Ashley Moody will officially kick off her Attorney General campaign with an event in Tampa later this month.
Moody will hold a campaign kickoff at 6 p.m., June 29 at The Floridan Palace in Tampa. The event comes weeks after the former Hillsborough circuit judge threw her hat in the race to replace Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2018.
The 42-year-old was first elected to the 13th Judicial Circuit when she was 31 years old, making her the youngest judge in Florida. She resigned her seat in at the end of April.
Moody, who filed to run for Attorney General on June 1, is the second Republican to jump into the race to replace Bondi, who can’t run for re-election again because of term limits. Jay Fant, a Jacksonville state representative, is also running. Democrat Ryan Torrens is also running.
She has already lined up a big name backer in her race. Earlier this month, Bondi said she planned to support Moody in the Attorney General’s race, saying she doesn’t “think there could be a more qualified candidate for attorney general in the entire state of Florida.”
Newly announced Florida attorney general candidate Ashley Moody already has one key endorsement – current Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Bondi said former Hillsborough Circuit judge is her preferred choice to be her successor and will support her when she enters the 2018 race.
“I’ve known her most of her life,” Bondi told the Tampa Bay Times Monday. “I don’t think there could be a more qualified candidate for attorney general in the entire state of Florida. I wholeheartedly support Ashley and I’m proud of her for wanting to sacrifice so much for our state.”
Bondi went Stetson University College of Law with Moody’s mother, Carol. The Attorney General first met the future judge when she was a teenager. They have been close friends ever since.
Moody spent a decade as a circuit judge in Hillsborough for 10 years, before resigning abruptly in April. After Moody’s resignation, Bondi encouraged her to run for attorney general.
Moody filed a campaign for the office last week with the state Division of Elections and is expected to officially announce her bid Tuesday.
Jacksonville Republican State Rep. Jay Fant and Democrat Ryan Torrens of Tampa have already entered the race.
“No one will outwork Ashley Moody in this race,” Bondi told the Times.
In 2016, Democrats targeted a handful of Florida House districts they believed they could flip from red to blue.
One of them was Hillsborough County’s House District 63, where the Florida Democratic Party put some money behind Lisa Montelione in her bid to oust Republican incumbent Shawn Harrison.
After a close race, Harrison ultimately prevailed, 51 to 49 percent.
Although off-year elections are traditionally harder for Democrats, there is hope that an energetic resistance to Donald Trump could make 2018 a year of opportunity.
But as Harrison already begins looking forward to getting re-elected next year, he’s getting assistance from one of the biggest Democrats in the region, Bob Buckhorn. The Tampa mayor is listed as a special guest at Harrison’s June 29 campaign kickoff fundraiser at the Tampa Theatre.
“I support people who support the City of Tampa and our legislative issues,” Buckhorn told FloridaPolitics.com in a text message. “Shawn has consistently been willing to advocate on behalf of issues that were important to the City, even if it meant going against their leadership of his own party. He never forgot what it was like to be a local elected official and has been a voice of reason in a political party that has made local government a target. It seems to me that we are all better served when our elected officials care more about their community that their political issues.”
Harrison has voted against the majority of his party in a few notable cases, such as when he supported a hybrid version of Medicaid expansion a few years ago. He also supported economic incentives for Enterprise Florida, a position Buckhorn backed and which earned him the public rebuke of Governor Rick Scott at an appearance at MOSI early this year.
As House Minority Leader, Tampa state Rep. Janet Cruz was charged with attempting to get as many Democrats elected to the House last fall. She’s also close with Buckhorn and had no issue with him backing Harrison.
“Nothing new,” Cruz told FloridaPolitics.com. “Buckhorn served for many years with Harrison on Council. I believe they became good friends then.”
With Americans saying that they’re tired of partisan bickering, some would say the Buckhorn-Harrison connection should be celebrated. However, that’s not the way some Tampa Democrats see it.
“Flabbergasted” was the term used by Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Ione Townsend after learning of the Mayor’s efforts.
“I’m disappointed because the mayor claims he’s a good Democrat,” said Hillsborough County Democratic Committeeman Russ Patterson, adding that he’s aware that Buckhorn and Harrison are friends. “Friendships are allowed to cross party,” he added.
“I’m not surprised,” said public relations executive Tom Hall, whoteamed up with former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and others last year to form The Hillsborough Society, which raised over $40,000 to support local Democrats in Hillsborough County in 2016 and is actively recruiting candidates for 2018.
