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Former Secret Service agent and Md. Senate candidate Dan Bongino says he’s thinking of entering Florida GOP Senate contest

Republican Dan Bongino, the former Secret Service agent who nearly defeated an incumbent Democrats in race for Congress in Maryland last year, says that he is considering entering the Republican race for Senate in Florida, and will probably make up his mind by the beginning of 2016.

Bonging moved to Palm City earlier this year, which immediately led to speculation that he was interested in the open 18th Congressional District seat in 2016 currently held by Patrick Murphy, who is running for the Senate on the Democratic side.

“I’m keeping my options open,” Bongino said on Tuesday, saying he definitely is contemplating getting into the race.

When asked about the current state of the Republican race, Bongino is quick to say that he believes that all four of the major candidates: Carlos Lopez-Cantera, David Jolly, Ron DeSantis and Todd Wilcox — are all “great guys.”

“There’s not a lot of excitement out there,” he says of the contest to date. “We’re a year away,” he says of the election for U.S. Senate. “In political dog years, that’s right around the corner and, we have people polling in the single digits here,” he says, basing that opinion on his trips around the state as a public speaker.

Bongino, who will turn 41 next month left the Secret Service in 2011 to run for Senate in Maryland, where he won the nomination before losing out to incumbent Democrat Ben Cardin. Last year, he lost out by two percentage points to incumbent Democratic Rep. John Delaney.

He’s the author of the Life Inside the Bubble: Why a Top Ranked Secret Service Agent Walked away from it All, published in 2013, and his next book, The Fight: A Secret Service Agent’s Inside Account of Security Failings and the Political Machine, is due out next January.

When asked if he’ll have the resources to run a competitive statewide election, Bongino said he would.

“It’s about volunteers, media and money,” he says about what it will take to have a winning campaign. Bongino says he was a 100-to-one underdog against Cardin, and about a 60-to-one underdog to Delaney in his two respective runs for office in Maryland, and said he was able to have all three assets in hand in both campaigns.

Bongino says that he quit a six-figure salary with great job security as a secret service agent to run for office against Cardin. When asked why he did that, he said it’s the perilous times that we live in that compelled him to run for office in 2012.

“We are clearly living with an ideologically driven president who puts the best interests in the country a distant second to his own ideologically pure pursuits, ” Bongino says of Barack Obama. “It’s time to get off the couch.”

In addition to publishing his second book, Bongino keeps busy contributing as a contributing editor to The Conservative Review website, as well as hosting a podcast which he maintains is at the top of the iTunes charts when it comes to news and political programming.

Bongino says he knows it sounds like a cliché, but it’s not about him as he contemplates entering the senate race. “I just want to see some of the energy out there where we can push a good candidate in a high turnout year over the finish line. And if that happens, great, I’ll be there to help.”

Either way, Bongino says he’ll let the public know by early in the New Year.

Donald Trump announces 4 new hires in Florida

Donald Trump, who continues to dominate in all statewide polls in Florida, said Tuesday that he’s adding four more staff people to his growing campaign team in the Sunshine State.

Jennifer R. Locetta will be deputy state director, Ken Mayo has been named director of field operations, John Ross Pughe is joining as the southeast regional field director, and Craig Bachler will serve as director of coalitions.

“I have created thousands of jobs and own some of the most iconic assets in the state,” Trump said in a prepared statement. “I love the people of Florida and I am proud to have such overwhelming support and a great staff in place. I look forward to visiting often and working with my team to share my vision to make America great again.”

Trump will be returning to Florida this weekend, speaking at a campaign event Saturday in the Robarts Arena at the Sarasota Fairgrounds.

Locetta has been statewide data director for the Republican Party of Florida and worked at the Romney for President headquarters in Tampa in 2012.

Mayo worked for the American Majority in 2011, and for Americans for Prosperity as manager of field operations in Florida in 2012-2013.

Pughe has previously been director of community affairs for the Northern Palm Beach County Chamber Commerce. Before joining the chamber, he was legislative aide to State Rep. George Moraitis. He also managed Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Romney Rogers‘ municipal campaign and Representative Moraitis’ bid for state House.

