Forward Florida pays law firm defending Andrew Gillum for defrauding Forward Florida

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The former gubernatorial candidate faces charges including wire fraud.

Andrew Gillum faces criminal charges alleging he siphoned money from a political committee to his pocketbook. But now that same committee appears to be funding his defense in court.

Forward Florida in its June financial reports lists a payment of $414,181 to Markus/Moss Criminal Trial and Appellate Lawyers.

The timing of the payment coincides with the day Miami lawyers David Markus and Todd Yoder notified federal courts they would represent Gillum in a case against Gillum, a former Democratic candidate for Governor, a fact first reported by the Tallahassee Democrat.

But state law limits the ways campaigns can spend money. According to guidance provided by the Division of Elections, Florida committees may make expenditures to “expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate or issue,” which is what Forward Florida did for years. The campaign served as Gillum’s political committee starting in 2016 and supported his candidacy for Governor, which he narrowly lost to Republican Ron DeSantis in 2018 following a machine recount of votes.

After that election, the committee turned its attention to more broadly help register and reactivate Democratic voters leading into the 2020 election. While the spending practices and effectiveness of that effort have been called into question before, the mission still fell within the guidelines of working to impact the outcome of a political election.

Gillum also took heavy criticism after the Governor’s race in 2018 when it became clear he left $3 million unspent in Forward Florida’s coffers.

But the financing of a criminal defense seems to reach outside the normal scope. What’s all the more questionable is that Gillum faces allegations he basically took money spent by the committee for other purposes.

Gillum was indicted in June on charges of wire fraud for unlawfully soliciting and obtaining funds through false and fraudulent promises and representatives on how the money would be used. That included scamming $150,000 from a donor to Forward Florida that was then wired to a nonprofit managed by Gillum and associate Sharon Lettman-Hicks.

The indictment alleges money was reportedly being used for get-out-the-vote efforts, but instead ended up being paid by the nonprofit to Gillum in several small installments reported as “End of year Bonus” payments.

In other words, Gillum faces charges he took money from Forward Florida and pocketed it, and now Forward Florida appears to be defending him for that in court.

Forward Florida largely stopped any fundraising in April 2020, shortly after Gillum was involved in a high-profile incident at a Miami hotel where authorities responded to a call about another man suffering a drug overdose. Gillum was found at the scene inebriated and nude. But he never faced any legal charges over that incident.

Outside of contributions to the Democratic Party and money spent to form the Forward Florida Action nonprofit, the payment to Markus/Moss represents the single largest one-time expenditure ever reported by Forward Florida since 2016.

Gillum remains listed as the Chair of the committee.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


  • Just a comment

    July 23, 2022 at 10:34 pm

    I don’t know should we be woke now that there’s crimes

  • just sayin

    July 25, 2022 at 10:41 am

    This guy got more votes than Gwen Graham and almost beat DeSantis. The electorate is stupid.

  • Pancho Villar

    July 25, 2022 at 3:49 pm

    “But state law limits the ways campaigns can spend money. According to guidance provided by the Division of Elections, Florida committees may make expenditures to “expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate or issue,” which is what Forward Florida did for years.”

    Sounds like state law needs to be tightened up further, so that it’s clearer what campaign money can and cannot be used for. Using money raised ” to advocate for” should not mean paying for the criminal defense of the alleged perpetrator of fraud committed against the very entity that is paying for such defense.

  • It’s Complicated

    July 26, 2022 at 7:29 am

    Does not seem right or legal that a political committee of any kind or leaning, should be able to spend money collected for a designated purpose, on attorneys in a criminal defense effort. If it was money for attorneys related to an elections/regulatory issue related to the purpose of the committee, I could see that. But this is not that.

Comments are closed.


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