who announced he was not running for re-election to devote more time to family and business.


The Baylawsuits News Service contributed to this post.

‘Please explain’: Legislative panel again questions marijuana regulators

A special panel of lawmakers continues to demand answers from medical marijuana regulators, according to a new letter obtained Tuesday through a public record request.

Among the latest queries from the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee (JAPC): The identities of “subject matter experts” that the Department of Health plans to use to evaluate license applications, and whether a rule governing a license reserved for a black farmer contradicts state law.

Not mentioned in the committee’s Aug. 17 letter, however, is a Tallahassee judge’s ruling earlier this month that the medical marijuana law’s carve-out of special categories of licenses is unconstitutional.

JAPC ensures that agencies write rules that line up with statutes passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor. The department regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

Health spokesman Brad Dalton said the agency’s lawyers were “still reviewing the letter,” and “no response has been authored at this time.”

The 9-page JAPC letter, signed by Chief Attorney Marjorie C. Holladay, starts many of its paragraphs with “please explain” or “please correct.”

For instance, “Please explain how an applicant can explain its plan for the recall of medical marijuana products based on a testing result when the department has not proposed or adopted rules regarding testing.”

It dings regulators for conflating “license” and “registration” as used for medical cannabis providers, known as “medical marijuana treatment centers,” saying “the terms are not interchangeable.”

“The Legislature’s use of the terms ‘license’ and ‘licensure’ … was deliberate and indicates a preference for the use of those terms, and the use of the word ‘registration’ within that context is inconsistent with the statute,” Holladay wrote.

She even asks why one regulation “only requires the applicant’s floor plan to demonstrate that it has outdoor lighting” when state law “requires a medical marijuana treatment center to ensure that its outdoor premises have sufficient lighting from dusk until dawn.”

The missive comes less than a month after Circuit Judge Charles W. Dodson struck down several parts of the law that implements the constitutional amendment – passed by 71 percent of voters in 2016 – that authorized medicinal cannabis.

The ruling came in a challenge brought by Florigrown, which had been denied a chance to become a provider. The company is partly owned by free speech advocate and Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner.

He is a medical marijuana patient himself, having won a ruling to grow his own marijuana and make juice of it to keep his cancer from recurring. That’s under appeal by the state.

The letter is another salvo by legislators, many of whom have been exasperated over what they see as the department’s sluggishness in implementing medical marijuana.

At a meeting this February, JAPC formally approved 17 individual objections and listed more than 40 distinct operations violations “with no standards or guidance, thereby vesting unbridled discretion in the Department.”

The committee also sent more than a dozen letters to the department giving Health officials a heads-up as to concerns—to be met with no response.

As a reminder of its displeasure, the Legislature also included a provision in the 2018-19 state budget that freezes a portion of salaries and benefits for the department’s top brass until they get going on putting new rules in place.

The full letter is below:


Loan for Amendment 1 passage sparks suit

Two environmental groups may soon duel in court over an alleged unpaid debt from an effort to get a state constitutional amendment on the environment before voters in 2014.

The Florida Wildlife Federation last week sued Florida Conservation Voters (FCV) over what it says is an outstanding amount of $72,500 from a loan the federation made to FCV, then called Florida’s Water and Land Legacy. The suit was filed in Leon County Circuit Civil court.

In December 2013, the federation lent the group $80,000 “for use in the initiative petition campaign to place the Water and Land Conservation Amendment on the Florida 2014 General Election ballot,” the complaint says, with the expectation of repayment by September 2014.

But FCV paid back only $7,500 and defaulted on the loan, according to the complaint. A request for comment was sent Monday to Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters. 

What became known as the Water and Land Legacy Amendment, or Amendment 1, mandated state spending for land and water conservation. It got ballot placement in 2014, receiving a landslide of nearly 75 percent, or more than 4.2 million “yes” votes.

Amendment 1 requires state officials to set aside 33 percent of the money from the real estate “documentary stamp” tax to protect Florida’s environmentally sensitive areas for 20 years.

Advocates — including the federation and Sierra Club — sued the next year, saying lawmakers wrongly appropriated money for, among other things, “salaries and ordinary expenses of state agencies” tasked with executing the amendment’s mandate.

