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Florida GOP says it raised $7.6M in two weeks

Republican Party of Florida Chair Blaise Ingoglia put out a statement Monday claiming the party has raised more than $7.6 million for the 17-day stretch ending Sept. 14.

“Since the Primary Election, the Republican Party of Florida has raised more than $7.6 million,” Ingoglia said.

“The financial strength of the party is a direct reflection of the enthusiasm for the strong bench of conservative candidates on the ballot. This significant total also symbolizes the growing momentum for Ron DeSantis as Florida’s next governor and his plan to keep our economy strong, invest in education and solve our water issues.”

The release, however, did not specify whether those funds came in through true fundraising or were pass-through contributions from other political committees.

It included a disclaimer stating that “specific amounts will be submitted in the next quarterly report due to the Florida Division of Elections on Nov. 2, 2018.” That reporting deadline comes just four days ahead of the Nov. 6 general election.

A search of the Florida Division of Elections’ expenditure data for accounts with stricter reporting requirements shows $1.15 million in contributions to RPOF from a handful of political committees, with about half that sum coming from DeSantis’ soft money account, Friends of Ron DeSantis.

Florida Prosperity Fund, a political committee tied to business group Associated Industries of Florida, chipped in $250,000 on Aug. 29, while Palm Harbor Rep. Chris Sprowls’ committee, Floridians For Economic Freedom, cut a $150,000 check and the Florida Phosphate Political Committee gave $125,000.

The fundraising announcement comes just a few weeks after RPOF announced $7.46 million in fundraising for the reporting period covering April 1 through Aug. 23. Heading into the primary election, the party executive committee had a little over $16 million in the bank.

By comparison, the Florida Democratic Party raised $7.33 million during the same reporting period and had $9.64 million banked on Aug. 23.

The RPOF funds are in addition to the major haul reported by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, chaired by incoming Senate President Bill Galvano.

That committee posted $7.2 million in receipts in its April through August report while the Democratic equivalent, the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, brought in a little over $867,000.

‘Bundled’ amendments prevent ballot fatigue, state says

Florida’s solicitor general Monday asked the Florida Supreme Court to allow three proposed constitutional amendments on the November ballot.

Solicitor General Amit Agarwal, who filed an initial brief, appealed a lower court’s decision blocking the ballot measures. Agarwal reports to Attorney General Pam Bondi. 

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers had found that the three proposals – including a measure that would ban offshore oil drilling and ban vaping in workplaces – improperly “bundled” unrelated issues.

Why not, Agarwal suggested, since the Framers did the same thing.

“Our constitutional history is replete with examples of situations in which voters have been asked to vote up or down on bundled provisions addressing distinct rights and issues—including the ratification of the Constitution and the First Amendment,” he said.

A challenge by retired Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead, and fellow plaintiff Robert Barnas, a former state elections commissioner, argued that such bundling would violate the First Amendment rights of voters, who could have conflicting views of issues in single ballot proposals.

But Anstead offers no “manageable standard for determining how ‘unrelated’ two provisions must be to trigger the First Amendment right he asks this Court to recognize for the first time in the history of American jurisprudence,” Agarwal wrote.

The 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) this spring approved placing the three measures on the ballot. All proposed changes to the state’s governing document require a minimum of 60 percent approval for passage.

“Even if the First Amendment included the right (they) assert, the CRC had a rational basis for bundling some of the amendments for inclusion on the 2018 General Election ballot,” he said.

“(L)ong ballots often discourage citizens from voting at all, and if the CRC had listed all the proposed amendments separately, there would appear (25) questions on the ballot this fall, rather than (15).

“In other words, the CRC acted reasonably and with the proper intention of minimizing ballot fatigue when it decided to bundle proposed constitutional amendments.”

Along with the proposal on drilling and vaping, Gievers struck from the ballot a measure that deals with governance of the state-college system and death benefits for survivors of first responders and military members.

Also, she struck a measure that would remove constitutional language that prohibits “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning property and would revise language to make clear the repeal of criminal statutes does not affect the prosecution of crimes committed before the repeal.

The Supreme Court already has ruled on legal challenges to four other proposed amendments placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission. Justices upheld three of the proposals, including a proposed ban on dog racing, though they blocked a controversial education measure.

Anstead’s answer brief is due next, “no later than (noon on) Friday, Sept. 21,” and the state’s reply brief is expected “no later than (noon on) Monday, Sept. 24.”

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Senior Editor Jim Rosica contributed to this post. Background provided by The News Service of Florida, reprinted with permission.

Two debates planned between Ron DeSantis, Andrew Gillum

The gubernatorial nominees have agreed to two debates ahead of Election Day.

Republican nominee Ron DeSantis accepted a Leadership Florida debate and CNN town hall on Monday, a few days after Democrat Andrew Gillum said he also would attend the forums. 

The Leadership Florida debate, according to the Gillum campaign, will take place Oct. 24 at Broward College. The CNN debate will be in Tampa, but the date is not yet set. 

DeSantis, in accepting debate invitations, opened the door for three more: Fox News, CBS Miami with Jim DeFede and Telemundo in Orlando.

