Corrine Brown Archives - Page 5 of 33 - Florida Politics

New bipartisan era begins for Jacksonville in U.S. Congress

Northeast Florida will have a completely new Congressional delegation in January, as the Associated Press has called the races in its two districts, and both were won by candidates looking to bridge the partisan divide.

As widely expected, Republican John Rutherford downed Democrat David Bruderly in the 4th Congressional District: 280,319 to 110,257 (70 percent to 28 percent) was the margin.

Rutherford’s margins of victory, consistent throughout the district, ranged from 68 percent in Duval County to 72 percent in St. Johns and 79 percent in Nassau.

Also as widely expected, Democrat Al Lawson upended Republican perennial candidate Glo Smith in the race to replace Corrine Brown in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

Lawson won handily: 64 percent to 36 percent, with a raw vote advantage of 184,163 to 103,488.

A measure of Lawson’s strength: beating Smith by 26 points in Duval in the unofficial tally. Smith carried just two of the nine counties in the district: Baker and Hamilton, where she made concerted plays.

Lawson won by 50 points in Leon County, the home base of the former “Dean of the Legislature” and Florida A&M  basketball star.

In Tallahassee at his victory party, Lawson noted it had been a long race, going from one December almost to the next, before thanking his family and campaign workers throughout the district — including Duval.

“There’s a lot of distance between the Apalachicola River and the St. Johns River,” Lawson noted, “but we took our message out there in the primary and we were successful, then to the general and we were successful.”

“The people in this district are concerned about jobs, economic development, health care … student loans,” Lawson said, vowing to make sure the government and Wall Street doesn’t “benefit off the back of students.”

Rutherford and Lawson, despite the party label divergence, had some similarities. Both were backed by industry groups and members of the Jacksonville establishment.

During his victory speech, Lawson stole a line from Rutherford: “Washington is broken,” citing “gridlock” as the reason.

“I’m just on loan to do a job for you … I want to make sure you’re proud of the person you sent up there,” Lawson said.

Both Rutherford and Lawson have voiced interest in working across the aisle to accomplish policy priorities — an important consideration as they replace tenured congressional veterans Ander Crenshaw and Corrine Brown.

Both also emerged from contentious primaries. Lawson upended a wounded Corrine Brown, whose focus and fundraising were divided by Brown’s fraud trial. Rutherford dealt with the challenge of the moneyed Hans Tanzler III and the experienced State Rep. Lake Ray; despite essentially being coronated as the establishment candidate as soon as Crenshaw announced his retirement, decisions — like standing by State Attorney Angela Corey — in her doomed primary bid cost Rutherford, a former Jacksonville sheriff, support.

Both also benefited from meaningful support from the party establishment. Lawson was ceded a speaking slot at President Barack Obama’s “Hillary for America” rally in Jacksonville. Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy came to town on behalf of Rutherford as the campaign entered its stretch run.

Rutherford and Lawson will have to work together quickly on a number of important issues, including securing dredging money to deepen the harbor for JAXPORT and ensuring that Jacksonville doesn’t lose ground in the next round of BRAC negotiations.

Lawson, though not from Jacksonville, does have meaningful Jacksonville connections.

GOP powerbroker Susie Wiles, until she took helm of the Florida campaign for Donald Trump, introduced Lawson to reporters ahead of the August primary. Lawson also ended up getting meaningful backing from the Jacksonville donor class over a Republican candidate, a sign of his reputation for pragmatism.

Democratic legend Denise Lee, a beloved former Jacksonville City Councilwoman and former legislative colleague of Lawson’s, also helped Lawson make connections with recalcitrant Jacksonville Democrats.

Lawson offered special thanks to his campaign team in Duval also.

Where might there be a surprise on Election Night in Florida?

If the chalk won every game and match-up, there would be no Las Vegas or Macau. There would be no March Madness.

If the favorites won every time, there would be no reason to even turn on the television. We watch and love sports and gambling because the underdogs can and do win.

In no-limit Texas hold ’em poker, holding a pair of aces gives a player an 87 percent chance of winning against a seven-deuce offsuit before the flop. But that still means, over time, the worst hand in poker still wins 13 percent of the time.

