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Northeast Florida fundraising roundup: Paul Renner’s committee leads field

Though Rep. Paul Renner’s political committee was the clubhouse leader in Northeast Florida fundraising in May with $261,500, donors didn’t shy away from other committees and candidates.

Below are those who have reported thus far with May numbers.

Among committees of note: Lenny Curry’s “Build Something That Lasts” brought in $27,000. Sen. Rob Bradley‘s “Working for Florida’s Families” brought in $20,000 (keeping it over $400,000 on hand). And “Pledge This Day,” Rep. Jay Fant‘s committee devoted now to his run for Attorney General, brought in just $9,000 in May.

On the hard money front, Fant did better, with $79,575 of new money; of that sum, $8,000 came from Fant, and $3,000 came from his political committee, “Pledge This Day“.

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Leading local Senators by default, Sen. Aaron Bean brought in $3,500 of new money, bringing him to just over $20,000 on hand. Sen. Audrey Gibson took a W.

Lots of W’s in the House: Rep. Cord Byrd, of deep-red, Beaches-and-Nassau House District 11, took one. As did Rep. Tracie Davis and Rep. Kim Daniels, Democrats from HD 13 and 14. And Rep. Jason Fischer of Southside Jacksonville’s HD 16. And Putnam County Rep. Bobby Payne in HD 19.

Rep. Clay Yarborough‘s $6,100 of May money gives him over $14,000 on hand to defend a safe Republican seat in House District 12. on Jacksonville’s Southside.

In HD 17, St. Johns’ Rep. Cyndi Stevenson saw $750 of new money. In HD 24, Rep. Renner saw $2,500 in hard money, with all the action on the committee level.

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In Duval local elections, a few numbers worthy of reporting.

School Board incumbent Scott Shine is up to $13,000 banked in his 2018 re-election bid.

Running to replace termed out John Crescimbeni in At Large District 2, GOP insider Ron Salem is now over $90,000 on hand after a $13,475 May.

Other candidates in local races thus far have not demonstrated fundraising traction.

‘No comment’ from Katrina Brown on $210K city lawsuit against her companies

The fallout continues from a failed economic development agreement between the city of Jacksonville and “CoWealth” and “Basic Products, LLC“, family businesses of Councilwoman Katrina Brown.

For both businesses, Councilwoman Brown — a member of the Council’s Finance Committee — is listed in SunBiz as the title manager.

Back in 2011, the Browns, via “CoWealth” (one of the two shell companies subject to the current action), got city of Jacksonville grants and loans and a Small Business Administration loan to establish a barbeque sauce plant in Northwest Jacksonville.

The money was contingent on the Browns creating at least 56 permanent jobs.

They fell just 56 jobs short of that number.

CoWealth originally borrowed $2.65 million from Biz Capital, in addition to $380,000 from the city of Jacksonville and $220,000 of grants, for the sauce plant. The city’s interest is subordinate to that of Biz Capital.

That said, the city still has an interest in the matter — and last week, Jacksonville filed a motion for summary judgement for $210,549.99.

Jacksonville City Council members had an ethics training session Monday Morning. We showed up to ask Brown for comment.

Brown, who has a town hall Thursday, said her constituents were not concerned about these looming default judgments.

“That’s not going to be the focus,” Brown said of the town hall. “They won’t be able to bring it up.”

Brown attempted to ward off further questions along these lines, saying that she didn’t “feel good.”

When it was noted that Jacksonville taxpayers — not to mention the Office of General Counsel — didn’t “feel good” about a $210K default, Brown — who drives a new-model Porsche SUV — said she had “no comment.”

“As you walk into an ethics meeting, you have no comment on a $210,000 default,” we asked her. “Do you think $210,000 isn’t real money to taxpayers?”

“You havin’ a good day,” Brown asked, piling fruit from the continental breakfast onto a paper place. “This is a training class. I’m doing my job.”