They won a summary judgment in June from Circuit Judge Charles Dodson; the case now is under appeal. The present case over the loan also has been assigned to Dodson.

Jeff Greene pledges $5 million for down-ballot races

Jeff Greene announced late Monday that he’s putting $5 million into a committee to help Florida Democrats in other races.

The Palm Beach billionaire is following through with an earlier campaign promise. He announced publicly in a July gubernatorial debate that he’d help elect Democrats down the ballot.

The money will flow through the Florida Defense Fund PAC. The committee formed at the end of July, according to a state database.

While the $5 million has yet to show on weekly financial reports, they will soon reflect contributions to several state Senate races and at least two statewide races for Cabinet seats.

According to Greene, he’s already sent money to Attorney General candidate Sean Shaw and Agriculture Commissioner candidate Nikki Fried, both Democrats who have lesser-funded opponents to beat on Aug. 28.

Among Democratic candidates for the state Senate who have received checks, according to Greene: Kayser Enneking, a candidate for SD 8; Amanda Murphy, SD 16; Janet Cruz, SD 18;  Bob Doyel, SD 22;  Lindsay Cross, SD 24;  Rob Levy, SD 25; and David Perez, SD 36.

Doyel, Enneking and Perez face primary battles against other Democrats. Each is a seat the party is attempting to take away from Republicans.

“I’m the only person in this race able to go toe-to-toe and dollar-for-dollar with the Republicans to win in November,” Greene said in a statement. “And I’m committed to taking the Senate with me.”

It’s unclear if Greene will help fund federal races, but in a statement accompanying news of the PAC, he said, “This is my vision for Florida: I will help Democrats take back the Senate, make a dent in the House, and defend Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat against Rick Scott.”

Nelson, a Democrat, is facing a tough challenge from Scott, the current Governor. We’ve reached out to Greene asking whether he’ll contribute to Nelson’s reelection bid.

Saying he’ll “make a dent in the House,” Greene also appears willing to contribute to close races in that chamber.

Greene, who joined late the other four Democratic candidates for Governor, has self-funded and spent around $29 million on his own race against Gwen Graham, Philip Levine, Andrew Gillum and Chris King. A billionaire, Greene believes that he’s the only candidate who can post a formidable financial fight against the Republican candidate, either Ron DeSantis or Adam Putnam.

“My opponents and I all have great ideas – but Democrats have had great ideas for the past 20 years, and we’re all tired of losing,” said Greene.

After divorce, House candidate Terry Power is deadbeat to ex-wife, lawyer suggests

The lawyer for the ex-wife of House District 64 candidate Terry Power disputes Power’s previous claim that he doesn’t owe his ex-wife any alimony, according to a letter obtained by Florida Politics.

Rather, lawyer Andrew D. Reder told Power – an Oldsmar retirement plan consultant – that ex-wife Murielle Fournier is in fact legally entitled to “$87,904 plus statutory interest,” noting she “is simply seeking to collect the past due amount you are court-ordered to pay.”

What’s more, Reder said in the letter that “in light of the approximate $74,000 you have recently donated and loaned to your political campaign for the Florida House of Representatives, your braggadocios claims of being a ‘successful business owner,’ and your pledge to donate 100 percent of your salary if elected, your ability to pay Ms. Fournier is clear and evident.”

Their divorce case, first filed in 2008, has been called “the divorce from hell” by the Tampa Bay Times, spawning a nearly 6,000-word story by one of that paper’s Pulitzer Prize winners.

Power has gone on the record refusing to talk to Florida Politics, saying “I’ll be litigating the matter in court, not in the media.” Fournier declined comment, referring questions to Reder, who also declined to comment.

Power has tweeted about “Florida’s outdated alimony laws,” saying he “can’t ever marry my fiancee of eight years … My alimony obligation would increase by $3,000 a month if I did!”

Reder quoted from the 2012 “final judgment” in the matter, which said Power paid Fournier only “$100 for alimony in December 2010, and … has not paid anything since. The Court finds that the past due alimony is $87,904. At the final hearing, the Husband did not contest this amount…”

He added that Power’s “willful failure to pay and intentional divestiture of assets is a contemptuous violation of the Court’s Final Judgment evincing your blatant disregard for Florida law and our judicial system.” Fournier has a contempt motion pending against Power.

