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Adam Putnam, Richard Corcoran pulling in committee cash in December

It’s only been a few days since November campaign finance reports were filed, but gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam and his likely Republican Primary rival House Speaker Richard Corcoran have kept the money rolling in to their political committees.

Putnam’s committee, Florida Grown, has brought in another $135,000 since the start of December according to the committee’s website.

The biggest donor so far is Coral Gables investment banker Bruce Berkowitz, who chipped in $50,000 on Dec. 6. Florida Crystals and real estate developer Wayne Rosen, also of Coral Gables, each chipped in $25,000, while the committee received $10,000 a piece from SWBG Operations Group, G-T Consulting Service Inc. and Committee of Florida Agents. Peter V. Cowie of Palm Beach Gardens chipped in the other $5,000.

Putnam finished November with more than $15 million on hand between his committee and campaign accounts, with $12.83 million of his cash on hand in Florida Grown.

Corcoran hasn’t yet declared as a gubernatorial candidate, though in December he has added another $113,000 to his committee, Watchdog PAC, after bringing in more than $750,000 last month, and starting December with about $4.7 million on hand.

His top donor in the early days of December was MHM Services, which chipped in $40,000, followed by Florida Prosperity Fund at $20,000 and Anheuser-Busch at $15,000.

Currently the only other major Republican running for governor is Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala, who has been fighting back against sexual harassment allegations for more than a month.

His contributions slowed to a crawl last month and his PAC, Florida Leadership Committee, hasn’t reported any new December contributions since last updating its totals on Dec. 6.

The committee had just shy of $4 million on hand Nov. 30, and Latvala had another $808,062 in the bank for his campaign account.

Richard Corcoran comes out on top in Lottery dispute

After House Speaker Richard Corcoran successfully sued the Florida Lottery, the agency has agreed to tweak its multi-year deal for new equipment and other items to require legislative oversight and approval.

It seems Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican and possible candidate for governor, got exactly what he wanted: Control.

“For avoidance of doubt: The State of Florida’s performance and obligation to pay under this contract is contingent upon an annual appropriation by the Legislature,” the new agreement says. A request for comment is pending with Corcoran’s spokesman.

The Lottery, which reports to Gov. Rick Scott, on Friday released redacted documents detailing changes in what was originally a contract worth $700 million over an initial 10-year period, with three available 3-year renewal options.

Among others, the changes include reducing the number of “full-service vending machines” and requiring the  vendor, International Game Technology (IGT), to “support the Lottery’s marketing efforts” by kicking back $30,000 a month. 

Corcoran sued in February, saying the Lottery was guilty of “wasteful and improper spending” and “signing a contract that spends beyond existing budget limitations.”

The contract was for new retailer terminals, in-store signage, self-service lottery vending machines, self-service ticket checkers and an upgraded communications network.

Corcoran’s lawsuit said the Lottery “cannot enter into a contract that obligates the agency to pay more in subsequent fiscal years than its current budget authority allows….”

Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge Karen Gievers invalidated the deal in March, and the Lottery appealed. The sides asked the appellate court to put a hold on the case while they tried to work on a resolution. 

Last month, lawyers filed a status report with the 1st District Court, which telegraphed the “memorandum of agreement.”

It said they had “reached an understanding” but the “resolution may involve some final budget action by the Legislature and Governor for the next fiscal year.”

Lottery proceeds go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which helps pay for public education.

The documents, provided to Florida Politics after a public records request to the Lottery, are below:

GOP primary for Governor likely to be conservative vs. establishment matchup

While the Democratic field for Governor continues to swell, we’re seeing just the opposite happen on the Republican side. What was once a large crop of prospective candidates, has now boiled down to the classic “establishment” versus “conservative” matchup.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has long been the GOP favorite for 2018. He has put together exactly the kind of campaign that we all expected, raising impressive sums of money each month and putting together a veteran team of DC-based consultants.

Putnam, who announced his campaign nearly 18 months before the election, is leaning on his extensive political experience and disciplined campaigning to outlast and outwork any potential opponents.