“I’ll debate [Andrew Gillum] whenever possible—because his high-tax, far-left policies would be a disaster for Florida,” DeSantis tweeted.

But DeSantis left unanswered a third forum Gillum accepted: Univision 23 in Miami.

That sort of silence has proved to be fodder for both parties in multiple races.

The Gillum campaign and the Florida Democratic Party spent the weekend hammering DeSantis for not having immediately accepted the same debates that Gillum accepted on Saturday. 

When the Gillum campaign announced on Sunday that the Tallahassee mayor also would attend a CNN town hall, campaign adviser Scott Arceneaux said: “DeSantis is refusing to accept any debates because he has no real plans for moving Florida forward.”

A spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party in a statement earlier on Monday said: “In a major break with tradition, Ron DeSantis is refusing to debate Andrew Gillum.”

But now, there are three pending forums the Gillum campaign must answer to. As of publishing, Gillum’s team has yet to indicate whether it will attend the additional debates DeSantis announced earlier on Monday.

“Florida voters deserve to hear from both Mayor Gillum and Congressman DeSantis about their plans for the Sunshine State, and we’re proud to move forward accordingly,” said Geoff Burgan, Gillum’s communications director.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. Senate race the Republican candidate has made a campaign issue of incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson’s delay of response to live forums.

Per Republican challenger Rick Scott’s count, he’s accepted four debates ahead of Nov. 6.

Nelson’s RSVP’d to just one.

In a dig at the sitting senator, Scott suggested on Twitter earlier on Monday that Nelson accept more debates.

Matt Caldwell pulls in $165K in early September

State Rep. Matt Caldwell, the Republican candidate for Agriculture Commissioner, quickly started replenishing his coffers after a tough primary, pulling in about $165,000 during the first week of September for his campaign account and a political committee.

The one-week haul included contributions of $25,000 from Atlanta-based fuel and convenience-store company RaceTrac, $25,000 from the Florida Phosphate Political Committee and $10,000 from Tampa-based TECO Energy, according to a report posted on the state Division of Elections website.

Caldwell, who spent nearly all of the $2.6 million he raised before winning a four-way primary on Aug. 28, had a combined $198,981 on hand as of Sept. 7 in his campaign account and the committee Friends of Matt Caldwell.

Caldwell’s fundraising helped bring him more in line with Democratic candidate Nikki Fried, who ended the first week of September with about $227,000 on hand in her campaign account and the political committee Florida Consumers First.

Fried, an attorney and medical-marijuana lobbyist from Fort Lauderdale, raised $13,394 for her campaign account during the first seven days of the month. Florida Consumers First reported no new contributions in the same period.

Ron DeSantis, Andrew Gillum pile up matching funds

Gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum continue to be the biggest beneficiaries of Florida’s matching-funds program, which has doled out $5.36 million to statewide candidates this year.

DeSantis, the Republican nominee, received $96,938 from the program Friday, while Democratic candidate Gillum got $62,390, according to figures posted online by the state Division of Elections.

DeSantis has received an overall total of more than $1.152 million from the program, which matches individual contributions of $250 or less. Since winning the Aug. 28 Republican primary, DeSantis has received $176,426 from the state. Among the nearly 2,000 separate contributions that came into DeSantis’ campaign from across the country during the first week in September, about 1,800 were of $250 or less.

Gillum has now received $620,631 through the matching-funds program, including $125,567 since the Aug. 28 primary. In September’s first seven days, Gillum received 13,661 contributions of $250 or less. Gillum, DeSantis and three other statewide candidates are taking part in the matching-funds program. The governor’s race has accounted for just over $4 million of the overall total, with two candidates who lost in the primaries — Democrat Gwen Graham and Republican Adam Putnam — also tapping into it.

Among the candidates for attorney general, Republican nominee Ashley Moody received $760 in matching funds on Friday and has received $380,935 from the state. Democratic candidate Sean Shaw got a check for $10,391 on Friday and has received $233,093 from the program.

In the race for state chief financial officer, incumbent Republican Jimmy Patronis received a check for $4,200 on Friday. Patronis has received $309,305 through the state program. Democratic candidate Jeremy Ring has not taken part in the voluntary program.

The amount of matching funds in this year’s elections appears likely to dwarf the amount in the 2014 midterm elections. In 2014, two candidates for governor and four candidates seeking Cabinet positions drew $4.1 million from the matching-funds program during the primary and general elections.

Republican ‘Victory Dinner’ to take place in Orlando

The semi-annual largest fundraising event for Florida Republicans will happen in Orlando this year.

On Saturday, Sept. 29, Republicans from across the state will come together at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa for the 2018 Victory Dinner, the Republican Party of Florida announced Monday.

“Donors and influential grassroots operatives” are expected to attend, according to the party.

It’s considered the Florida GOP’s largest fundraising event. In 2016, during the last Victory Dinner, Vice President Mike Pence spoke to the audience. Then a candidate, Pence likely had sought to rally donors in the swing state. That event was held in Tampa.

RPOF Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said in a statement he is excited and ready to ride a “red wave” to victory.