The same thinking can be applied to politics. Despite advantages of name recognition and money, upsets occur. There’s no better recent example in Florida politics than in 2012 when the Democratic challenger defeated Republican Chris Dorworth, who was at the time in line to become speaker of the Florida House.

Dorworth’s aces were cracked by Mike Clelland‘s seven-deuce offset. I don’t like beating up on Dorworth anymore (especially after this weekend, when he got married), but I have to ask, is there another Dorworth situation in the cards for Tuesday?

Looking at the congressional races in Florida, the opportunities for an upset are thin. Whatever changes that were to be made to Florida’s congressional delegation have already happened (Gwen Graham not running, Corrine Brown losing to Al Lawson, etc.). This isn’t to say there aren’t interesting races to watch Tuesday because there are in CD 13, 18, and 26. However, the underdogs in those races are not exactly Davids facing Goliaths. Those three races are basically coin flips at this point.

The one competitive congressional race which is not a coin flip is CD 7 where Republican incumbent John Mica is attempting to hold off Stephanie Murphy. The smart money has been watching this race for more than a month as Murphy has closed on Mica, so it would not be out of left field were Murphy to knock off Mica. Still, if you had asked political observers a year ago if John Mica was in trouble of losing his seat, the answer would have been a loud ‘No.’

At the legislative level, its important to separate the competitive from the earth-shattering. There are competitive races in SD 8, 13, 18, 37, 39, and 40 as well as half a dozen state House races, but, again these are basically coin flips. Republican Dana Young is up single digits over Democrat Bob Buesing in SD 18; no one can safely predict who will win in the South Florida seats; and the House races will largely be decided by the top of the ballot.

BUT! And this is a huge but … a Sir Mix-A-Lot-sized but … were there to be a Dorworthian surprise Tuesday night, it will probably occur in some of the state House races in South Florida.

Again, a huge disclaimer that I am not suggesting that these upsets will occur, but there has been talk — over the last two weeks, especially as Donald Trump was tanking and through South Florida’s “gangbusters” early voting turnout Sunday — that if a wave the size of the one in the movie “Poseidon” were to hit, some Republican House candidates could be in trouble, such as Carlos Trujillo in HD 105 and Michael Bileca in HD 115

Mind you, I re-watched the movie “The Big Short” this weekend, so my mind is thinking in terms of failing tranches. Not that Trujillo or Bileca or any of the other South Florida Republican campaigns should be compared with subprime mortgages. They’re not. They’ve run AAA-rated campaigns.

But that’s the thing about black swans. They appear so rarely in nature, they are almost impossible to predict. The best you can do is look in the direction they might appear.

And on Tuesday night, that may be in South Florida.

Al Lawson expands cash lead over Glo Smith in CD 5 race

The race between Republican Glo Smith and Democrat Al Lawson in Florida’s 5th Congressional District has defied traditional partisan contours down the stretch.

Smith, appearing on WJXT’s “This Week in Jacksonville” Sunday, positioned herself less as a Republican than as the sole impediment to Tallahassee controlling the traditionally Jacksonville-based seat.

Smith alluded to having productive conversations with Democrats on Jacksonville’s City Council, to having an open line of communication with outgoing Rep. Corrine Brown (who did not endorse in the CD 5 race on her “quick picks,” in what could be framed as a tacit OK to her voters to vote for Smith), and ducked the question of whether or not she backs Donald Trump.

These are interesting rhetorical tropes for her to take late in the campaign.

And if the movement of money into the campaigns of Lawson and Smith means anything, she’s probably committing to this rhetorical pivot too late to matter.

In recent days, Smith has — after a long period of relative dormancy — activated her fundraising machine.

Smith brought in $4,400 on Oct. 28, bringing her total since Oct. 21 up to $20,800.

As of Oct. 19, Smith had just $5,117 on hand from $54,625 raised.

This late-campaign surge raises the question: if Smith had been more serious about fundraising early on in her campaign, she may have had meaningful resources for electronic media buys.

