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Adam Putnam

Adam Putnam has ‘another’ $2M month

Another 30 days, another $2.11 million banked.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam‘s campaign announced late Thursday that it again crossed the $2-million threshold, perpetuating the narrative that the Agriculture Commissioner has no trouble grabbing cash in his quest for the Governor’s Mansion.  

The newest numbers mean Putnam has raised $28.88 million to date.

Putnam’s April haul saw $566,701 go to his campaign account, along with more than $1.5 million added to his affiliated political committee, Florida Grown PAC. Contribution and expenditure details are not yet available; the campaign has until May 10 to file state fundraising reports. 

Current on-hand cash amounts also are not available, though Putnam’s PAC and personal account had about $19.26 million cash on hand at the beginning of April.

Putnam’s financially successful month coincides with the candidate’s first television ad, which reportedly set him back $627,000. On Thursday, the Ag Comish also received a key endorsement from the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

And through the pro-Putnam lens, the Bartow native’s numbers talk.

“The financial strength of this campaign mirrors the strong grassroots momentum we’re seeing for Adam Putnam from every corner of the Sunshine State,” campaign spokeswoman Amanda Bevis said. “It’s clear that Adam Putnam is Florida’s choice for Governor. He knows Florida best, and he’ll always put Florida first.”

Fundraising details from other gubernatorial candidates have not been made available, though chances are Putnam leads by a longshot. As Scott Powers of Florida Politics reported in March, the next-closest candidate in the money chase is Democrat Philip Levine the former mayor of Miami Beach, who as of April had raised about $11 million.

Putnam’s primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, had raised just shy of $7 million as of the beginning of April, with $6.5 million at the ready.

Richard Corcoran, a potential gubernatorial candidate who teased a big announcement on Thursday, had raised about $6.8 million in his Watchdog PAC with roughly $2.2 million on hand at the beginning of April.

Richard Corcoran

Richard Corcoran teases ‘big announcement’

Widely expected to seek another political office, Florida state House Speaker Richard Corcoran delivered a cryptic update on Thursday via Twitter.

To those curious of the term-limited Land O’ Lakes Republican’s next move: “stay tuned.”

Following the tweet, Florida Politics reached out to Corcoran’s affiliated political committee, Watchdog PAC, for more context. A Watchdog spox said they had “nothing to add” but “will be in touch.”

The state ballot qualifying period is June 18 – June 22.

Several factors have illustrated the Speaker’s intention to seek a higher office.

Florida Politics reported that through the end of March Watchdog PAC had raised close to $7 million and currently has $2 million cash on hand. Corcoran’s name also has been polled alongside other gubernatorial candidates.

He championed a high-profile bill during the 2018 Legislative Session to ban sanctuary cities, a phrase coined for local governments that do not comply with federal immigration authorities. Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC, which had amassed more than $6 million in contributions through 2017, dished out nearly $100,000 to air an ad touting Corcoran’s dedication to preventing such cities. POLITICO Florida reported that number eventually crossed the million mark. The Speaker later debated Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum on immigration.

Corcoran also hasn’t hesitated to criticize Democratic candidates in the contest for Governor. Following April’s televised Democratic debate, Watchdog PAC aired a video mocking the candidates — Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Orlando businessman Chris King — for their responses to a question on public education.

But while most signs point toward a 2018 bid — a few of which suggest a run for Governor — the specific seat remains unknown.

Florida Politics reported last week that sources close to Corcoran confirmed the Speaker’s eventual entrance into the gubernatorial race and suggested he would do so during the week of May 7. Corcoran would join Republicans U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

The timeline remains the same, but now chatter in political circles suggest the Speaker is once again considering a bid for Attorney General. The current officeholder, Pam Bondi, is term-limited. And Corcoran, a rule-of-law ideologue with a background in the field, fits the bill. He’d face Republican candidates former Hillsborough Judge Ashley Moody and state Reps. Jay Fant and Frank White. Tampa state Rep. Sean Shaw and attorney Ryan Torrens make up the primary Democratic ticket.