Hall cited Buckhorn’s support for Republican Pam Bondi against Democrat George Sheldon in the 2014 attorney general’s race, and his refusal to back Democrat Charlie Crist in the gubernatorial race that same year as moves that Democrats haven’t forgotten about.
“I think that those two were big mistakes, and the Democrats that I know and talk to have not forgiven him for that,” said Hall, adding that his group is looking for a good Democrat to challenge Harrison in 2018.
Buckhorn won’t be the only elected Democrat from Tampa at the Harrison fundraiser. City Councilman Frank Reddick is also listed on the fundraising announcement. Reddick endorsed Harrison over Montelione last year.
Ashley Moody, who served a Hillsborough judge for more than a decade until resigning abruptly in late April, has filed as a Republican candidate for Attorney General.
Moody was elected to the 13th Judicial Circuit in 2006 at the age of 31, becoming the youngest judge in Florida.
Moody is a 1996 graduate of the University of Florida and received her J.D. degree from the UF College of Law in 2000.
She is the daughter of longtime federal judge James Moody Jr.
Another important note, Moody has already lined up GOP heavyweight Nancy Watkins to serve as her campaign treasurer.
Florida’s current Attorney General is Pam Bondi, who many speculated would join the Donald Trump administration. She is term-limited from running again.
Moody is the second Republican to enter the race. Jacksonville state Representative Jay Fant filed last month. On the Democratic side, Hillsborough County Attorney Ryan C. Torrens announced his candidacy last week.
Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office this week responded to a lawsuit claiming she forces businesses to pony up millions of dollars to unregistered charities as part of settlements in consumer protection cases.
Deputy Solicitor General Jonathan L. Williams, writing on Bondi’s behalf, said in part that some of the organizations criticized by Orlando entrepreneur John D. Smith aren’t “require(d) … to register (with the state) before receiving contributions from governmental entities.”
Rather, they need to register as charities if they plan to “solicit,” or ask for, charitable contributions, Williams added.
Circuit Judge Charles Dodson of Tallahassee ordered Bondi to show why he shouldn’t find for Smith, giving Bondi 40 days to respond. Williams’ response, filed Monday, came on the 40th day.
“Florida law expressly and unambiguously authorizes (the Attorney General’s office to require) a settling party’s promise to make a contribution to a third party,” said the response to the order to show cause. “Nowhere in the relevant statutes does it say that these third-party entities must be registered charities.”
In 2015, Bondi’s office launched an investigation against Smith, who invented Storm Stoppers plastic panels as a “plywood alternative” to protect windows during storms. He was one of many companies that chose to settle in what’s known as an “assurance of voluntary compliance.”
Smith filed a petition for a “writ of quo warranto” in Leon County Circuit Civil court, saying Bondi “exceeded (her) authority” under a state law aimed at protecting consumers and businesses from abuse.
Some of the unregistered charities that Bondi makes settling parties give money to is her own “Law Enforcement Officer of the Year” award and various “scholarship funds designated by the Attorney General.”
Smith also said Bondi was wrongly directing contributions to her office’s nonprofit, Seniors vs. Crime, which is a “conflict of interest,” the suit says. Two of its directors work for Bondi.
“Seniors vs. Crime was created in 1989 by then-Attorney General Bob Butterworth,” Williams countered. “Since 2002, OAG (Office of Attorney General) employees have consistently served on the organization’s board. In keeping with that close historical relationship, OAG and Seniors vs. Crime share a common interest—protecting Florida’s senior citizens against fraud.”
“(A)bundant authority holds that such eminently laudable public service does not run afoul of applicable ethical requirements,” he added. Since she first assumed office in 2011, Bondi’s office settled enforcement actions with 14 businesses in which they wound up paying more than $5.5 million to 35 unregistered charities, the quo warranto petition says.
Moreover, Williams said Smith doesn’t have standing to challenge Bondi: “The Legislature has not authorized third-party challenges to the voluntary settlement agreements at issue here, and it would be unprecedented to permit such challenges.”
In a previous statement, Bondi called the legal action “meritless” and “harassment.” A next hearing in the case was not docketed as of Tuesday.
SalterMitchell is launching Fluent in Floridian, a new podcast featuring state leaders talking about issues important to the people of Florida and the people who visit the Sunshine State each year.
The podcast will tackle issues like economic development, environmental protection, transportation, tourism, politics and taxes. Released weekly, each episode features interviews with political leaders, influences and innovators from around the state.