We pressed the question again to no avail.

“I continue to tell you no comment. You can ask me a thousand times and I would still say no comment,” Brown said.

“Your eyes look real pretty,” Brown said to a staffer, still avoiding the question.

Happily for those concerned with Brown’s health, she seemed to have recovered almost immediately after our interview, as she was laughing and joking with her assistant.

Ethics Director Carla Miller, when asked for comment on Brown’s issues, said she was too “focused” on the ethics meeting to offer comment.

“I can’t think about anything except getting this organized,” Miller said.

Miller, during the meeting, waxed poetic about the unparalleled ethical standards of Jacksonville’s office of ethics.

However, for every assertion there is a price tag.

And in the case of Councilwoman Katrina Brown and her two shell companies, headed toward bankruptcy, that price: $210,000 and change.

The bills Jacksonville’s City Council won’t consider this week

Three bills that had been expected to highlight the Tuesday evening agenda of the Jacksonville City Council won’t.

The end result: an anticlimactic meeting, mostly because the committee process weeded out three bills that may have been sound policy, but were inconvenient politics – at best.

Extra Pension Payment? No Thanks!

Councilman Danny Becton had an idea: 15 percent of all increases in the general fund would go to the city’s $2.8B unfunded pension liability.

Becton called a public notice meeting to sway council members, and it was a big moment for him – he had complained of not getting media coverage to some reporters.

All the press was there: television, print, radio, and, well, us.

As public notice meetings go, this one began to circle the drain before adjournment. We published a piece. And as soon we did, the Lenny Curry Administration wanted to correct something.

Becton had claimed the administration was “favorable” to the bill. Team Curry – on the record, off the record, and whatever else – pushed back against that assertion, wondering how Becton could have gotten a message of support from the meeting he’d had with senior staffers.

“I don’t know where he got that. But that’s not the case,” Curry told us.

After being informed of mayoral pushback, Becton amended his read to one of being told “they were not going to help me, but they were not going to come out against me.”

Fast forward to the bill’s one committee stop: Finance.

The bill got a 4-1 no vote, with the four who voted no making very pointed remarks in debate.

Becton didn’t want to answer our one question for him: did the mayor’s office kill the bill?

Whether it did or not, the bill is dead. The mystery is why Becton didn’t pull the bill before the inevitable no vote in Finance.

TRUE Sunset? False!

Another failed reform bill: a measure to lower the number of members on Jacksonville’s TRUE Commission for 18 to 11; that bill would have sunset the appointed fiscal watchdog body.

That bill didn’t make it out of the Rules Committee last week.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri, who co-sponsored the bill along with Rules Chairman Garrett Dennis, saw the writing on the wall during the May meeting – at which the bill was deferred.

Hazouri saw the writing on the wall during the May meeting, when Dennis described his “change of heart” on the bill, a change occasioned by pushback from a variety of community stakeholders.

Whatever reforms might happen with TRUE, Dennis doesn’t want to push them forward.

“I don’t want to carry the water on this one,” Dennis said.

No Appointment Necessary

Here’s more water no one wanted to carry in the end, from last week’s Rules Committee, where the panel withdrew its own bill requiring Ethics Commission nominees to be confirmed before sitting.

The impetus for this: a controversial nominee who was withdrawn from consideration after a Facebook spat with the head of the local police union.

The bill illustrated the maxim: hard cases make bad law.

Despite the seeming initial will of the committee to push this bill through, speakers’ opinions ran in the other direction, and the committee flipped toward withdrawal soon thereafter.

Mary Bland Love, voting on the Ethics Commission despite not being confirmed yet, spoke against the bill, saying the current setup allows for a “probationary period to see how a commissioner would perform.”

The goal: keeping the commission “independent.”

“If you had a situation where someone was appointed who was otherwise qualified but for whatever reason someone wanted to sit on the appointment,” Love said, it could hamstring the committee.