On the other side of this coin are the conservatives: House Speaker Richard Corcoran and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis. Both potential candidates share a principled-conservative philosophy, and they both would bring a background that would resonate with today’s conservative grassroots.

Now, if you watch Fox News, you’ve probably seen DeSantis — he has become a frequent guest. However, you’d think several weekly appearances on the most-watched channel of Republican primary voters would put DeSantis on their radar. It hasn’t. A recent poll from St. Leo University shows DeSantis bunched up with Corcoran in the low single digits. And if he were to get in the race, he would not be able to benefit from additional free media attention.

For either candidate to gain ground on Putnam, they’ll need to put together a serious statewide operation and raise real money. And while Corcoran has raised $5.5 million in six months, DeSantis has only been able to pocket $1.8, coming mostly from a small handful of six-figure donors.

So, when it comes to fundraising, DeSantis has yet to show any signs that he can put together a viable statewide campaign. For those whom may have forgotten, DeSantis ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2016, but like what’s unfolding today, he struggled to raise money, and his campaign never got off the ground.

Now, maybe it’s possible that President Donald Trump will get into a contested primary six (or seven) months before the election, backing an unproven candidate. Maybe that endorsement will bring in a few more big checks.

And then, maybe, DeSantis will be able to put together a serious campaign.

But after four or five postponed announcements for Governor, those “maybes” keep getting less and less likely. It’s hard to see a scenario where DeSantis pulls the trigger — and even if he did, it’s hard to see it ending up much differently than his failed 2016 Senate campaign. Of course, he may call an audible and jump instead into the Attorney General race, where he would be much more competitive.

Corcoran, on the other hand, has quietly built a formidable political operation. He is widely regarded as Tallahassee’s most disruptive legislator and one of the most consequential Republican Speakers of the House.

Of course, in some circles that’s praise; in others — mainly inside the Tallahassee bubble — he is an enemy of the state. He has picked a fight with every political heavyweight and special interest, ruffling a lot of feathers of the Republican donor class.

And even though he says he won’t decide until after the 2018 Legislative Session, which ends in March, his political committee, Watchdog PAC, has all the makings of a serious statewide campaign.

On top of the overall fundraising, Corcoran pulled in $752,000 in November. A number that outpaced Putnam’s PC’s $616,000, and was double that of DeSantis’ $380,000.

Finally, Corcoran’s political committee has attracted top political consultants, including Trump and Gov. Rick Scott’s pollster, Tony Fabrizio, Trump’s media consultants, Jamestown Associates, and has also begun staffing the organization with high caliber campaign operatives.

Right now, all signs point to a classic Republican primary duel brewing between the polished and well-established campaign of Putnam versus the disruptive, conservative insurgent in Corcoran. And while DeSantis may still get mentioned as a potential candidate, it’s merely a formality — because that duck won’t be quacking.

New candidates sign up to succeed Richard Corcoran and Frank White in 2018

New candidates have filed for the House seats being vacated next year by House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Pensacola Republican Rep. Frank White.

Filing for Corcoran’s seat was New Port Richey Democrat Tyler Sambucci, who joins Republicans Bill Gunter, Elle Rudisill and Ardian Zika in the race for Pasco County-based HD 37. Corcoran, a Republican, faces term limits in the House and is likely to enter the gubernatorial race sometime after the 2018 Legislative Session.

HD 37 carries a heavy advantage for Republicans, so Sambucci will face an uphill battle if he makes the general election ballot next year. The Republican frontrunner, Zika, has gained the backing of several Pasco Republicans, including former House Speaker Will Weatherford and Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning, and has a six figure campaign fund.

At the end of November, the Pasco County businessman had more than $130,000 cash on hand while Rudisill had about $11,500 and Gunter had about $4,400.

Opening a campaign account to replace White, who is running for Attorney General in 2018, was Gulf Breeze Republican William Bussing. He joins Robert Andrade in the Republican Primary.

Andrade filed for HD 2 in early November after White announced his AG bid, but he was able to show more than $50,000 cash on hand, including loans, in his first campaign finance report.