A few $20,000 weeks would have facilitated that kind of outreach.

And they likely would have helped to close the gap with Lawson, a veteran politician with deep bipartisan connections and a decided resource advantage.

Lawson, as of Oct. 19, had $103,020 on hand, of $241,573 raised and another $100,000 in personal loans.

That financial advantage was augmented in the period since, with $45,200 in contributions.

Of that total, a mere $3,700 comes from Jacksonville individual contributors.

To put that number in perspective, $24,500 comes from political action committees from around the country, including Realtors, beer wholesalers, and CULAC — the PAC of the national association of credit unions.

Barring some mysterious movement in the next few days, Lawson will close this race having had access to over $386,000 of capital, compared to his GOP opponent, who ran her campaign on just over $75,000.

That almost five-to-one advantage was augmented by Lawson being better known, having more outside backing, and being a more seasoned politician.

Duval Democrats may watch Lawson closely, and one or two may be considering primary challenges for 2018.

If they are serious about that, however, they will want to ensure their money is competitive before jumping in.

Shaky transactions abound in latest Corrine Brown finance report

Rep. Corrine Brown and her chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, face 24 counts between them in a federal court trial next April.

The criminal counts related to an allegedly fraudulent charity, which solicited and collected $800,000 over a period of years, but distributed less than $2,000 under its charitable auspices.

One might think she would keep a low profile politically.

One would be wrong, as Brown continues to endorse candidates and, weeks after her loss, spent over $10,000 on lodging.

Despite her federal charges and despite the fact that she is not running for office at this point, having lost to Al Lawson in the primary, Brown opted to issue one final iteration of her Quick Picks, which was distributed at a candidate forum Thursday night to the chagrin of the hosts.

There were a few surprises.

Brown opted not to endorse in the race between Lawson and Republican Glo Smith for her seat in Florida’s 5th Congressional District. And, rather than endorse a Democrat in the clerk of courts race, Brown endorsed incumbent Republican Ronnie Fussell.

Meanwhile, Brown’s political committee — “Friends of Corrine Brown” —issued its October quarterly finance report, and there were some surprises there also.

Brown put in $50,000 of her own money after Aug. 19, including $15,000 after the Aug. 30 primary was over.

The last money transfer, of $10,000, was made Sept. 13.

From Aug. 11 onward, Brown spent $92,761. Much of that money went to old allies in familiar ways, such as thousands of dollars in catering from Jerome Brown Barbeque and the Honey Dripper House.

And, interestingly enough, there was some spending after the primary itself, including gasoline purchases in the days after the primary and $11,278 for lodging at Marriott invoiced on Sept. 25 and 26.

Brown, facing corruption charges, likely will face fresh scrutiny over her latest campaign finance report, which shows spending long after the race was run.

Will Brown’s decision to dump $50,000 of unaccountable money into her campaign factor into the upcoming trial? Will the $11,278 spent with Marriott in late September raise questions for federal prosecutors?

New money pours in for Al Lawson, Glo Smith in CD 5 race

With less than two weeks to go until the last votes are cast in the race to replace Rep. Corrine Brown in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, Democrat Al Lawson and Republican Glo Smith continue raising money.

Of the two candidates, Lawson is showing more strength down the stretch.

Lawson raised $21,000 between Oct. 20 and Oct. 24, highlighted by $5,000 contributions from the Service Employees International Union and the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

Smith wasn’t too far behind.

Her $16,000 raised in the last week came from individual contributors, mostly associated with two medical clinics outside of the district.

While there has been parity in terms of recent contributions, Smith has a lot of ground to make up.

As of the October quarterly filing, Smith had $11,908 on hand, well behind Lawson, who had $79,309 on hand.

Lawson’s victory is perceived as being so certain we are hearing that Jacksonville Democrats — notably reticent when given opportunities to support him ahead of the primary against local fixture Corrine Brown — are vying for the plum position of running his legislative office in Duval County.