“News is consumed so quickly now that it’s become hard to get to know our leaders and understand their motivations, so we’ve created a show that allows listeners to hear more than simply soundbites,” said Chris Cate, the podcast’s host and the senior public affairs director at SalterMitchell. “Fluent in Floridian is conversational, much like NPR’s Fresh Air, except we’re talking to Florida’s top leaders, innovators and influencers about their backgrounds and visions for our state.”
The podcast launched Tuesday, with SalterMitchell releasing episodes featuring interviews with Florida State University President John Thrasher, Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper, Tampa Bay Times Political Editor Adam Smith, and Sally Bradshaw, a longtime senior advisor to former Gov. Jeb Bush.
Future episodes include interviews with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum; FloridaPolitics.com Publisher Peter Schorsch; Florida Chamber of Commerce Chairman Syd Kitson; Attorney General Pam Bondi; ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon; and Craig Pittman, a Tampa Bay Times reporter and New York Times bestselling author.
Cate knows a thing or two about the inner workings of the capital city. He served as spokesman and speechwriter for former Gov. Charlie Crist, and as communications director for CFO Jeff Atwater and Secretaries of State Kurt Browning and Ken Detzner. He was also helped implement communications strategies for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation.
Prior to joining SalterMitchell, he served as vice president of corporate communications for 180 Communications, where he led media relations efforts and conducted media training and social media etiquette around the country.
April Salter, the company’s president and COO, and Peter Mitchell, the company’s chairman and chief creative officer, serve as the show’s executive producers.
The Tallahassee Democrat’s Monday edition (online version here), with help from the Chicago Tribune’s estimable reporting of the last few weeks, documented Sheldon’s travails as head of Illinois’ DCFS.
The lede, by the nearly 20-year Democrat veteran Jeff Burlew: “George Sheldon, a well-known figure in Florida politics who took over Illinois’ troubled child welfare agency in 2015, is embroiled in ongoing state ethics probes and facing scrutiny over contracts given to past campaign donors and consultants.”
Sheldon, a Democrat who lost a challenge to incumbent GOP Attorney General PamBondi in 2014, was secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families from 2008-2011 under then-Gov. Charlie Crist.
He also has served in the state House, as a deputy to Attorney General Bob Butterworth, and as acting assistant secretary for the federal Administration for Children and Families under President BarackObama.
The upshot: Sheldon now is looking at a beating a retreat to Miami, to head the Our Kids nonprofit that provides child services in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
Not that Sheldon—still listed as owning a home in Tallahassee that last sold for $409,000—talks much to the Florida media these days.
Sheldon, who was a reporter’s best friend during his AG campaign, now has taken to largely shunting press inquiries to right-hand man Neil Skene, a former St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times) Tallahassee bureau chief. Skene joined Sheldon’s leadership team in Illinois.
“George’s leadership has won widespread, bipartisan support, including an outpouring from people in the General Assembly and the child-welfare system urging him to remain in Illinois and complete that work that is under way,” Skene told the Democrat, adding that Sheldon “saw no personal financial benefit from any of the Florida contracts.”
They include Gary Yordon, a political consultant and former Leon County commissioner, and Adam Corey, part-owner of Tallahassee’s Edison restaurant.
Yordon got “$35,000 to produce two television public service announcements about child drowning danger and safe infant sleeping practices,” the paper reported, and Corey “lobbied for a company, Presidio Networked Solutions, that was awarded more than $1 million in contracts with (Illinois’) DCFS.”
Sheldon did tell the Tribune last week he “can’t not give serious consideration to Florida. It’s home, but I also feel an obligation to Illinois.” He said he expects to make a decision “in the coming weeks.”
“Defending the Constitution and enforcing the rule of law is something that can keep me up at night and get me out of bed in the morning,” Fant said Monday.
“The Legislature has been a wonderful experience, but I’m more of someone who likes to administer public policy for an organization, as opposed to standing on the soapbox and screaming all the time, which is what we have to do in the Legislature,” Fant added.
So Fant is interested in “enforcing the rule of law,” rather than making laws — an important point.
“Culturally, there seems to be a lot of pop culture bent against law enforcement, kind of neo-1960s dismissal of our law enforcement people,” he said. “I think that’s a harmful trend, and I hate to see people go after our guys and girls in the blue.”
Johnson is known for virulent anti-homosexual rhetoric, which has even been an embarrassment to fellow Republicans.