Also running for HD 2 is Democrat Ray Guillory, who was the Democratic nominee on the ballot last year. He had about $30 in his campaign account through October, but even with a six-figure sum the ruby-red Panhandle seat would be safely out of reach: White won with 61 percent of the vote last year compared to about 39 percent for Guillory.

Show ’em the money? Campaign financing repeal yanked by sponsor

A proposal to repeal Florida’s system of public financing for statewide campaigns won’t make it into the state constitution, at least for now.

Kruppenbacher

Frank Kruppenbacher, the proposed amendment’s sponsor, withdrew it from consideration at Wednesday’s meeting of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission’s Ethics and Election committee.

That was after representatives of progressive groups, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, uniformly opposed the idea (P 56).

But Kruppenbacher, a CRC appointee of Gov. Rick Scott, said he instead intends to press lawmakers to think about reforming the system this year. (See update below.) The state spent over $4.3 million in the 2014 election cycle financing campaigns, according to records.

“I see the election process as having been co-opted by money to the point where the public has been disinterested and not paying attention to campaigns,” said Kruppenbacher, an attorney with the statewide Morgan & Morgan law firm, in an interview.

“Look at Washington, look at Congress, and how broken it is,” Kruppenbacher added. “But everybody keeps getting re-elected. Nobody can campaign against (the incumbents).”

But the Legislature itself placed a similar amendment on the ballot for statewide approval in 2010. It flunked at the polls with 52 percent approval; amendments need 60 percent for adoption.

“I guess I just question strategically why to put this before voters” since they already rejected it, Integrity Florida’s Ben Wilcox told the panel.

House Speaker and presumptive Republican candidate for governor Richard Corcoran, however, has said he wants public campaign financing to end, calling it “welfare for politicians.”

Now, public dollars are available to candidates for governor, attorney general, agriculture commissioner and chief financial officer, though the money comes with some provisos.

The funds come out of the state’s general revenue, but there had been a “Election Campaign Financing Trust Fund” that was shut down in 1996.

Past statewide candidates that have taken public financing include Agriculture Commissioner and Republican candidate for governor Adam Putnam, who took $587,000 for his 2010 election and another $459,000 during his 2014 re-election.

Attorney General Pam Bondi took $432,000 in 2010 and $328,000 in 2014. Gov. Rick Scott took no public dollars to fund his 2010 or 2014 campaigns, records show.

During the meeting, Kruppenbacher told the panel, “We’re funding people who are already highly funded … I’d rather see (the money) go to school children.”

Update: GOP state Rep. Frank White of Pensacola, a candidate for attorney general, filed legislation later on Wednesday to repeal provisions in state law and the state constitution on “public financing of campaigns of candidates for elective statewide office.”

Proposal allowing retroactive criminal law changes heads to full CRC

A Constitutional Revision Commission panel on Tuesday cleared a proposal that would give lawmakers the power to adjust criminal sentencing guidelines retroactively.

Commissioner Darryl Rouson, appointed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, is sponsoring the measure (P 20), which he says would “remove an archaic provision” added to the state constitution in 1885.

“This clause was a response to fear and maintaining it has proven over time to be an overreach,” Rouson told the members in the Judicial Committee.

The proposed change to the state constitution would allow lawmakers to use their judgement to apply reduced or increased sentencing requirements to people who commit crimes before new rules have gone into effect.

Now that the proposal cleared its last committee stop, it heads to the full 37-member commission. If approved, it will go directly on the November ballot, where it would need 60-percent voter approval to become part of the state constitution.

While Commissioner Tom Lee, a Republican senator, supported the proposal, he expressed concerned that a constitutional amendment could also give the Legislature power to potentially alter “what a state attorney can charge somebody with or what a judge is required to hand down as punishment.”

“Just keep one eye on it if you would,” Lee said.

The measure has been pushed by a coalition of mostly conservative organizations and former state Rep. Neil Combee, who recently resigned his post in the Legislature for a job in the Trump administration.

If passed, reduced sentences would not be automatically retroactive, the Legislature would have to stipulate retroactivity in the bills passed.

Email insights: Gwen Graham’s bold claim — more supporters than any Gov. candidate

In the race for Florida Governor, if anything, Gwen Graham is audacious.