Corrine Brown/Ronnie Simmons fraud trial pushed back to April 2017

Tuesday’s status conference for Rep. Corrine Brown and her chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, in a Jacksonville federal court laid out the basic framework for a multi-week trial beginning in April, involving dozens of witnesses, including members of Jacksonville’s donor class.

Meanwhile, there seemed to be daylight between strategy and preparation between the lawyers for Brown and Simmons, suggesting a practical reason for trying the defendants separately.

They agreed on one thing: citing voluminous discovery, both wanted a trial in June 2017.

The prosecution objected, however, saying February gave them enough time to review discovery.

Despite the compelling interest in a “speedy trial,” Judge Timothy Corrigan noted these defense lawyers came in in the middle of the case.

“This is a case that does require voluminous discovery,” Corrigan said, requiring review and contextualization of the material.

Corrigan offered a Solomonic compromise: a continuance to April 24, when jury selection begins, and the trial would be tried to conclusion beginning April 26.


The two co-defendants face 24 counts related to the One Door for Education charity, which Brown fundraised for over a period of years, yet which saw proceeds routed toward personal expenses for Brown and her inner circle.

Neither Brown nor Simmons attended the hearing, where the major intrigue was expected to be related to motions possibly filed by Brown’s team, including moving for separate trials of Brown and Simmons, attempting to introduce character witnesses, and a possible move toward dismissal of the case outright.

The prosecution, represented by A. Tysen Duva, noted “significant discovery” had been produced, and the defendants have those materials in hand.

James Smith, on behalf of Brown, noted in response there was a “significant matter” he had to discuss with the judge and counsel, related to his client.

As the sound of static filled the courtroom, the parties convened at the judge’s bench for several minutes.

Smith then pushed for a June trial, given the most recent disclosure from prosecutors was on Friday, and had hundreds of pages of documents spanning events that took place in Florida and the D.C. area, and that dozens of witnesses would be required.

Smith also believes some of the motions that will come up, such as a prosecution precluding character evidence, is objectionable.

He also asserted that Simmons’ attorney might want to sever defendants, which accords with Smith’s own anticipated motion.

Judge Corrigan wanted clarity on Smith’s desire to sever defendants; Smith asserted that motion likely is pending.

The motion to dismiss that Smith hinted at in his list of anticipated motions was, he said, filed in an “abundance of caution.”

Smith also expressed concern over evidence brought regarding things not charged in the 47-page indictment.

Regarding his review of discovery, Smith noted there is testimony from a few dozen grand jury witnesses and lots of paper.

Smith noted that, with allegations of a shopping trip in Los Angeles and trips to Jersey, it is incumbent on his side to establish “charitable purposes.”

“This is a case that is national in scope,” Smith said, and the discovery is “voluminous” and requires considerable time to process.

Simmons’ lawyer, Anthony Suarez, noted he has yet to get through all the discovery. Corrigan was irked, as Suarez decided to “blow through deadlines” related to the hard deadline to file anticipated motions on Oct. 18.

Corrigan was sharp.

“If I direct you to do something, you’ve got to do it. I’m not going to have you just ignore it,” the judge said.

Suarez expressed worry about the grand jury selection process, and said he’s “still in the process” of evaluating the motion to sever defendants.

Suarez also expressed concern about the voluminous discovery, which he described as a “daunting task.”

Also daunting: Simmons lives in Maryland, which impacts “the length of time before I get an answer to some questions that pop up in the discovery material.”

Long story short, Suarez joined Smith in seeking a June trial commencement.

Duva said a February start was “realistic,” given his side’s consistent production of discovery documents.

The “voluminous” discovery burden is mooted, to some degree, by the limited amount of the evidence that will be presented at trial, plus the fairly simple outlining of the scheme to defraud.

Duva said it was “misleading” to say the discovery consisted of more than “manageable information.”

“This is a very clear presentation of the theory of the case,” Duva said, and “a February trial provides defense counsel with a five-month opportunity” to review the case.

Expected in the multi-week trial: 40 to 50 government witnesses, including One Door for Education’s head Carla Wiley (now cooperating with the prosecution) and members of the political donor class, including one-time and repeat donors, said prosecutor Duva, who estimated he may need 10 to 12 trial days to make the government’s case.