Fant’s campaign asserts that Johnson is “not a hire.” Fine. But why was he the point of contact for the launch for his campaign?
Al Lawson has ‘favorite son’ town hall in Gadsden County
U.S. Rep. Lawson may have a learning curve in “Dirty Duval.” But he is golden, a “favorite son” in Gadsden County, according to the Havana Herald.
Highlights? There was some new info from his town hall last week.
Georgia Rep. John Lewis has been mentoring freshman legislators, Lawson said.
“He is truly there to help us get a chance to congregate as freshmen,” he said.
Lawson also discussed food deserts and nutritional deprivation, noting that some school students are hurting so bad for a decent meal that “kids on Fridays put food in their backpacks because they might have no other food on weekends.”
As you can see below, hunger was also a theme in a Jacksonville appearance.
Lenny Curry committee makes it rain in April
April was a big month for Jacksonville Mayor Curry, as he was making the final sale of his pension reform to the Jacksonville City Council.
To that end, his political committee [“Build Something That Lasts”] spent big: $122,000.
Of that money, $100,000 went to ad buys — which facilitated an effective television ad that drove people to call the Jacksonville City Council and show support.
The ad worked: pension reform passed without a no vote.
Curry secured $55,000 of donations in April, with Tom Petway, Michael Munz and John Rood giving.
The committee has roughly $230,000 cash on hand, and with Curry staying put in Jacksonville after withdrawing from the CFO search, he will have time to replenish the coffers.
Paul Renner delivers big for Flagler, St. Johns dune restoration
When Flagler County commissioners recently workshopped an update on recovery from Hurricane Matthew, concerns arose over money appropriated by the Legislature.
More specifically, what was not being appropriated.
“I’m hearing we might not even come close to the $10 million we were hoping for,” Commission Chair Nate McLaughlin told FlaglerLive.com.
However, Republican state Rep. Renner, whose district includes all of Flagler County, came to the rescue. By the end of the 2017 Session, Renner secured $13.3 million for emergency repairs in his district.
But the money came with the catch, as far as Flagler is concerned: it would have to be shared between Flagler and St. Johns counties, leaving a certain uncertainty over how the Department of Environmental Protection will split the amount. The DEP oversees administering the money and of some of the beach-restoration work for Hurricane Matthew repairs, after the storm sheared off enormous chunks of beach sand and dunes in Flagler County.
“DEP will administer that based upon the county’s needs,” Renner said in an interview. “So, we believe that that in combination, with the possibility of some funds from the main beaches budget, will be adequate to cover the entirety of the local match in Flagler County.”
Laura Street Trio, Barnett Building in play
Good news for those wanting downtown development to continue on the upswing! The Florida Times-Union reports that Curry is committed to the renovation of the properties, and the city is willing to put in $9.8M in incentives to make that happen.
“With a keen focus on increasing economic development throughout the city, building public-private partnerships, and ensuring a return on the city’s investments to taxpayers, my administration has been able to successfully negotiate a redevelopment agreement where others have stalled and failed,” Curry asserted.
“Any redevelopment project I present to City Council will reflect a return to taxpayers,” Curry added. “This one is no exception.”
City incentives are “part of $78 million worth of work to turn the buildings into a mix of apartments, hotel rooms, restaurants, rooftop bar, bank and bodega market,” the T-U report added.
All of this would be done within about three years.
School Board, Nikolai Vitti rail against HB 7069
Newsflash: the Duval County School Board and the state Legislature are sideways on education reform, with board members and outgoing Superintendent Vitti messaging hard against changes Monday before the legislature approved the bill, as WJXT reports.
“Not only are we underfunded for infrastructure, but we will see less funding and an acceleration of funding to charter schools,” Vitti said. “This “reform” is — I call it reform because that’s what the Legislature is calling it — it’s not reform. It’s hijacking of the legislative process to favor charter schools. In other words, to favor the few over the many.”
The controversial bit of the bill: the “Schools of Hope” program, incentivizing charter schools taking on students from failing schools — and upsetting the funding formula.
Police Union 1, ‘F— the Police’ 0
In the wake of a springtime clash between anti-Trump protesters and Jacksonville police officers, a very public clash soon ensued on Facebook between Jacksonville Ethics Commission nominee Leslie Jean-Bart and Fraternal Order of Police head Steve Zona.
That clash — which involved, among other things, Jean-Bart defending protesters using the inflammatory phrase “f — the police” by posting that “Also, F*** the Police is protected free speech. I’m not going to condemn it because there is no reason to do so” — has now reached the denouement.