Bachler previously was Florida director of field operations for Rick Santorum for President in 2012, for Pat Buchanan for President in 1992 and 1996 in New Hampshire, and for Rick Scott in his 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

Karen Giorno is the state director for Trump in Florida, with Sarasota County Republican Executive Committee Director Joe Gruters and Susan Wiles as co-chairs.

Ted Cruz soars to 2nd place behind Donald Trump in new Iowa poll

Donald Trump leads in Iowa in a Quinnipiac poll released on Tuesday, but barely — and his closest competitor is not Dr. Ben Carson, but Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Trump narrowly leads Cruz, 25-23 percent, a doubling of support for Cruz since the last Quinnipiac poll in Iowa taken last month. Carson is third with 18 percent, and Marco Rubio is fourth with 13 percent.

Rand Paul is next at 5 percent, then Jeb Bush at 4 percent. Carly Fiorina is at 3 percent.

“Last month, we said it was Dr. Ben Carson’s turn in the spotlight. Today, the spotlight turns to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas,” says Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll. “The Iowa Republican Caucus has become a two-tiered contest: Businessman Donald Trump and neurosurgeon Ben Carson lead on the outsider track, and Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio lead among party insiders.”

Brown adds that “the other candidates will need miraculous comebacks to crack the top tier with slightly more than two months before the voting begins.”

Other interesting tidbits into the minds of Iowa likely Republican Caucus participants: They oppose 81 — 15 percent allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S. and oppose 82 — 13 percent allowing them into Iowa.

Republicans support 73 — 22 percent sending U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria and say 83 — 9 percent that the U.S. and its allies are losing the fight against ISIS.

A total of 88 percent of Republicans are “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about the possibility of a terrorist attack in the U.S. similar to the attack in Paris.

“One thing almost all Iowa Republicans agree upon is that Syrian refugees should not be allowed into the United States or into Iowa,” Brown said.

From November 16 — 22, Quinnipiac University surveyed 600 likely Iowa Republican Caucus participants with a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points. Live interviewers call landlines and cellphones.

Mitch Perry Report for 11.24.15 — Did Rick Scott release something Monday?

If you’re a reporter, you didn’t have to be in Jacksonville Monday to learn the details of Gov. Rick Scott‘s $79 billion budget.

That’s because the governor’s press office helpfully sent out email after email to highlight aspects of the vast budget throughout the day, where the highlights include $1 billion in tax cuts and cutting 863 state jobs.

There has been a lot of news from Tallahassee of late, because the Legislature will convene for the 2016 session in less than two months. There’s one more week of committee hearings beginning Monday, then start up in January and break on March 11, conveniently just days before Florida presidential primary voters go to the polls.

March is late in the process, compared to 2008 and 2012, when the GOP-led Legislature broke the rules (as did the Democrats in 2008) and decided to put their primary in January in order to be relevant in the choosing of the president.

It worked, sort of, for the GOP, in that Florida really was the key state for John McCain in ’08 (over Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani) and Romney (over Newt Gingrich) in 2012.

What about this year? The fun thing to watch for will be to see whether the polls hold, and Donald Trump defeats Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio in what is a winner-take-all delegate situation.

But how much attention will Florida even get? The fact is, four other states will vote that day: Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio. The RNC set the schedule up so that not until March 15 could states have winner-take-all primaries, meaning that (we hope) the race could be very up in the air at that point. In all, 20 states will vote in advance of Florida’s March 15 primary.

In other news …

Kathy Castor voted with the majority of Democrats against the bill that would have slowed down the process or allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S. last week, but she does agree with critics that President Obama must do a better job of describing his strategy to combat the Islamic State.

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A report by OPPAGA, the Florida Legislature’s public policy agency, says that Florida’s civil asset forfeiture laws are ripe for reforming.

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In a surprising development in Palm Beach County politics, Democratic candidate Melissa McKinlay, arguably the front-runner at least on the Dem side to succeed Patrick Murphy in the CD 18 race, dropped out of the race Monday.