Duva floated the possibility of a “plea from one defendant” that could change the trial parameters, even while both defendants claim to want to go to trial.

“We have made every effort,” Duva said, “to guide the defense in the discovery.”


After a recess, Judge Corrigan emerged with questions.

Corrigan wanted to know if there would be an expert witness.

Brown’s lawyer said there may be a forensic accountant on his side.

Corrigan also wanted an idea of how long the defense would take. Smith expects to need at least five days for Brown’s defense; Suarez predicted needing a day or two more for his defense of Simmons.

All told, the case may take three to four weeks to try, including jury selection, which Corrigan said “might take longer than average” given the high profile of the defendants.

Motions will be filed in December. Another status conference will be set for Jan. 9 at 1:30, when rulings will be made on motions.

The most interesting motion: whether or not the co-defendants will be severed, as both defense teams seem to want.


Another status conference is set for March 23 ahead of the April 26 trial, with jury selection beginning April 24.

Defendants will have to be there for both status conferences.

“That setting gives the defendants an appropriate amount of time to do the things they need to do,” Corrigan said.

Status conference in Corrine Brown trial slated for Tuesday

Neither U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown nor her chief of staff Ronnie Simmons are required to be at Tuesday’s status conference in their federal trial.

However, in the light of potential motions filed last week, Tuesday’s status conference nonetheless may offer a preview of what will happen for the next few months leading up to the trial.

The defense listed a motion to admit admissible character evidence, a motion to sever defendants, and a motion to dismiss.

Brown has hinted at character evidence throughout the period this trial has been an active concern, telling reporters on more than one occasion she personally had committed charitable acts, such as sending students to China and buying computers for schoolrooms in her district to help them conquer the “digital divide.”

Of course, the claim made by prosecutors is that the One Door for Education charity marketed using Rep. Brown’s name and likeness. And despite the roughly $800,000 the charity took in over years, much of it personally benefited Brown and Simmons, with under $2,000 going to charitable purposes.

Prosecutors likely will seek to cleave Brown’s personal charity from the actions of this foundation.

The motion to sever defendants is of interest also. As Lynnsey Gardner of News 4 Jax reported after an interview with Brown’s lawyer, the defense will contend Brown was too busy for such a conspiracy and was exploited by her inner circle.

“The idea that Congresswoman Corrine Brown had any time to engage in a conspiracy or a fraud just doesn’t match with everything I know about her,” said Smith.

“Unfortunately, when you are in office, and the perks of that office. Unfortunately people want to take advantage of you. One thing people need to remember is Carla Wiley has entered a plea of guilty. She admits she set up the charity and used the initial proceeds for herself,” Smith added.

Wiley ran the One Door for Education charity and has pleaded guilty, but is “cooperating” with prosecutors ahead of her sentencing, slated for December.

The motion to sever defendants is notable as well.

If Brown is to contend she was exploited, she will need to roll over on Simmons. And in turn, he would feel compelled to do likewise.

The prosecution, meanwhile, has its own potential motions, including a motion to preclude inadmissible character evidence, a motion to preclude pleas for mercy to the jury and/or counsel arguing for jury nullification, and a motion to “preclude arguments that the government sought indictment due to improper motivation.”

In other words, the prosecution — which is very confident in the facts laid out in its 46-page indictment, which details repeated solicitations under Brown’s name for the charity, and numerous transactions ranging from securing box seats for Redskins games and Beyonce concerts to just withdrawing a few hundred dollars at a time for walking around money — has no intention of being subverted by the emotional appeal.

CD 5 Republican Glo Smith scores backing of NE Florida businessmen

Last week, observed that, regarding 5th Congressional District Republican candidate Glo Smith, the cavalry needed to get a move on if they wanted to boost her campaign.

In mid-October, it appears that may happen, as Smith announced meaningful support from key members of the Northeast Florida donor class … at long last.

“I’m proud and humbled to have the support from many of our key business leaders — and it shows the type of leader I will be in Washington,” Smith said. “I will start right away to help reform our system for Florida families.”