Ethics Director Carla Miller likewise spoke in opposition, addressing similar themes regarding the need to keep the committee independent, including noting that in other jurisdictions there is no legislative approval process (with constitutional officers making the appointments).

Former Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Carlucci, the current chair of the Florida Commission on Ethics, spoke up also, lauding the “independence” of the local ethics commission, which was borne in the wake of a grand jury investigation.

That independence, housed in the city charter, was reaffirmed via referendum two years ago.

“It was deliberately discussed,” Carlucci said, “that these appointed members would be able to go ahead and begin work.”

“Anything that chips away at the special independence that any ethics commission has taken away from its ability to execute its mission,” Carlucci said.

Council members took a hint and turned against their own bill.

Hazouri floated the motion for a withdrawal of the bill, noting that optics would look bad if the committee voted against its own bill.

Jax Councilman: Abandoned mobile homes used as ‘trap houses’

Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown has noticed a problem in his district with no current solution in municipal code.

That problem? Abandoned mobile homes.

A number of these structures in his Northwest Jacksonville district have been in place and empty since he took office in 2010.

Some of them, Brown says, are used as “trap houses” — dens of vice and crime.

“No one monitors them,” Brown told us last week. “Kids are going in” and using them for all manner of nefarious purposes.

The structures have been cited by code enforcement, yet “nothing ever happens.”

A bill Councilman Brown filed last week may change that.

Bill 2017-432 would allow for the removal of mobile homes and other modular structures that aren’t connected to utilities on the grounds of being a “public nuisance.”

The same would hold true for structures constructed or left on a property without a permit.

Brown has introduced legislation before to deal with code gaps that create issues for his district that may not be seen elsewhere in the city.

Two examples: proposed moratorium on block parties this year, and proposed ban on backing into driveways in 2015, as abandoned vehicles have been used as drop points for extralegal transactions.

The needs of his district are different from other areas, with HOAs and other mechanisms discouraging such clutter in newer neighborhoods.

Expect Brown’s bill to find its way into committees later this summer.

Relationship building: Lenny Curry discusses infrastructure meeting with Donald Trump

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry just returned from Washington D.C., with the highlight of his trip being a Thursday afternoon meeting with Pres. Donald Trump and other elected officials on infrastructure.

Jacksonville has myriad infrastructural needs. And Curry (who attended the meeting along with Gov. Rick Scott) has been arguably the most high-profile supporter of President Trump in any big-city mayor’s office.

Trump, Cabinet officials, and staffers were “soliciting ideas from states and cities on how to get things moving,” Curry said.

Of especial interest — feedback on regulatory and permitting experiences, both positive and negative.

Among the Cabinet members on hand: Transportation Sec. Elaine Chao.

After small-group breakout sessions, the members debriefed with Pres. Trump.

A big priority Curry pushed: the need for JaxPort funding.

Ultimately, though, Mayor Curry saw the meeting as more than just a one and done opportunity, as his political philosophy is predicated on relationship building — and this was an opportunity to talk about specifics with actual people in person, rather than through a proposal on paper.

Curry had been on conference calls with White House officials before, but this level of access to the White House is something Jacksonville lacked with the previous mayor … but is in position to capitalize on currently.

“Relationships are evolving,” Curry said, and federal officials want to understand local needs, to help local officials navigate the system, and to help the system change to facilitate easier processes.

One issue is very familiar to Curry: that of there being “so many agencies that don’t talk to each other,” creating siloes.

Curry says the White House is “working to make sure the regulatory environment is smooth, quick, and smart,” when it comes to getting projects moving forward.

Audiences with the President, for even mayors of major cities, are real. Curry called this one a “special time.”

Surprisingly absent from the afternoon: discussion of James Comey‘s testimony earlier that day.

The meeting was about infrastructure. And relationship building.

The city has already seen some benefit from the new team in the White House; JaxPort is already slated to get $17.5M of long-awaited federal funding for its delayed dredging project.