Power is challenging incumbent state Rep. Jamie Grant in the Republican primary for the seat, which covers northwest Hillsborough County and a slice of eastern Pinellas County. The area leans heavily Republican.

The primary is Aug. 28; the general election is Nov. 6. Previous stories are here and here.

NRA to give lawmakers extra credit for voting against Stand Your Ground session

The National Rifle Association announced it will boost the grades of lawmakers who voted against holding a special session to review Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

That’s especially important to lawmakers who supported a school safety bill passed after the Parkland shooting and took a hit to their legislative scorecards.

“The anti-Second Amendment, Democrat politicians who demanded that the Legislature vote on calling a Special Session to repeal Florida’s Stand Your Ground self-defense law either unwittingly or intentionally provided a great service to Republican incumbent Legislators,” said Marion Hammer, the NRA’s top lobbyist in Tallahassee.

A number of lawmakers who previously enjoyed ‘A’ ratings from the NRA saw scores plummet after supporting a school safety package in the legislature following a Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School.

Among other things, the bill increased the legal age for purchasing a weapon like that used in the shooting to 21, and it banned the sale of bump stocks, devices that can convert semi-automatic weapons to operate like automatic military weapons.

Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into law in March and the NRA immediately filed a lawsuit against the state.

“Republican incumbents who previously had NRA ratings of ‘A’ or ‘A+’ and voted in favor of SB 7026, the so-called ‘school safety’ bill that contained gun control provisions, had their ratings dropped to a ‘C,’” Hammer said.

But in the wake of another shooting, this one resulting in the death of Markeis McGlockton in July, Democrats called for a special session on the application of the Stand Your Ground law. But the call failed along largely partisan lines.

The self-defense law, a major legislative achievement of NRA lobbying in Florida dating back to 2005, was originally cited when Sheriff Bob Gualtieri chose not to immediately arrest Michael Drejka, McGlockton’s killer.

The State Attorney’s Office last week announced it would seek charges against Drejka and he was arrested.

Ironically, Hammer was on the same side as Democrats calling for the arrest, arguing the Stand Your Ground language was misapplied in the McGlockton death, she told Politico.

But the NRA said supporting a special session to review Stand Your Ground should be viewed effectively as a vote to repeal the law and undercut the Castle Doctrine, another part of Florida’s law related to self-defense.

Now, lawmakers stinging from the Parkland vote but who voted against holding a special session will see their NRA grade increased as high as a ‘B-,’ Hammer said.

“As voters are heading to the polls in the Primary, they can be confident in the knowledge that they know exactly where their elected officials stand on the important constitutional right of self-defense. Primary grades were changed immediately,” Hammer said.

“When the grades have been posted for the General Election, incumbents will have been regraded to reflect the vote on the call for a Special Session.”

Michael Gottlieb tops Democratic competitors in HD 98 fundraising

Attorney Michael Gottlieb held onto his fundraising lead in the packed Democratic primary for House District 98. That’s despite Gottlieb dropping nearly $60,000 on expenditures in the last reporting period alone.

The most recent report filed with the Florida Division of Elections covers the period of Aug. 4 to Aug. 10. Gottlieb earned just over $6,000 in contributions during that time. The vast majority of that money came from various PACs, law firms and attorneys.

Grieco spent nearly 10 times as much as he brought in, with expenditures approaching $60,000. More than $56,000 of that went toward campaign materials ahead of the Aug. 28 primary. Gottlieb is one of five Democrats running for the seat being vacated by state Rep. Katie Edwards-Walpole, who decided not to pursue another term.

Over the course of the campaign, Gottlieb has spent more than he’s taken in from outside sources. But a $50,000 self-loan from March is keeping his campaign in the black, with more than $40,000 still on hand. That number leads the Democratic field.

Andrew Dolberg, a Plantation entrepreneur, came in second in the most recent fundraising period. He earned more than $2,600 in outside contributions. The majority of that came from individual donations ranging from $5 to $250.

Dolberg spent nearly $9,000 during the period, as the primary approaches its conclusion. Nearly $8,000 of that was for mail printing services.

Like Grieco, he has spent more than he’s taken in from outside donations overall. But $24,500 in self-loans leave Dolberg with more than $17,000 still available.