Though in March, as the Legislative Session drew to a close and speculation of Corcoran entering the AG race ramped, a source inside Watchdog quelled the idea.

“Richard Corcoran has never considered and will not run for Attorney General,” Corcoran’s right-hand man James Blair said then. “Period. The end.”

So the guessing game continues. But for now, it looks like we’ll know by next week.

Stay tuned.

Jeffrey Soffer closes deal to buy South Florida’s Mardi Gras Casino

Real estate billionaire Jeffrey Soffer has closed on a deal to buy South Florida’s former Mardi Gras Casino and Race Track.

The closing was disclosed in a final order filed Monday and released Tuesday by the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR).

But the department, which regulates gambling in the state, withheld a final OK for a slot machine license, pending Soffer’s 831 Federal Highway Acquisition company paying $2 million for the license fee and a $250,000 “regulatory fee.”

Otherwise, “this Final Order approves of the transfer of assets and ownership interests” of its other gambling permits, the department said.

The sale marks an end to the four-decade long ownership of the Hallandale Beach facility by Hartman & Tyner (H&T), a Southfield, Michigan property management firm. Now named “The Big Easy Casino,” it has been closed since it was damaged by Hurricane Irma, though a poker room has since reopened. 

It also marks the completion of Soffer’s quest to buy the property.

The Soffer-family controlled Turnberry Associates real estate development company also owns Miami Beach’s famed Fontainebleau Resort

Speculation arose whether Soffer wanted to move the casino license from the Hallandale Beach track to the Fontainebleau. But according to Soffer, “such a move is both illegal and not in the cards.”

“I just like the real estate … I like the business. I think it’s a good opportunity,” he told the Miami Herald in January. 

Soffer had retained lobbyist Michael Corcoran, brother of GOP House Speaker and likely candidate for governor Richard Corcoran.

And, as reported by The Associated Press in January 2017, Senate President-designate Bill Galvano “acknowledged that he did legal work for Turnberry Associates on a ‘commercial transaction’ as recently as three years ago.” Galvano, past president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States, has long been the Legislature’s go-to man on gambling issues.

The terms of the Mardi Gras sale were not disclosed in the DBPR’s final order, but The Real Deal, a South Florida real estate news website, reported last month that Soffer “paid $12.5 million” for the nearly 28-acre property “and financed the deal with a $19.5 million mortgage from Florida Community Bank.”

A message seeking comment from Soffer was left Tuesday.

It wasn’t immediately clear what involvement longtime casino head Dan Adkins will have with the facility. A request for comment from him also is pending.

As Florida Politics reported in March, Adkins had been locked in a legal battle with H&T and its directors, accusing them in federal court of lying to him that he’d be paid “millions of dollars” upon sale of the company’s gambling businesses in Florida, West Virginia and Michigan.

H&T struck back by filing its own federal suit, saying the 60-year-old Adkins “engag(ed) in self-dealing, corporate waste, and gross mismanagement … conceal(ing) the poor financial state of H&T’s businesses caused by his misconduct so that he could … enrich himself and his family members.”

H&T’s suit also blamed Mardi Gras’ damages on Adkins, saying “oversight was poor, (and) the roof of the racetrack came off during Hurricane Irma because it was incorrectly installed under Adkins’s direction.” 

Those cases were settled out of court and closed last month, dockets show.

Republican lawmakers earn high grades on Associated Industries’ report card

The Associated Industries of Florida on Tuesday released a report measuring how closely Florida lawmakers’ votes aligned with its interests.

The conservative business group’s 2018 Voting Records report found a slight uptick in lawmaker support for AIF-backed legislation, with 78 percent of the Senate and 91 percent of the House voting in favor of its priorities.

AIF also recognized five lawmakers – three in the Senate and two in the House – with “non-voting” awards for going above and beyond during the 2018 Legislative Session.

