A political committee affiliated with Andrew Gillum reported more than $1.5 million in expenditures since his failed gubernatorial campaign ended.
But that includes $500,000 sent to a nontransparent nonprofit and more than $70,000 sent to a law firm run by lobbyist Sean Pittman.
Meanwhile, voter registration efforts for Florida Democrats, a stated mission for Gillum’s postelection political activity, lags badly behind Republicans and even minor parties.
In March, at a time when many speculated he could run for President, Gillum said he would devote his energy to registering voters. On March 20, he announced a plan to register 1 million more voters in the Sunshine State before the general election in November 2020.
He vowed to work with other organizations. Still, his own efforts seemed built around a newly formed not-for-profit corporation, Bring It Home Florida, and the existing Forward Florida political committee, which Gillum now chairs. The Forward Florida committee initially formed in 2016, more than a year before the Democrat announced he would run for Governor.
The most transparent operations occur with the committee, which must produce monthly financial reports. Since March 20, the organization has reported $464,951 in new donations. That’s considerably less than the $1,247,144 raised between the end of the campaign and the launch of the Bring It Home Florida effort.
Most of that comes from two significant donations, a $250,000 check from Slim-Fast founder Daniel Abraham and California doctor and liberal donor Stephen Silberstein.
But the political committee has seen a significant number of small donations come in from across the country. That includes 1,300 checks (including 36 in October) written for $20.20, a recommended amount on the committee’s website.
More than 4,000 individuals have sent money to the political committee, each one getting a line in Florida’s Division of Elections records.
But the expenditures for the committee have sometimes been harder to track, mostly thanks to the moving of money. In July, the Forward Florida committee sent $500,000 to Forward Florida Action, another not-for-profit corporation formed weeks after announcing the Bring It Home effort. Neither not-for-profit is required to file regular, line-by-line reports.
That half-million-dollar transfer remains the single biggest ever from the committee, followed by a $158,970 transfer to Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign shortly after the election.
It’s more than the $464,961 raised by the committee since March 20. But since July, no money has moved into the corporation, and no money ever went from the committee directly to Bring It Home Florida.
So is the money being used as intended?
Since March 20, much of the funding has gone to cover certain administrative costs.
For example, $70,300 has gone to financial consultant Courtney Whitney or Whitney Consulting Group. About $225,484 has been spent on legal consulting work with Miami-based Stearns Weaver Miller. Another $34,805 has gone to public relations consultant Joshua Karp, and $44,286 has gone to political media consultant at Kevin Cate‘s CATECOMM. Some $56,434 went to Grimsley and Company for accounting services, while $6,285 has gone to Google Suites for server space.
Notably, $75,000 has gone to the Pittman Law Group since the gubernatorial election and $55,000 since the Bring It Home launch. Pittman leads the Tallahassee firm and is connected to a travel scandal that dogged Gillum during the 2018 gubernatorial election. Calls to Pittman’s law firm were not returned Monday.
There are other curious filings, too. Days before the gubernatorial election, Miami-based ABRE, Inc., a company tied to investor Abraham Shaulson’s Millennium Management, made a $50,000 donation. The money was returned less than three weeks after the election.
Since the end of the gubernatorial campaign, the committee has spent $15,054 on travel and transportation, nearly all of that on airfare. More than half that, $8,754, was spent after the Bring It Home kickoff.
More recently, the political committee began directing money toward Florida legislative campaigns, a spending choice that picked up significantly in October.
That month, the committee gave $5,000 to House Victory, the committee focused on electing state House Democrats. It also wrote $1,000 checks to reelection campaigns for state House Reps. Anna Eskamani, Dolores Hogan Johnson, Diane Hart, Dotie Joseph, Geraldine Thompson, Kamia Brown, and to state Sens. Perry Thurston and Randolph Bracy.
The committee also sent donations to Franccesca Cesti-Browne, Jim Bonfiglio, Kayser Enneking and Patrick Henry, who are all challenging House Republican incumbents.
It’s unclear what sort of expenditures and activity is happening with any money landing in accounts for Bring It Home Florida and Florida Forward Action.
Bring It Home Florida has released four newsletters, mostly commenting on policy and announcing events for supported organizations, like promoting the El Summit event in Orlando.
The website for Forward Florida Action promotes a Grassroots Grants program for any group planning to register voters and “bring transformational change to our state.” It’s unclear if any such grants have been given out. But expenditures for the Forward Florida political committee do show $2,500 contributions to several other committees: Advocate For Florida Families, Electing Women In Northwest Dade, Florida Future, Florida Strong Finish, Floridians for Equality and the Initiative for Florida’s Future PC.
So what has been the return on investment in terms of the group’s mission to engage more voters? On that, numbers seem strikingly low.
As of Dec. 31, a total of 4,986,626 voters were registered in Florida as Democrats, about 10,731 more than the same date last year, according to the Division of Elections. Meanwhile, 4,741,804 registered as Republicans, 23,084 more than the end of last year.
The state actually has seen more significant growth among independent and third-party voters. There are now 3,638,583 voters registered with no party affiliation, a gain of 50,065 from the prior year. Minor parties combined now boast 140,061 Florida voters, a boost of 26,575.
That could mean Gillum’s and other groups’ efforts to register more voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election have simply resulted in more independent voters, and voter apathy can’t be placed entirely on Gillum or any political player.
Still, in the sixth months after Gillum announced the Bring It Home effort, a net 110,452 new voters have registered in Florida. That’s only a little more than 10% of the way toward the goal of 1 million new voters by the presidential election. Less than 10% of that voter growth comes from newly registered Democrats.
Seeing GOP registrations outpace Democratic ones 2 to 1 could hardly be what Gillum supporters hoped for when he launched a high-profile registration drive.
If the goal was ever to impact who participated in the Democratic Presidential Preference Primary, time is quickly running out. The deadline to register for that race is Feb. 18, and in a closed primary state like Florida, only registered Democrats will vote in the March 17 Democratic primary.
To vote in the state primary on Aug. 18, voters must register by July 20.
And to vote in the Nov. 3 presidential election, where Florida once again will be a battleground state, voters must register by Oct. 5.
The Forward Florida committee raised less money between its March 20 launch and the end of October than it already sent to the Forward Florida Action not-for-profit.
Meanwhile, only expenditures from the committee get reported, so it’s not clear how money gets spent once it goes to the corporation.
But there’s another interesting gap that stands out with the committee’s expenditures and contributions. As of the end of October, the committee had collected more than $3.1 million more than it had spent.
That’s a number that had only grown since the gubernatorial election when Gillum suffered criticism for leaving $3 million on the table in his committee in the lead-up to the midterms. Gillum lost the gubernatorial election to Republican Ron DeSantis by 33,683 votes, or 0.41 percent of all votes cast.
The decision to sit on resources (the pro-DeSantis committee Friends of Ron DeSantis spent virtually all its money) has since drawn intense criticism from donors like lawyer John Morgan.
Despite that, the committee seems only to have grown its reserves, which right now are more than six times the amount transferred to the Forward Florida Action corporation.
Florida Politics placed calls to Forward Florida early Monday and were told requests for comment were forwarded to Treasurer Andrew Gay. An email asking specific questions about spending choices has so far not been answered.