As well as announcing a “strong fundraising streak” through November, a new email from the Democratic hopeful makes a bold declaration — her campaign “has more supporters” than any other candidate in the race, either Democratic or Republican.

That’s quite a statement for a Democrat in a state controlled by Republicans for the past 20 years.

“While [Republicans] Adam Putnam and Richard Corcoran continue to fill their campaigns with special interests’ donations, we are taking on Tallahassee’s self-serving politicians and building a grassroots campaign to put real Floridians back in charge of our state,” Graham said.

Graham is backing up her self-assurance with some solid numbers — more than $300,000 raised for eight consecutive months, bringing in more than $240,000 in her campaign account, as well as more than $100,000 for her political committee “Our Florida” — totaling more than $350,000 in November.

In her bid for Governor, the former North Florida congresswoman now has raised more than $4.36 million dollars, as with about $2.78 million on hand.

While those numbers are impressive, what about the statement of “more supporters than anyone else?”

Good question; Graham added more than 1,400 new grassroots donors in just the last month, meaning she now has more than 11,500 unique supporters — more people than any other candidate in the race.

According to Matt Harringer, Graham’s communications director, the numbers of supporters are solid — using state records —  and speak for themselves. Among Democrats, Philip Levine has 604; Andrew Gillum, 8,451 and Chris King, 1674. As for Republicans, Jack Latvala has 2681; Putnam, 10,133 and Corcoran, 569.

It is this metric that Graham’s campaign says will become the strong foundation to take the ultimate challenge in Florida — facing a Republican in the general election.

Graham takes a parting shot at “Tallahassee Republicans” who are preparing for the upcoming 2018 Legislative Session the same way they have for more than two decades — holding committee week fundraisers with lobbyists.

“While they’re partying in Tallahassee,” Graham says her campaign “traveling the state building support from real Floridians and talking about the issues that matter to them.’

This leads to her boldest statement of all — that she “will take back the governor’s office and set Florida on a brighter path forward.”

While it’s too early to tell how the Governor’s race will ultimately pan out, there’s little doubt Graham has an abundance of confidence in both herself and her campaign.

We’ll see if that’s enough.

American Bridge takes aim at Adam Putnam

A Democrat-aligned super PAC is taking aim at Adam Putnam with a new website called ProblemPutnam.com.

American Bridge, launched by David Brock in 2010, says it intends on informing Floridians over the next year about what it contends has been Putnam’s priorities in public office since first being elected more than 20 years ago:

“Sweet deals for big business and his own bank accounts, while squarely ignoring the needs and concerns of Florida families.”

Putnam is considered a leading contender to become the next Republican nominee for Governor in 2018. In addition to his prodigious fundraising totals (he has over $15 million cash-on-hand), the only other establishment Republican considered to have any shot at him – Clearwater state Senator Jack Latvala – has had his campaign upended by allegations of sexual harassment that could lead to his expulsion from the Legislature.

Two other men considered to be contenders, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, have yet to enter the race.

“Adam Putnam is truly the problem child for Florida Republicans—he’s been cozying up to and making sweet deals on behalf of the lobbyists and donors that keep him in office for decades, all at the expense of Florida families,” American Bridge spokesperson Lizzy Price says.

“Putnam is right in line with Republicans in Congress under the leadership of Donald Trump who give handouts to the rich at the expense of the middle class,” Price adds.

“This will be a long, difficult campaign for Problem Putnam and in the end, Floridians will know that his problems aren’t endearing. They’re dangerous and wrong for Florida.”

The Putnam campaign slammed the site, and American Bridge.

“No surprise to see a super PAC funded by Hollywood liberals George Soros and Michael Moore is terrified to see a strong conservative with a positive vision for our state in the race for Governor,” said Putnam campaign spokeswoman Amanda Bevis. “This website is a poor-quality, Hollywood production that aims to fool voters into reversing the progress our state has made.”

Soros, the billionaire hedge fund manager, has been a major contributor to American Bridge over the years, including $80,000 earlier this year, according to Open Secrets.