“Our team goes to great lengths to ensure legislators are aware of AIF’s positions on issues of great importance to Florida’s business community. And, after every session, AIF compiles a record of success with our Voting Records” said Tom Feeney, president and CEO of AIF.

“We are proud to honor elected officials as Champions for Business – those lawmakers who take risks for his or her beliefs in the free-enterprise system, who defy the status quo when it’s harmful to our state’s competitive climate and who face down opponents to grow prosperity for Floridians.”

Though lawmakers scored higher marks in 2018 than years prior, the scorecard results don’t paint a complete picture of the session according to Brewster Bevis, senior vice president of state and federal affairs for AIF.

He explained that the focus shift brought about by the February mass shooting in Parkland “resulted in a slowed legislative process and fewer bills making it through to the end – the lowest number of bills passed since 2001.

“So while AIF’s Voting Records show more favorable outcomes for the business community compared to last year, it is important to note the political environment and the impact it had on the legislative process this year.”

The AIF report, now in its 43rd year, is a compilation of voting records based on committee, amendment and floor votes cast.

“Votes provide tangible evidence of whether a legislator supports the ability of Florida companies to prosper and operate free of overly burdensome state regulation and taxation,” Feeney said.

He went on to name AIF’s five 2018 Champions for Business: Republican Sens. Rob Bradley, Kathleen Passidomo and Dana Young, and Republican Reps. Joe Gruters and Mike Miller.

“Whether they proposed an important bill, authored a key amendment or toiled behind the scenes, these legislators are the ones who made a difference during the 2018 Legislative Session,” Feeney said.

Only Dana Young, who represents Tampa-based Senate District 18, has received the Champion designation in the past. AIF will present the Champions for Business awards to the lawmakers at its annual conference, to be held Sept. 12 through 14 in Orlando.

AIF also recognized another 33 members of the Florida House for achieving a 100 percent voting record for the 2018 Legislative Session.

“These lawmakers showed a commitment to sound policy that supports Florida’s employers and job creators. Not only does this score encompass votes to pass legislation beneficial to businesses, it includes votes to defeat policies that would have a detrimental impact on businesses and their employees.  We applaud all 38 lawmakers highlighted in our Voting Records for helping make Florida the best place to do business,” Feeney said.

The full list of 100 percenters: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Indialantic Rep. Thad Altman, Hialeah Rep. Bryan Avila, Bradenton Rep. Jim Boyd, Lehigh Acres Rep. Matt Caldwell, Jonesville Rep. Chuck Clemons, Altamonte Springs Rep. Bob Cortes, Orange Park Rep. Travis Cummings, Naples Rep. Bryon Donalds, DeFuniak Springs Rep. Brad Drake, Palm Bay  Rep. Randy Fine, Jacksonville Rep. Jason Fischer, Venice Rep. Julio Gonzalez, Stuart Rep. Gayle Harrell, Spring Hill Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, Winter Haven Rep. Sam Killebrew, St. Cloud Rep. Mike La Rosa, Clearwater Rep. Chris Latvala, Daytona Beach Rep. Tom Leek, Port Richey Rep. Amber Mariano, Beverly Hills Rep. Ralph Massullo, Plant City Rep. Lawrence McClure, St. Petersburg Rep. Kathleen Peters, Sebring Rep. Cary Pigman, Ft. Walton Beach Rep. Mel Ponder, Lake City Rep. Elizabeth Porter, Valrico Rep. Jake Raburn, Palm Coast Rep. Paul Renner, Palm Beach Gardens Rep. Rick Roth, Riverview Rep. Ross Spano, Ocala Rep. Charlie Stone, Royal Palm Beach Rep. Matt Willhite and Pace Rep. Jayer Williamson.

All recognized were Republicans except for Willhite, a Democrat.

Donald Trump calls Ron DeSantis, Matt Gaetz, ‘absolute warriors’

On FOX News Channel Thursday morning, President Donald Trump cited Republican gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and several other staunch defenders of his as “absolute warriors.”