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After a Fox-13 report last week questioning whether the Hillsborough PTC can lobby legally, state Sen. Jeff Brandes wants state Attorney General Pam Bondi to give an opinion on the issue.

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Carlos Lopez-Cantera posted a video touting his Senate campaign Monday. It features the lieutenant governor boasting that he’s a Florida Republican, not a Washington creature (like two of his opponents).

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And Martin O’Malley makes a rare fundraising appearance in the Sunshine State next month at the condo of famed urban development guru Richard Florida.

Martin O’Malley to make rare Florida fundraising stop next month in Miami Beach

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, languishing a distant third in the Democratic race for president, will make a rare appearance in Florida next month, at a fundraiser in Miami Beach co-hosted by former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and Rena and Richard Florida.

That’s urban development guru and author of “The Rise of the Creative Class,” Richard Florida.

The event takes place on Dec. 2.

“I got to know Governor O’Malley when I was mayor of Miami and he was mayor of Baltimore, and I am confident that he is the best shot our party has to keep the White House,” Diaz wrote in an email announcement. “We need your help to get him there.”

O’Malley has been spending virtually all his time in Iowa and New Hampshire, the states that will go first in the Democratic elections beginning in February.

Except for a speech in Fort Lauderdale at the end of July at the National Urban League’s annual meeting (an event also attended by Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders), O’Malley has not campaigned at all in Florida.

The Florida Democratic presidential primary is scheduled for March 15.

 

Jeff Brandes wants legal opinion about Hillsborough PTC’s lobbying efforts

Jeff Brandes is taking another shot at the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, this time because it hired a lobbyist.

The St. Petersburg-based state senator has been calling for the agency’s demise for several years now, in part because it has tried to regulate ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft.

Now he wants Attorney General Pam Bondi to review the statutes governing the agency to determine whether it’s lawfully permitted to spend public money to hire lobbyists.

Brandes’ call comes just days after WTVT-Fox 13 reported that the local agency is spending $120,000 a year for using the lobbying firm of Corcoran and Johnson, in part to influence Brandes colleagues in the Legislature not to eliminate the agency.

“I was shocked to learn that the PTC was spending $120,000 per year of public funds on lobbyists without the legal authority to do so,” Brandes said in a prepared statement. “The PTC already has a reputation tarnished by scandal. Once again, the PTC finds itself mired in controversy over questionable practices. These circumstances deserve a full review by the Attorney General.”

The PTC has used lobbyists since at least 2007, when Victor DiMaio was hired by then PTC Chairman Kevin White to lobby in Tallahassee. White was later indicted on federal charges that he abused his position as chairman of the county’s Public Transportation Commission, taking bribes in return for favors to a towing company.

The Fox 13 report alleged that three different attorney general opinions showed that entities created by the state cannot spend money on state lobbyists without specific authorization. One of those opinions was written by Bondi to Hillsborough County Attorney Chip Fletcher in February 2014. The case was whether the Hillsborough County Civil Service Board was allowed to lobby. Bondi’s office ruled it was not.

“The civil service board is tax funded, we’re not. So there’s a major difference right there,” said Hillsborough PTC executive director Kyle Cockream. He said that Fox 13 was told of those differences but choose not to cite that in their report.

Cockream said he wouldn’t comment beyond that, but that Fletcher and other county attorneys may release their own statement soon.

Brandes has made it clear that he thinks the PTC should be eliminated. He has a local bill to do that set to go before the Hillsborough County local Legislative Delegation when it meets in a couple of weeks.

State report on civil asset forfeiture laws in Florida suggests reforms are needed

There’s been an increasing rise in reforming civil asset forfeiture laws around the country, with conservatives and libertarians (such as the Cato Institute) leading the cause in many cases.

Civil asset forfeiture is the legal practice that allows law enforcement officials to seize private property and money that is suspected of aiding, or resulting from, criminal activity. Federal forfeiture laws were ramped up in the 1980s to support law enforcement in cutting the illegal profits of organized crime and drug kingpins.

Last spring, a bill sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes that would require any money raised through asset forfeiture be funneled to the state’s Crimes Compensation Trust Fund was gutted in a state Senate committee and did not get passed.