With myriad needs and a President who wants to reform national infrastructure, Curry’s relationship with President Trump is worth watching. Despite the criticism he takes for supporting Trump, there is no reason for him to do anything but back a Republican President who is in position to help Jacksonville do things with federal dollars that might not fit into the city’s general fund.

Corrine Brown motions seek new trial, acquittal after fraud conviction

Is the Holy Spirit an external force? That concept is, improbably, what the appeal for a new trial of convicted former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown is predicated upon.

Meanwhile, Brown’s lawyers also filed an acquittal motion late Thursday, contending that the government did not prove its case, as some One Door money went toward charity, and there was no hard evidence that Brown conspired to defraud donors.

New trial motion: Brown was convicted of 18 fraud and tax counts in May, and her lawyer made no secret of his intent to file for a new trial.

This motion is filed on unique grounds: the jury was corrupted because a juror was removed for deeply held religious convictions, and the Holy Spirit guiding someone does not disqualify that person from jury service.

On Thursday,  Brown filed her motion – and the Holy Spirit took a prominent role in the narrative, via the dismissed juror who some say was railroaded off the trial. And others maintain was just less than stable

“During deliberations, Juror 13 said the holy spirit had told him that Ms. Brown was not guilty. The Court found that the holy spirit was an external force, and dismissed the juror. After Juror 13 was dismissed, Ms. Brown was found guilty. The Court’s finding that the holy spirit is an external force is not supported by the record. There is a substantial possibility the holy spirit was actually the juror’s own mind or spirit1 telling him that one or more witnesses had not testified truthfully. Therefore, justice requires that Ms. Brown be granted a new trial,” the motion reads.

More on the juror: “Juror 13 told the Court that his religious beliefs were not interfering with his ability to decide the case based on the Court’s instructions and the evidence. A 37. He said he had followed the evidence, and that he was going to make a decision based on “what I think and believe.”

That included such as “guidance from Heaven.”

The motion takes Judge Timothy Corrigan to task also, for saying that religious mania/revelation is “disqualifying.”

“It’s not that the person is praying for guidance so that the person can be enlightened, it’s that the higher being — or the Holy Spirit is directing or telling the person what disposition of the charges should be made,” was how Corrigan summed up the construct.

The motion seems predicated on the assumption that this is a valid revelation, as if – somehow – this is to be taken at face value and not as evidence of mania.

“A juror’s reliance on a holy spirit bespeaks devotion to duty; not external influence,” the motion continues.

Brown’s defense asserts “that the Court’s determination that the holy spirit is an external force is not a credibility determination. The Court’s determination that the holy spirit is an external force is philosophical determination.”

In a career full of remarkable chutzpah, Brown’s latest gambit — invoking divine ordinance as a retroactive defense in a fraud trial where the government laid waste to her defense strategy — may not be great legal strategy.

But it is, as ever, incredible theater.

Acquittal motion: The defense contends that Brown was not found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“The government asserted that the defendant and her coconspirators knew that at the time of the solicitations they intended to use some of the funds for their personal use and expenses. The failure to disclose this fact to the donors, according to the government’s theory, amounted to wire fraud and mail fraud,” the acquittal motion asserts.

However, scholarship funds were, the defense contends, actually derived from these events.

Regarding the fraud of which Brown was convicted, the defense contends that no evidence was provided of conspiracy to defraud between Brown and One Door CEO Carla Wiley. Meanwhile, in the case of Brown and former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons, the defense makes an interesting claim.

“Simmons testified that his theft of One Door for Education funds was often done at the direction of the defendant but he was not able to provide any corroboration for this claim. What stands out the most about Mr. Simmons’ testimony are the statements he made that eviscerated the government’s theory concerning the defendant’s guilt,” the motion reads.

Those in the courtroom may have missed that evisceration.