That number is topped by Elaine Geller, who retains more than $25,000 in cash on hand. She pulled in just $2,000 in this most recent period thanks to a pair of $1,000 donations from Agro-Industrial Management, Inc. and Americas Export Corporation.

However, Geller spent just $31.45 during the period, leaving her with more cash than Dolberg for the campaign’s final full week.

Those three significantly outpace the remaining two Democrats. Daniel Stallone raised just over $1,000 from a pair of donations last period. He listed no expenditures, but holds on to less than $3,000 cash on hand.

Stephen Korka listed no new fundraising data whatsoever last period. His only money raised comes in the form of self-loans, and he’s spent all of that cash already.

Republican Joseph Cruz also filed to run in the largely Democratic district. He listed just over $300 of expenditures last period, mostly for custom t-shirts. Cruz earned no contributions from Aug. 4 to Aug. 10, according to his filing. He has just over $4,000 cash on hand remaining.

Elections complaint filed against non-profit backing Olysha Magruder in SD 8

A Florida non-profit known as Liberation Ocala African American Council Inc. has been making a late push for Democratic Senate District 8 candidate Olysha Magruder, but its methods may be running afoul of state campaign finance laws.

The company, run by former Marion County NAACP president Whitfield Jenkins, has footed the bill for a number of direct mail campaigns supporting Magruder, a former school teacher and activist, and opposing her primary opponent, Kayser Enneking.

The mailers pitch Magruder with boilerplate language, such as claiming she’s “fighting for equality and progressive policy” and touting her as an “educator, mother and progressive leader.” Interestingly, one of the pro-Magruder ads touts the Ohio native as the “authentic progressive who is active in our community” despite Enneking being a Gainesville native — GHS diploma and all — who has been active in the community for decades longer.

The mailers also hit Enneking, a physician, for being “privileged” and unaware of the struggles “average citizens face,” with another attempting to paint their primary battle as “rigged” and portraying Enneking as a “puppet” of the Florida Democratic Party.

“The Democratic Party establishment has already spent over $107,000 on Kayser Enneking, paying for her staff and campaign headquarters. When the establishment rigs our primaries, the people lose,” the mailer reads.

That assertion has little basis in fact, as Enneking’s political committee, Florida Knows Excellence, has kicked in $50,000 in contributions to the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee to offset those payments, which were cycled back in as “in-kind” contributions, a common practice in state campaigns.

Most of the rest of the gap came through research and polling work, which would be of benefit to the eventual Democratic nominee regardless.

But despite the numerous factual errors in the mailers, there are many questions about whether they are legal and how they are being paid for.

Ft. Lauderdale attorney Jason B. Blank, who is not affiliated with Enneking’s campaign, filed a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission seeking clarification on whether non-profit corporations can advocate for or against individual candidates without following the reporting guidelines of a political committee.

According to the Florida Division of Elections, that’s a resounding “no.”

The legalese response: “Florida statutory law requires a business entity or corporation formed under Chapter 607 or Chapter 617, Florida Statutes, for purposes other than to support or oppose issues or candidates, which uses its business/corporate treasury funds to make independent expenditures in excess of $500 that support of oppose a candidate to register and report as a political committee,” Division of Elections director Gisela Wrote in response to the complaint.

As of Aug. 17, there was no committee going by the Liberation Ocala African American Council, nor was their a committee where Jenkins was listed as a chair, treasurer or registered agent.

Upon learning of the complaint, Enneking campaign manager Jake Flaherty said he thinks there’s some foul play involving Enneking and Magruder’s mutual opponent, incumbent Republican Sen. Keith Perry.

“It is clear that Keith Perry and the Republicans are terrified at the prospect of facing Dr. Kayser Enneking in the general election. Her message of increased access to healthcare, better public education, and protecting the environment is one that resonates with voters and is a stark contrast to Keith Perry’s voting record,” he said. “That’s exactly why we are seeing dark money used to fund opposition to her in this primary, and I would not be surprised if the Republicans are directly involved.”

Enneking holds a massive fundraising lead a little over a week out from the primary election and recently started running TV ads for her campaign. As of Aug. 10, she had raised nearly $500,000 and had more than $326,000 in the bank, compared to about $35,000 raised and $6,800 banked for Magruder.

The FEC complaint, complete with scans of the mailers, is below.