Richard Corcoran’s political committee tops $750K in November

House Speaker and likely gubernatorial candidate Richard Corcoran’s political committee had a healthy stint in November, raising $753,700 – the fourth-highest monthly total since the committee’s inception last June.

From law firms and attorneys alone, Watchdog raised $208,000 last month. The Land O’ Lakes Republican’s committee also received a combined $35,000 from Swisher International and Dosal tobacco companies.

Also dumped into the Speaker’s committee: $100,000 from Voice of Florida Business PAC, $95,000 from Citizens Alliance for Florida and $20,000 from Missouri-based Isle of Capri Casinos.

While Corcoran hasn’t announced a bid for the governor’s mansion, his committee’s expenditures reflect spending indicative of a campaign ahead.

Watchdog spent $106,320 in November, nearly $25,000 of which going to Rapid Loop Consulting and almost $15,000 to Jacksonville-based fundraising consultants Political Capital. The committee also paid out more than $30,000 to Go Big Media, which advertises on its site that it delivers “big wins.”

To date, Watchdog has raised $5.4 million and has $4.6 million banked. November spending saw a dip from the two preceding months.

Corcoran’s fundraising numbers are good enough to put him in the fourth-place spot among declared candidates if he throws his name in the mix for governor.

Far out in front is fellow Republican and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who added nearly $1 million in contributions between his campaign and committee accounts in November and has about $15.35 million on hand.

Next in line is former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a Democrat, who also raised $1 million in November, putting his total fundraising at around the $7 million mark.

Embroiled Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala, the only other major Republican who has declared, has seen his contributions slow to a halt since six women accused of sexual harassment in early November, but he still about $4.8 million on hand between his campaign and committee account.

Heavy hitters in Ashley Moody’s finance team

A former U.S. Senator, a former U.S. Attorney, several former state lawmakers and a host of other Republican insiders are on the 34-member state financing team for Republican Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody.

The team’s membership was released Monday.

The 42-year-old former Hillsborough County circuit judge is one of four Republicans vying for the nomination to succeed Pam Bondi as the state’s chief legal officer.

Bondi is term-limited from running again and has already endorsed Moody.

Former lawmakers serving on her finance team include George LeMieux, who served as an interim U.S. Senator from 2009-2011 and is now the chairman of the board of the Gunster law firm; former House Speaker Dean Cannon, former Jacksonville state Sen. Jim Horne, Panhandle state Sen. George Gainer and former Hillsborough County state Rep. Trey Traviesa.

Other notables include former U.S. Attorney Paul Perez, St. Petersburg businessman Bill Edwards, and lobbyist Michael Corcoran, brother of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“It’s humbling to have the support of so many business, civic and legal leaders from around Florida,” Moody said in a press release. “Each and every individual on our finance team is not just accomplished professionally, but well-respected in their community.”

“Our team also recognizes and understands the importance of having an Attorney General who can lead the office on day one and keep Florida safe,” Moody added.

“The security of our state depends on having an Attorney General who understands what it takes to put criminals behind bars and strengthen our criminal justice system. With the help of our finance team, grassroots leaders, and campaign supporters we’ll continue sharing our conservative message with every voter throughout the state.”

Moody is running against state Reps. Jay Fant of Jacksonville, Frank White of Pensacola and Ross Spano of Dover for the GOP nomination. Tampa’s Ryan Torrens is the lone Democrat in the race.

Here’s the entire list of those on Moody’s finance team:

Carlos Alfonso, Brian Ballard, Rodney Barreto, Bennett Barrow, Glen Blauch, Dean Cannon, Doug Cone, Mike Corcoran, Bill Edwards, Elizabeth Marie Fago, Blake Fletcher, George Gainer, Robert Gidel, David Heekin, Jim Holton, Bill Horne, Jim Horne, Justin Kaplan, Cody Khan, Frank Kruppenbacher, Ron LaFace, Rhea Law, George LeMieux, Roberto Martinez, Randall McElheney, Paul Mitchell, Paul Perez, Ed Pozzuoli, Wayne Rosen, Domingo Sanchez, William Merrill Stainton, Trey Traviesa, Dr. Peter A. Wish, Jordan Zimmerman.

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