Speaking by phone to Fox & Friends, Trump lauded DeSantis, the congressman from Ponte Vedra Beach, as well as Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, plus two other congressmen and his former campaign manager.

“Look: we have some absolute warriors. We have, I just watched your show, Jim Jordan [of Ohio,] and Mark Meadows [of North Carolina,] and Matt Gaetz and DeSantis, and so many. Corey Lewandowski. These are all warriors. We have great people in the Republican Party.”

DeSantis’ gubernatorial campaign issued an advisory on the comment.

DeSantis and Gaetz both have been front-line warriors for Trump, battling against Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the FBI, the media, and others critical of Trump.

Trump already has endorsed DeSantis in the governor’s race, where he’s contesting with Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam for the August 28 Republican primary nomination, with the looming prospect that Florida Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran may also join the contest.

gambling Amendment 3

Lawmakers swapping deals toward Special Session on gambling

Lawmakers have moved from informal talks to exchanging offers toward a Special Session on gambling, sources said late Monday.

That’s despite an agreement announced last week between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida guaranteeing that the Tribe will keep sharing gaming revenue from its casinos at least till May 2019.

The impetus behind the Special Session effort is a proposed constitutional amendment that polls show will likely pass this November. It would require a statewide vote to approve any future expansions of gambling.

Representatives for both chambers had no comment on developments Monday.

Industry and legislative sources, however, say Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, and House Speaker-designate Jose Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican, have been sending proposals across the Capitol rotunda.

Those offers include, among other things, provisions to ensure the state doesn’t lose out on any gambling-related taxes or fees.

The Tribe paid a little more than $290 million last fiscal year into state coffers as part of a 2010 agreement that guarantees it exclusivity to offer certain games, particularly blackjack. (“Exclusivity” essentially means freedom from competition.) If the Tribe considers its exclusivity broken, it’s entitled to reduce payments or stop them altogether.

Two sources specifically credited recent progress to Lisa Vickers, Galvano’s longtime senior policy adviser who is slated to become his chief of staff when he takes over the chamber after the 2018 election, assuming a Republican majority still holds.

As previously reported, here are some of the issues likely in play:

— Allowing slot machines in at least some of the eight counties that passed a local referendum allowing them. That could include St. Lucie County, which has a jai alai fronton and card room now known as Casino Fort Pierce and is in Senate President Joe Negron’s district.

— Allowing existing designated player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack, to continue at pari-mutuel card rooms now offering those games.

— Setting a new minimum guarantee in tax money from those pari-mutuels now offering slots in South Florida. Only the Tribe can offer slots outside that area.

— Figuring out a way to do all that while achieving a “true contraction” of gambling in the state, a prerequisite of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

That almost certainly means a provision for pari-mutuel owners to surrender gambling permits at some locations to get slots in another, something that was considered this past Regular Session.

“Special sessions may be called by the Governor, or may be convened by joint proclamation of the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives,” the Senate’s website says. “Special sessions may not exceed 20 days, unless extended by a three-fifths vote of each house.”

Commission set to begin Parkland probe

A 16-member commission on Tuesday will begin reviewing the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Broward County high school, looking into the circumstances of the crime, the background of the alleged shooter and recommendations to prevent future tragedies.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which was created as part of a sweeping school-safety law (SB 7026) signed by Gov. Rick Scott last month, will hold its initial meeting at the Broward College campus in Coconut Creek.

Andrew Pollack, a member of the commission whose 18-year-old daughter Meadow Jade was one of the 17 students and staff killed at the high school in Parkland, said he wants to see a thorough review of the record of Nikolas Cruz, the former student who has been charged with the mass killing.

Pollack also said the commission should hold officials “accountable for their incompetence” that may have led to the tragedy.

“My daughter was murdered. So there is no bringing her back,” Pollack said in an interview with The News Service of Florida Monday. “But if I can feel some satisfaction that it won’t happen in another school….if we can use this and make it a preventative measure, it would make me feel like my daughter’s death wasn’t in vain.”