“Simmons provided exculpatory evidence on behalf of the defendant,” the defense said, as he contended that at least some of the funds went for charitable purposes.

Meanwhile, the government only provided “circumstantial evidence” that money collected from One Door donors made its way to Corrine Brown.

That circumstantial evidence included bank statements and video evidence of people taking money from the One Door account and cashing it out or putting it into Brown’s account.

The defense contends “the government asked the jury to speculate about the defendant’s state of mind, and to make a number of inferential leaps that were not supported by logic or the law. The government presented a purely circumstantial evidence case.”

“While the defendant did have a professional and personal relationship with Mr. Simmons, and a very limited number of interactions with Ms. Wiley, merely associating with certain people and discussing common goals and interests does not establish proof of a conspiracy,” the motion says, undercutting the existence of a conspiracy to defraud.

Wiley and Simmons, the motion reads, conspired — with Brown the unwitting, aged dupe: “a person who doesn’t know about a conspiracy but happens to act in a way that advances some purpose of one doesn’t automatically become a conspirator.”

Brown’s acquittal on certain counts of mail fraud and wire fraud, the defense says, only further undercuts the case: “At worst the defendant was extremely careless and reckless with the handling of her personal finances and her obligations to ensure that her financial disclosure forms were accurately completed.”

“In conclusion, despite the number of witnesses called, and the number of exhibits introduced, there is no doubt about the fact that there was no direct evidence of criminal intent. The government’s case failed to deliver because it did not provide sufficient the proof of criminal intent.”

Slow May fundraising for Jay Fant political committee

Jacksonville State Rep. Jay Fant wants the GOP nomination for Attorney General.

He announced in May, yoking himself to Pam Bondi‘s legacy, only to find Bondi endorsing his primary opponent, Ashley Moody.

Endorsements aren’t everything, of course. Money helps.

Yet, after a splashy entrance into the race, which included a statewide tour of media markets, a look at the money in Fant’s “Pledge This Day” political committee shows more hat than cattle as of the end of May.

Fant’s committee didn’t even hit five figures in May, with just $9,000 brought in from one donor (J.B. Coxwell Contracting) — sobering news for those Northeast Florida diehards who believe that the man without a country in the Florida House can somehow storm a statewide race.

Of that $9,000, $5,750 went out the door: $3,000 to Fant’s own campaign account, and the balance to Front Line Strategies.

It remains to be seen how much buy-in Fant will get from locals.

At a recent meeting of the Duval County Republican Party, Fant served up red meat, saying that Mayor Lenny Curry — a political ally, up until that point — should have “done more to stop the HRO.”

The HRO, or Human Rights Ordinance, was expanded by a veto-proof majority in February to codify LGBT rights. It is unclear what Curry could have done to stop it.

However, sources familiar with Mayor Curry’s thinking indicate Curry’s displeasure with Fant’s comments. It remains to be seen how adversely that displeasure will affect the dispensation and generosity of the local donor class.

One suspects that it won’t help, however, as Curry may be the most aggressive political operator in Jacksonville in decades, and generally takes note and action when people volunteer criticisms of his governing style.

As the AG field fleshes out this summer, Fant is going to have to show fundraising strength. While self-financing is always an option for the well-heeled Fant, other candidates in the race are certain to demonstrate fundraising momentum … and it is in Fant’s interest to show such a commitment from his Northeast Florida base.

Appellate specialist files notice of appearance in Corrine Brown trial

Thursday June 8 is the motion deadline for Corrine Brown, should she petition for a new trial as expected.

Perhaps tipping her hand, Samuel Walker, a co-counsel for Brown’s primary attorney, James Smith, filed a notice of appearance Thursday

Walker, a Howard Law School alumnus, specializes in appellate law, with federal and state public defense experience over his 19 year career, including a stint as “the Deputy Solicitor General, responsible for civil and criminal appeals before the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands, the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, and the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Brown was found guilty on 18 total counts in May counts related to conspiracy to defraud via what prosecutors call a fake charity: “One Door for Education.”