And it appears Jean-Bart will not be moving toward the Ethics Commission anytime soon, with the City Council withdrawing the bill that would put her on.
The nomination was withdrawn at the request of its sponsor: Public Defender Charles Cofer.
In the words of Ice-T: “Freedom of speech … just watch what you say.”
Save the date: Florida Foundation for Liberty is hosting a fundraising reception for Rep. Renner Thursday, May 25. Reception begins 5:30 p.m. at The River Club, 1 Independent Dr. #3500, in Jacksonville. RSVP to Katie Ballard at (954) 803-3942 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
UF Health North cuts ribbon on new inpatient hospital
The 92-bed tower is connected by walkways to the current medical office complex, the heart of the campus, which has been open since 2015. The new hospital consists of five floors, four for patients with all private rooms.
There is a 20-bed unit dedicated to labor and delivery and other women’s services, a 24-bed floor dedicated to the intensive care, two 24-bed floors devoted to general medical inpatients, and one floor of administrative services, a chapel, a cafeteria and more.
Night at the Zoo
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens will be in a whole new light with Night at the Zoo events from 6:30-10 p.m. Live music, food trucks, cash bars, and visitors will have a chance to see animal exhibits until 8:30 p.m. on June 23, July 14, July 28 and August 11.
There will be animal encounters, keeper talks, bounce houses and more. Tickets for members are $5/adults and $3/children (3-12); nonmembers are $10/adult and $5/children (3-12). Child 2 and under: free (but still require a ticket) Tickets are available by pre-sale, online purchase only.
JAXPORT adds Hans-Mill Corporation
Hans-Mill Corporation, one of the nation’s leading manufacturers of metal and plastic household products, is opening a state-of-the-art manufacturing center near the JAXPORT North Jacksonville marine terminals.
The 121,000-square-foot facility IS for manufacturing, assembling and distributing stainless steel trash cans and plastic household products sold at major retailers around the world.
Hans-Mill will use JAXPORT to import materials used in its manufacturing process from Asia, as well as for the import of finished goods for U.S. distribution. In addition, the company has been granted permission to operate within JAXPORT’s Foreign Trade Zone No. 64. The facility, which already serves as the company’s headquarters, stands for an $11 million investment in Northeast Florida, creating 23 new, direct jobs.
Some good news for fans of minor league baseball in Jacksonville, from First Coast News.
The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp are showing a 73 percent YOY increase in attendance — a validation of the once-controversial and once-derided change of the team’s name from the Suns.
Purists balked. But with new promotions and a new look, baseball is juiced once again at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.
That’s the biggest increase in turnstile traffic in minor league baseball. The second biggest has a local connection as well: the Columbia Fireflies. The South Carolina A club features Tim Tebow at the plate, and casual fans at the gate, with a 43 percent uptick year over year.
Armada remain undefeated thanks to late equalizer
The Jacksonville Armada FC recorded a late comeback to draw with the New York Cosmos Saturday night. In the 95th minute, Zach Steinberger nailed a clutch goal to give the Armada FC (2W-4D-0L) a 1-1 draw with the New York Cosmos (2W-3D-1L) after trailing from the 23rd minute onward.
Kartik Krishnaiyer reports that New York’s early goal came courtesy of Javi Marquez. Jacksonville goalkeeper Caleb Sewell-Patterson had a great game once again making key saves to keep the Armada within striking distance.
“That performance was the best performance I’ve ever seen from the Armada against the New York Cosmos, who are one of the best teams in the NASL over the past few years,” said head coach Mark Lowry. The Cosmos have won 3 of the last 4 NASL Championships.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” said Armada Midfielder Kevan George. “We’re a team. Our chemistry and grind from preseason is what brought us to this point. Are we surprised that we tied the game? No, we knew we had it in us. We just have to keep going and get wins.”
Jacksonville faces North Carolina FC in NASL play Saturday. The Armada will be looking to continue its undefeated run and jump back into first place with a win. Jacksonville has drawn four straight games.
Meanwhile, the Armada FC learned who they’d face in next week’s US Open Second Round. Miami United will be the opposition after a late winner sunk Boca Raton FC. Local playing legend Nacho scored the game-winning goal in the 87th minute for Miami in a game where Boca Raton recorded the majority of chances, particularly in the second half. Miami’s goal against the run of play was impressive and showed the side could counterattack well, something Lowery and the Armada FC will have to account for in next week’s matchup.