The law directs the commission, which will be headed by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, to “investigate system failures” in the Broward shooting and prior mass shootings in Florida and to “develop recommendations for the system improvements.”

The commission will develop a timeline of the Stoneman Douglas shooting and the incident response “and all relevant events preceding the incident, with particular attention to all perpetrator contacts with local, state and national government agencies and entities and any contract providers of such agencies and entities.”

Cruz had a lengthy history of mental health problems, documented by dozens of interactions with educators, law enforcement, mental-health professionals and others. The FBI had received at least two alerts warning that Cruz posed a danger.

Pollack said he believes Cruz’s prior contact with law enforcement and school officials should have led to consequences or charges prior to the shooting.

“I really want to look into this kid’s record. And I think we’re going to find a lot of incompetency and a lot of covering up of records in this whole process,” Pollack said.

The commission, which is under the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, has the ability to subpoena records and witnesses.

“That’s all going to come out. No one is going to be able to hide from us,” Pollack said.

Other items on the commission’s agenda are a review of Florida’s policies for dealing with “active assailants” on school campuses, with a comparison to “best practices” policies around the nation.

The commission will also review the use of school resource officers on the campuses, with the goal of making a recommendation on the appropriate ratio of law enforcement officers to the student population and school facility.

After their regular meeting, the commission is scheduled to visit the Stoneman Douglas campus late Tuesday afternoon, although members will not be allowed inside the classroom building where the shootings occurred because it is still an active crime scene.

The commission, which is authorized to meet through 2023, will file its initial report and recommendations to Gov. Scott and the Legislature by Jan. 1.

A tentative schedule that will be reviewed by the commission on Tuesday includes the recommendation that its staff report key investigative findings and witness statements to the panel by June 1.

Commission members were appointed by Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes Republican, and Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican.

The commission includes three parents of Stoneman Douglas victims; seven members with law enforcement ties, including FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen; three serving in school systems; a prosecutor; a mental health expert; and Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat.

Richard Corcoran hosts ‘Democrat Jeopardy!’

This… is… Politics!

Anticipated gubernatorial candidate and Republican state House Speaker Richard Corcoran works quickly.

The Speaker released a digital video Thursday afternoon creatively slamming the most cringe-worthy blooper of Wednesday’s Democratic gubernatorial debate, which saw each candidate fumble — some more than others — over how much the state spends annually on K-12 education: $21.1 billion is set to fund the Florida Education Finance program in the upcoming fiscal year, according to the budget. In Corcoran’s video, a $25.1 billion figure is used, a result of factoring in allocations for multiple programs outside the FEFP.

The bit is a play on “Jeopardy!” complete with the legacy show’s theme music, buzzer sounds and graphics. It took less than 24 hours to make, and it’s now marinating on Corcoran’s Twitter and YouTube accounts.

Fox 13‘s Craig Patrick pressed each candidate to answer how much the state dishes out to schools, and if it should spend more or less. Public education is an issue in the fore for state Democrats and was a point of hot contention during the 2018 Legislative Session.

Still, these candidates faltered. And in doing so fell into a Republican pitfall that’s sure to haunt them throughout the election. “Democrats want to spend more money without knowing any of the facts,” reads the second-to-last frame of the video.

Candidate Philip Levine, former mayor of Miami Beach, said public education spending is one of the “top numbers.” His best guess? “Right in the billions, Craig. … I think it’s in the multibillions, Craig.

“And there’s no question that we absolutely need to spend more going forth.”

Orlando businessman Chris King answered within range, though he is clipped in Corcoran’s video saying, “It’s whatever it needs to be to honor our commitment.” King estimated that it’s between “$21 and $22 billion.”

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum came close, saying the appropriation is in “the 22-billion-dollar range.”

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham said the number is “15 percent below what it needs to be currently.”