Those charges include conspiracy to commit and aiding and abetting wire and mail fraud, and multiple counts of fraudulent filing of federal tax returns. These verdicts set her up potentially for a prison sentence of over 300 years, and fines and restitution in the millions of dollars.

Brown and her attorney have questioned aspects of the case, including the removal of a juror perceived to be open to exonerating her on all counts. Expect this and more in a new trial motion … should it manifest

$6,100 in May fundraising for Clay Yarborough

In a month thus far full of Ws or low-dollar takes for Northeast Florida legislators, Rep. Clay Yarborough‘s $6,100 of May money stands out.

That $6,100: the best month of 2017 for Yarborough, who now has over $14,000 on hand to defend a safe Republican seat on Jacksonville’s Southside.

Of that money, $2,000 came via four different companies owned by Volusia GOP powerbroker Mori Hosseini, such as “Richmond Hill Property Acquisition” (which does business in Georgia) and “Jax Construction Holdings,” which does business in Jacksonville.

Meanwhile, $4,000 more came from household names for fans of the Jacksonville donor class: John Rood, Vestcor, CSX, and Florida East Coast Industries all gave the maximum $1,000.

Another $100 was dropped into Yarborough’s account via lobbyist Matt Brockelman of Southern Strategy Group.

In the competitive primary of 2016, donors gnashed their teeth regarding whether to back Yarborough or Terrance Freeman, a primary opponent backed by the Chamber.

That scrum relegated to historical memory, the donor class will continue to make its peace with Yarborough, who may have been a lightning rod on the Jacksonville City Council, but who is regarded as a knowledgeable and capable advocate for the city’s policy priorities.

‘Nothing sinister’ about Audrey Gibson Special Session fundraising email

The rules of the Florida Senate are straightforward: no campaign contributions or solicitations thereof during Session.

“During any regular legislative session, extended session, or special session, a Senator may not directly or indirectly solicit, cause to be solicited, or accept any contribution on behalf of either the Senator’s own campaign, any organization described under section 527 or section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code, any political committee, any committee of continuous existence, any political party, or the campaign of any candidate for the Senate,” reads the language.

The letter and the spirit of the rule are pretty clear: during session, don’t mix fundraising with legislating.

That would seem to include blast emails promoting events, which would at least qualify as indirect solicitations, even if sent from a third party with delegated authority.

On Wednesday afternoon, as Special Session was beginning in Tallahassee, “AudreyGibsonForSenate@Gmail.com” sent an email promoting a “fun-draiser” in Hollywood, Florida, at the 4.2 star Westin Diplomat Hotel, a facility “fresh off a $100 million transformation.”

The flyer contains a “checks should be made payable to Audrey Gibson Campaign” and even as the flyer has the official address of the campaign. it also has Gibson’s own phone number on it — which would have created an awkward optical situation, should someone with an interest in Special Session legislation have called or ended up at the event next week.

We asked Gibson about the email.

“I didn’t send this out,” she said at first.

When we noted the campaign account email, Gibson said: “I don’t have an email for my campaign. Perhaps the person I’m working with emailed not knowing not to.”

“Thanks to you I sent them a text just now not to email anymore,” Gibson added.

When we asked what would happen if someone did call to RSVP or contribute, Gibson said “I follow the rules.”

Then, Gibson followed up: “Sent at 7:23 to the person I’m working with. You didn’t send it fundraising flyer did you? We can’t during special session.”

At 8:17 p.m., an email went out to her mailing list from the gmail account. It had one sentence of content.

“Please disregard previously issued email sent in error.”

Leaving aside the question of responsibility for the actions of a campaign, this tempest in a teapot offers an illustration of the pressures created by the Special Session on a calendar that otherwise would have moved on to the campaigning and fundraising portions of the job.

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