There are certainly examples of police department’s mismanaging such funds. A Justice Department audit last year showed police in the South Florida town of Sunrise steered nearly $375,000 to a local law firm (despite not even being able to produce a contract for the firm’s services).

But Brandes and others who agree that the current Florida law demands reform received some validation last week after the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) produced a report on the state of play with this practice, called Civil Asset Forfeiture in Florida: Policies and Practices.

The report states that there are no requirements for local law enforcement agencies in Florida to report such seizures, but its voluntary survey — in which half Florida’s police and sheriff’s offices participated — found almost 19,000 seizure actions over the past five years, with vehicles and currency being the most commonly seized assets.

That amounted to those agencies reporting that they have deposited more than $68 million in civil forfeiture seizures, including more than $20 million in the fiscal 2014 year, which ended on June 30 of this year.

Among the recommendations that the report makes are:

Local law enforcement agencies should be required to report seizure actions and forfeitures to the state at least annually.

Require conviction before forfeiture. One of the most substantial reforms is to require that law enforcement convict the property owner in criminal court before any property can be forfeited. This type of change substantially eliminates civil asset forfeiture as a process distinct from criminal forfeiture. Four states (Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, and New Mexico) have amended their contraband forfeiture law in the past year to require a conviction before forfeiture. North Carolina already had this requirement. Currently, Florida is like the majority of states, which does not require a criminal conviction before forfeiture.

Increase the standard of proof. While criminal cases require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard of proof in most states for civil asset forfeiture cases is much lower. This is a significant difference since assets can be seized and forfeited whether or not the property owner is convicted of a crime.

Although Florida’s standard of proof in forfeiture cases is higher than many states, the Legislature could consider further increasing the evidentiary standard in Florida to beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard required in criminal trials.

The report also says: “To further restrict the use of civil asset forfeiture funds by law enforcement in Florida, the Legislature could reduce the percentage of funds that agencies are allowed to keep, increase the percentages given to substance abuse and crime prevention programs, or designate funds for other purposes.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has been a supporter of reforming civil asset forfeiture laws.

Responding to the report, ACLU representatives stated:

“Now that OPPAGA’s report has documented how often Florida’s police agencies are seizing personal property, it is time for the legislature, which commissioned the report, to take action to bring an end to abuses of the system, said the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida’s Director of Public Policy Michelle Richardson.

“The legislature now has the facts and it should take up the reforms proposed in the report, including requiring a conviction before forfeiture, increasing the standard of proof required to match that of criminal cases, and limiting how police agencies can use the proceeds gained by the sale of forfeited assets. There shouldn’t be a profit motive driving police to take property from the public.

They opposed Brandes’ bill during the 2015 Legislative session and remains opposed to any legislation that would alter the state’s Contraband Forfeiture Act.

Brandes is expected to file a new bill dealing with civil asset forfeiture within the next two weeks.

Melissa McKinlay drops out of CD18 Democratic primary

In a surprise announcement, Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay is dropping her bid for Congress in Florida’s 18th District.

In a statement sent to her supporters, McKinlay, who said she considers herself the front-runner in the Democratic primary to replace Patrick Murphy, said she can’t do her job and compete for the seat now that millionaire businessman Randy Perkins has entered the contest.

“For six months, I have been a full-time commissioner campaigning part-time,” McKinlay writes. “Changing circumstances in this race – a multimillionaire self-funded candidate – meant that I’d have to be a full-time candidate and a barely part-time commissioner.

“That revelation is a game changer for me and is not a compromise I will make for my constituents,” McKinlay continued in the email. “A public servant’s integrity and trust are the assets citizens care about most. I will always make decisions to retain my integrity and remain worthy of your trust.”

The owner and founder of AshBritt, a debris-removal service, POLITICO Florida reported last week that Perkins said he would spend as much as $5 million of his own money in the race.

In a statement after McKinlay made her announcement, Perkins said, “Commissioner McKinlay has my utmost respect and admiration. She’s been a great public servant on the County Commission and I’m certain she will continue to serve the people of Palm Beach well there – or anywhere else she chooses to bring her talents. Melissa and I are passionate about many of the same issues and I want her to know that I’ll fight hard for the values we share.”