Among the notable names backing Smith are Toney Sleiman, a local strip-mall developer who takes an active role in Jacksonville politics, including backing Donald Trump heavily during the general election campaign.

“Glo knows business,” said Sleiman. “She’s a hard-working, conservative leader who will look at issues from a business perspective and work together to get things done in Washington.”

Also backing Smith are W.W. Gay and assorted others, listed below:

• Jacksonville businessman Mr. and Mrs. Lockwood Holmes of Jacksonville
• William W. “Bill” Gay, Eloise Gay and Bill Gay Jr. of W.W. Gay Mechanical Contractor Inc.
• Madison County farmer Bubba Greene
• Jacksonville businessman Chuck Parliament
• Jacksonville businessman Marvin Lane
• Dr. Roy Hinman of Jacksonville
Toney Sleiman, Sleiman Enterprises in Jacksonville
• Jacksonville businessman Ben Godbold
• Maggie’s List
• Mr. Mauro and Dr. Lillian Gines
• Mr. and Mrs. Tony (Jo) Knott
• Mr. and Mrs. R.C. (Lois)Mills

There is, to be sure, a real resource gap between Smith and Democrat Al Lawson, a veteran politician and lobbyist from Tallahassee who appears to be the frontrunner to replace Corrine Brown as CD 5 representative.

As of the October quarterly report, Smith’s campaign brought in $31,325 and spent $21,231, leaving her with $11,908 on hand at the end of the period.

Lawson, meanwhile, had $79,309 on hand.

Potential motions reveal strategy in Corrine Brown case may be to ‘sever defendants’

On Tuesday, both the prosecution and the defense filed a list of potential pre-trial motions in Rep. Corrine Brown‘s trial in 2017.

In doing so, both sides have illustrated their strategies.

The defense listed a motion to admit admissible character evidence; a motion to sever defendants; and a motion to dismiss.

These illustrate that Brown may contend she was used by Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons or by Carla Wiley, who ran the One Door For Education charity. It was notable because of its lack of charitable contributions over the course of years, after $800,000 of contributions were raised using the congresswoman’s imprimatur.

Wiley, to be sentenced in December, is cooperating with prosecutors.

Brown and Simmons have functioned as co-defendants; however, there has been speculation that at some point one will turn on the other.

The prosecution, meanwhile, has its own potential motions, including a motion to preclude inadmissible character evidence; a motion to preclude pleas for mercy to the jury and/or counsel arguing for jury nullification; and a motion to “preclude arguments that the government sought indictment due to improper motivation.”

Corrine Brown won’t be ordered to pay redistricting plaintiffs

A federal judge has shut down a request from the winners of the congressional redistricting case for U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown to pay their attorney and expert witness bills of nearly $250,000.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker also denied a request to levy sanctions against Brown, saying her case “was meritless” but not “frivolous.” His order was entered late last month.

Brown, a 23-year Democratic congresswoman from north Florida, lost her primary against challenger Al Lawson in the wake of her indictment on charges that she and her chief of staff used a shell nonprofit as a “personal slush fund,” records show.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause, and others had filed a motion against Brown after she unsuccessfully challenged them in federal court.

She had argued the state’s new congressional districts, ordered to be redrawn by the state Supreme Court, violated federal voting-rights law. A panel of federal judges later said Brown had “not proven (her) case.”

Brown’s seat changed from a north-south district that meandered from Jacksonville to Sanford, to an east-west district that runs from Jacksonville to rural Gadsden County.

The plaintiffs tacked on a “bill of costs” of $23,600 for the consultants they used, adding “expert witness fees” to their previous demand for an “award of attorneys’ fees,” estimated at $220,000.

They wanted a federal judge to “assess attorneys’ and expert fees against Congresswoman Brown because her (Voting Rights Act) and constitutional claims were frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation,” their motion said.

Walker’s order also noted Brown had “voluntarily dismiss(ed her) appeal to the United States Supreme Court,” and “plaintiffs and defendants likewise filed a Joint Stipulation, dismissing all claims related to this action.”

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