No candidate answered right on the money. And Corcoran’s digital response is timely and likely to generate some buzz.

It’s worth noting that immediately after the across-the-panel hiccup, Florida Politics’ Publisher Peter Schorsch suggested Corcoran and his team run loose with it.

Correlation isn’t causation, but still.

A ‘Daily Double’ for the Speaker: When will you get in the race?

Correction: A previous version of this article did not include King’s estimated range of the state K-12 budget.

Show us something, Gwen Graham

The primary election is still six months away, but Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial candidates will take part today in a televised debate on Fox 13 in Tampa.

Taping of the debate is 3 p.m., broadcast is 6:30 p.m.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, Winter Park businessman Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine are all participating.

Of the four, it’s really Graham who has the most to prove, despite her position at or near the top in most polls of the primary.

Despite a looming legal cloud over his city and struggling to raise money, Gillum is … well, not on fire, but definitely on the upswing. This trajectory is due, in most part, to his outspoken leadership on gun control, which has become a significant issue in the wake of the massacre in Parkland. Just as he did in a debate against House Speaker Richard Corcoran, we’re expecting Gillum to shine during today’s panel.

For all his good intentions, King’s poll numbers are still mired in the low single-digits. That’s a shame because King is a compassionate, principled leader and, probably, the future of the Democratic Party. A televised debate gives him a platform to show off his impressive oratorical skills. And he has a timely issue to talk about (Graham’s decision Tuesday to return contributions linked to the sugar industry).

But even if King dominates the debate and doubles his standings in the polls, he still will be under 10 percent support.

If Graham is not the front-runner, Levine is — backed by millions of dollars in television ads — and so he must demonstrate to the political junkies tuning into a debate airing right before the Tampa Bay Lightning playoff game that he both represents the principles of Democratic voters AND can win in November. Primary voters want to see someone who can stand up to Ron DeSantis or Adam Putnam.

Somewhere in the middle of all this is Graham, who is currently running neither hot nor cold. She has historically underperformed at a handful of candidate forums she’s participated in since entering the gubernatorial race. Yet she can’t keep up with Levine’s ad blitz, so her path to victory will come by tacking back and forth between grassroots support and from some paid media.

But victory is a long way off for Graham. Increasingly, Gillum is capturing the imagination of the activists, while Levine is smothering his opponents in paid media (while also bringing a strong record on the issues, such as climate change, Democrats care about.)

In recent weeks, Graham has tried to bolster her campaign by attacking President Donald Trump. That strategy can only go so far as all of the candidates will be thumping Trump.

So, for today, Graham must … well, I don’t know what it is … all I know is she has to show us something!

Her performance needs to be the kind where afterward she can email a fundraising solicitation saying: “Did you see that?!” Her performance has to be strong enough that it stops the whispers among the donor class that Levine may be the better bet. Her performance has to be exciting enough that Gillum doesn’t overshadow her.

Please, Gwen Graham, show us something.

Jackie Toledo holding April 26 campaign kickoff

Freshman Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo is holding a kickoff event for her House District 60 re-election campaign April 26 in Tampa.

The fundraiser will run from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Byblos Café, 2832 S. MacDill Ave. Those looking to attend can RSVP by sending an email to Lynnette Russell at

The host committee for the fundraiser lists a number of Tampa Bay area Republican officials, including House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister and Tampa Sen. Dana Young. Also on the list is House Speaker Designate Jose Oliva.

Toledo is running against Democrat Debra Bellanti for a second term in the coastal Hillsborough County District.

After $2,750 raised and $16,500 spent in March, the Tampa Republican’s campaign account has $71,300 banked. Bellanti, who filed shortly after New Year’s, has raised a total of $18,412, with $8,200 on hand at the end of March.

HD 60 voted narrowly for Donald Trump in the 2016 race, though Toledo easily bested Democratic attorney David Singer on Election Day.

The fundraiser invite is below.

toledo, jackie - 4.26 invite

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