CD 18 encompasses Florida’s Treasure Coast – it includes St. Lucie and Martin counties and part of Palm Beach county. Murphy won the seat in a fiercely contested race in 2012, and easily won re-election last year.

His departure earlier this year to run for the U.S. Senate has opened up the floodgates of candidates vying to replace him. Even with McKinlay’s departure, there are now 12 candidates – four Democrats and eight Republicans – running for the seat.

Galia Slayen added to Patrick Murphy’s senate campaign staff

Galia Slayen, communications director for Kentucky Democrat Andy Beshear‘s successful campaign for attorney general  this month, is joining Patrick Murphy‘s senate campaign as deputy communications director.

“I’m excited to join Patrick Murphy’s hardworking team,” Slayen said in a prepared statement. “It’s clear that this campaign is already well positioned to win both the primary and general elections and I look forward to contributing to that effort.”

Murphy, the second-term congressman from Jupiter, is running in the intensely competitive Democratic primary election for senate next year against fellow Florida U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson.

It won’t be Slayen’s first rodeo, as far as senate campaigns go. She was the deputy press secretary for North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan‘sre-election bid last year.

She also was on the inauguration committee for Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, as well as chief-of-staff to McAuliffe’s wife, Dorothy, during that 2013 gubernatorial campaign.

Slayen is a graduate of Hamilton College, and is a Portland, Oregon, native.

“Our campaign will benefit from Galia’s extensive experience in tough races across the country,” Murphy campaign manager Josh Wolf said. “We are continuing to build an all-star team and Galia is a strong addition.”

Kathy Castor says president can do “much better” at telling ISIS strategy

A CBS News poll released on Monday shows that 66 percent of Americans don’t think President Barack Obama has a clear strategy to defeat the Islamic State.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor says she understands where the public is coming from.

“I think President Obama can do much better in communicating that strategy,” the Democrat representing Tampa and parts of St. Petersburg said this morning.

Castor wouldn’t go beyond that when referring to the president’s issues in communicating with the American people, but she has plenty of thoughts about what the country should be doing to effectively ensure that terrorists don’t slip through security in America.

“We’ve got to focus on closing some loopholes,” she said. “The folks who can travel from Europe without having to get a visa at all. If you have traveled to Syria and Iraq over the past few years, you should not be allowed to travel from Europe without a visa, without some screening, into the Unites States.”

Castor also supports a legislative proposal to close a loophole involving terrorists acquiring firearms. California Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein has proposed a bill that would  ban individuals on the FBI’s consolidated Terrorist Watchlist from buying firearms. Those individuals, according to a Government Accountability Office report from March, were approved 91 percent of the time they sought to buy guns from 2004 to 2014 – purchasing 2,043 firearms.

And, like her Republican colleague David Jolly across Tampa Bay, Castor said it’s past time for Congress to weigh in on an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). “They (Congress) have shirked their responsibility for a couple of years, and now we just have got to turn the corner and have that debate and discussion with the administration.”

Castor, though, reserves her greatest ire for the Congressional colleagues when it comes to last week’s vote on the SAFE Act, which will tighten restrictions on Syrian refugees seeking entry into the United States. Not only did every Republican in the House vote for the bill, but so did 47 Democrats, including Gwen Graham and Patrick Murphy from Florida.

“It was an entirely too hasty and it was rushed,” she says when asked about Murphy and Graham’s vote of support for the bill.

“There was no committee meeting, there were no amendments that was allowed, and frankly it was a very weak reaction. You mean there was a very serious terrorist threat, and the only answer the congress can come up with to really show that they were doing something, is to go after a very limited number of victims and families who are the most well screened, traveling to the U.S.,” she said. “Instead it would make more sense to close those loopholes for the folks who have traveled to Iraq and Syria, and then back to Europe. They should be disallowed from coming to America unless they go thru a rigid screening process.”

Feinstein and Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake are working on a bill that  would help guard against terrorists trying to exploit the visa waiver program.

 

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