2018.08.17 FEC Complaint Packet by Andrew Wilson on Scribd

Diverse clients boost Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney bottom line

Lobbying firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney brought in an estimated $720,000 in fees during between April and June according to newly filed compensation reports.

Lobbyists are required to report compensation from their principals in ranges covering $10,000 increments. Using the median number from those ranges shows the firm’s efforts yielded $430,000 in revenue for legislative lobbying and another $290,000 for work before the Governor and Cabinet.

The haul represents only a minor backslide from the firm’s prior report, which saw the team — Keith Arnold, Brett Bacot, Marnie George, Michael Harrell, Paul Hawkes, Jim Magill, Kimberly McGlynn, Ivette O’Doski, Timothy Stanfield and Mac Stipanovich — bring in $785,000 during the three months that included the 2018 Legislative Session.

Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s legislative compensation report lists State Farm and U.S. Sugar as its top paying clients this go around, with each paying between $30,000 and $40,000 over the three-month stretch.

Communications infrastructure firm Vertical Bridge Holdings and health insurer Gateway Health followed with an estimated $25,000 in payments each, while another 16 principals paid between $10,000 and $20,000 in fees for the quarter.

Among the more recognizable clients in that range were Dosal Tobacco Corporation, the Florida League of Cities and Universal Orlando.

The executive branch report showed nearly the same clientele, though their reported pay ranges were jumbled.

Marsy’s Law for All, the group backing a ballot measure that would enshrine a crime victim bill of rights in the state constitution, paid an estimated $35,000 for executive lobbying in Q2. That makes it the largest of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s 53 executive branch contracts.

Checking in at the next rung were IT services firms Carahsoft Technology Corporation and CGI Technologies & Solutions followed by a range of contracts measuring in in at $15,000 apiece.

One of those clients was U.S. Sugar, which makes the company the firm’s top client overall in Q2 — combined with it’s legislative branch payments, the Clewiston-based company made between $40,000 and $60,000 in payments to Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s during the second quarter.

Overall, the firm’s Q2 income could have been as high as $1 million if all their clients paid the top dollar in their reported ranges. On the low end, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney reports receiving at least $500,000 this spring.

Including Q1, the firm has collected an estimated $1.5 million in fees so far this year.

PinPoint Results notches $405K in Q2 lobbying fees

The four government affairs experts at PinPoint Results saw their earnings grow to an estimated $405K second quarter of the year, according to newly filed compensation reports.

The new filing indicates Robert Beck, Bryan Cherry, Tanya Jackson and the firm’s new addition, former state Rep. Marti Coley Eubanks, brought in $225,000 in pay from their legislative branch clients and tacked on another $180,000 for executive branch lobbying work — those figures best the firm’s estimated Q1 earnings, which clocked in at $375,000.

Lobbyists are required to report their pay in ranges covering $10,000 increments. PinPoint Result’s estimated earnings of $405,000 is the sum of the middle number for each contract it reported. If they collected the maximum pay from each client, revenues could have topped $700,000.

The team showed a total of 31 legislative clients in its new filing, a small boost over the 29 principals that recorded during the first quarter. The new additions were St. Petersburg-based Companions & Homemakers, Inc. and the Nemours Foundation, where Eubanks had worked as governmental relations director before joining the firm in May.

Topping the legislative report were seven principals that paid an estimated $15,000 apiece: non-profit behavioral health care organization Aspire Health Partners, the Broward County government, the Florida Council on Aging, health services company Independent Living Systems, business software company Infor, medical software company Mediware Information Systems and labor union SEIU 1199 United Health Care Workers.

Another 21 clients, including the new additions, were marked down as paying up to $10,000 apiece for the quarter.

The executive report consisted of the same cast, less Jacksonville-based senior care company Aging True, which only retained the firm for legislative branch work.

Infor and Independent Living Systems topped the executive report as well, with each pitching in another $10,000 to $20,000 for advocacy in front of the Governor and Cabinet. They were joined in that bracket by Tallahassee-based Capital Asphalt. The remaining 27 paid clients that retained Pinpoint Results for executive branch lobbying contributed an estimated $5,000 apiece to the firm’s coffers.

Based on median figures, PinPoint Results has received an estimated $780,000 in lobbying pay through the first six months of the year, putting the government affairs team on track to crack $1.5 million in pay for the whole of 2018.

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