The match will take place Tuesday, May 16, at Hialeah’s Ted Hendricks Stadium.
Jose Felix Diaz is jumping into the race to replace former Sen. Frank Artiles in Senate District 40.
“I am filing for Florida Senate District 40. It is the area that I have represented for the past seven years and the place where I am raising my kids,” he said in a statement. “I plan to mount a strong campaign and I will work diligently to represent the best interests of my community.”
His departure from the Florida House had been expected; on Monday, he gave an emotional farewell speech on the House floor.
The 37-year-old Cuban-American told his colleagues he “was never supposed to be here, because my grandparents came to this country with nothing … but they persevered.
“As a kid I spoke funny, I didn’t believe in myself, and I let others define my expectations of myself,” he said. “But I persevered.
Diaz spoke directly to his two sons, Dominick and Christian, telling them not to be afraid to cry and to help the disadvantaged.
“I pray that you realize that helping others is everything,” Diaz added. “There are rich people, and there are poor people. Help the poor ones. Help the disadvantaged; help the sick. Don’t do it because someone is watching—do it because it will make a difference in their lives, not yours.”
A government law attorney at Akerman, Diaz was first elected to the Florida House in 2010. He is currently the chairman of the House Commerce Committee, and has been the chamber’s point person on gambling legislation in recent years.
The 37-year-old Miami-Dade Republican expressed interest in filing Attorney General Pam Bondi’s seat if she took a job in the Trump administration, and even said he was thinking about was running for the seat in 2018.
He was believed to be a top contender to become South Florida’s top federal prosecutor. In April, POLITICO Florida reported Diaz and John Couriel interviewed with the Justice Department and were recommended — along with attorney Jon Sale — for the Southern District of Florida U.S. Attorney post. All three men were recommended by Sen. Marco Rubio.
Corcoran is eyeing a recent decision by the Pinellas County Commission to give $26 million in tourism development taxes to the aquarium. The money is being doled out over three years to help fund an expansion.
The issue has been a long stewing local fight as the Church of Scientology, which has a huge presence in Clearwater, lobbied commissioners hard to not give the green light to the funding.
The issue came to Corcoran’s attention after attorneys for the church circulated hundreds of pages of documents outlining what it says is a misuse of funds, a contention the aquarium has fought. The church sent the packet of documents to both local and state officials, including Corcoran, Senate President Joe Negron and Attorney General Pam Bondi.
As a matter of fact, Dixon’s story broke the day after the Tampa Bay Times reported how the FBI conducted a criminal investigation of the Church of Scientology in 2009 and 2010 that focused on allegations of human trafficking. Although the investigation never led to charges being filed, the documents buttress a 2013 report by the Times detailing a sustained and methodical FBI investigation of the church, with agents traveling to several states, questioning dozens of former Scientologists, obtaining surveillance video of the church’s remote headquarters in the mountains east of Los Angeles, and even contemplating a raid on that facility.
Fortunately, the Speaker’s Office insists it is not taking sides in the Scientology vs. CMA scrum.
“This has nothing to do with Scientology,” said Fred Piccolo, Corcoran’s communications director. “This is about the stewardship of public dollars.”
Piccolo reiterated the comments he provided to POLITICO Florida.
“We’ve received information that raises some questions,” Piccolo said Wednesday. “The Speaker will be briefed after budget negotiations are complete and we will determine further action at that time.”
“He remains fully committed to ensuring all tax dollars — including tourist taxes — are spent appropriately,” he said.
Part of the issue here, if you know the history of the funding for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, is that it is a pet project of Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala.
In 2014, the aquarium received another dollop of state money. Dixon reports that there is another $1 million slated for the facility in next year’s budget.
Additionally, in 2013, Latvala tweaked the state’s Tourist Development Tax law to allow county bed tax dollars to be used for aquariums, opening the door for Clearwater Marine Aquarium to seek additional funds through the county.
Money from that fund is what Scientology is asking Corcoran to examine.
“It is the duty of the board to every citizen of Pinellas County to weigh this information before it embarks on [a] handout of this magnitude of taxpayer’s funds,” wrote Monique Yingling, a church attorney, in a seven-page letter that accompanied the documents, according to Dixon.
An economic impact studyconducted earlier this year concluded that the aquarium had pumped $2 billion into the local economy since 2011.
Still, there’s nothing wrong with the Speaker keeping close tabs on taxpayers’ money, especially since he has assured us he’s not playing favorites.