“We look forward to our stellar candidates and their vision for a more prosperous Sunshine State rallying the heart and soul of our party,” Ingoglia said. “And we look forward to energizing our grassroots for the final stretch before heading to the polls to retain the Governor’s Mansion and add a seat in the U.S. Senate.”

In another memo released Monday, the party claims to have raised $7,671,060 since the Aug. 28 primary.

Matt Caldwell talks Democratic socialism, cannabis, concealed weapons, and water woes

The Republican ticket this year continues to message against the “socialism” on the Democratic side, and Agriculture Commissioner hopeful Matt Caldwell was no exception Saturday.

Speaking to a handful of Republican activists at the Jacksonville HQ for the Florida GOP, the Fort Myers area lawmaker warned of the “outright socialist” Democratic ticket, drawing comparisons to Venezuela, Cuba, and California.

Caldwell laughed when Florida Politics asked if that comparison was valid.

“I do think that socialism is a dead end street,” Caldwell said. “While I don’t think that Andrew Gillum would like to see empty store shelves and people starve in the street, that is ultimately what it comes to. It works against human nature. Everytime we’ve seen it tried, it failed.”

Caldwell described Gillum endorser Sen. Bernie Sanders as “an avowed socialist” dedicated to a “European socialist model” with Gillum having “embraced it wholeheartedly.”

Caldwell definitely sees the battle between R and D this year as a ticket, and he defended his party’s standard bearer, Ron DeSantis, who has been mired in controversy that began with his warnings after the primary that electing Gillum would “monkey this up.”

DeSantis is “not a racist,” Caldwell said.

“That’s manufactured controversy for the sake of a political campaign,” Caldwell said, with the left looking to “make hay” of it.

The election, Caldwell said, will be based on “turnout.”

“Each side’s trying to get its voters to show up,” Caldwell said. “There are not a whole lot of voters who are going to be undecided” about the “contrast between a socialist system and the free enterprise system we’ve got … that’s made Florida a huge success story … with strong pro-market policies [that] benefit everybody on the spectrum.”

Despite the slow rollout of a political platform from DeSantis, Caldwell isn’t worried, describing him as a “sharp individual” who served in Congress.

“You don’t get a degree from Harvard and Yale if you’re a slouch. I think he’ll do an excellent job and the ticket’s in strong shape,” Caldwell said.

One drag on the ticket in early polling: a consistent NPA break toward Gillum, with the most recent survey from Rasmussen showing a 54-29 NPA preference for the Democrat.

“NPAs are the folks who are up for grabs,” Caldwell noted. “But the folks who are going to be making calls and knocking on doors aren’t talking to the supervoter Republicans. They’re talking to the voters who don’t participate every time and to NPAs who have shown that maybe they’re open to talk about the message.”

“There’s more than enough of them out there to win,” Caldwell said, noting the GOP statewide winning streak over the last two decades.

The conversation moved finally toward the Ag Commissioner race, including the potentially complicating issue of medical cannabis.

Fried, a lobbyist for the increasingly well-capitalized companies in the sphere, has contended that smokable cannabis should be offered to medical patients — a position now so firmly ensconced in the Democratic orthodoxy that even Sen. Bill Nelson espouses it.

Caldwell, who voted for the implementation legislation, thinks smoke is a draw too far: “…smoking is not a medicinal delivery system…[the smoking lawsuit] is just a fig leaf for full recreational use…”

Though it’s uncertain if the issue of medical cannabis will move voters in November, what’s clear is that polls show voters more closely align with Fried’s position on the issue. 66 percent believe that medical patients should be able to smoke cannabis, while 24 percent align with the Caldwell position.

Polling between Fried and Caldwell is much closer, however; per St. Pete’s Polls, Fried is up by 1.8 percent.

Despite Caldwell not being where Fried is on the issue, he noted that he introduced the Charlotte’s Web legislation in 2014, which allowed low-THC cannabis, establishing precedent for the current system of medical cannabis.

Caldwell reiterated his contention that the smokable cannabis debate really is a smokescreen for the “recreational marijuana” push, one that he said “should be left up to the voters.”

“What convinced me to be involved in 2014 before any Constitutional amendment was passed,” Caldwell said, was “the kids with seizure disorders” and “their parents who [had to] break the law to travel to multiple states to get CBD oil so their kids could live.”

“That’s why I helped write the bill to make that legal,” Caldwell said, noting that he was the only statewide candidate to have that level of involvement in the bedrock legislation.

“This is really a discussion about particulars, not the larger issue, which is that people need to be able to have access to medical cannabis for legitimate medical reasons. I’m going to look to push forward as far as I can based on the evidence,” Caldwell said, noting that it’s still federally illegal.

“As long as it’s still federally illegal, nationally chartered banks aren’t going to mess around with this,” Caldwell said, noting that they could be accused of “money laundering” by authorities.

The workaround: using a “state-chartered bank,” which allows for the argument that it’s “intra-state commerce” to “avoid that net.”

Rescheduling cannabis, Caldwell said, would allow for a re-appraisal, both in terms of research of what the plant can do, and working through the current financial regulations.

“It really is crazy that marijuana is Schedule 1 while cocaine and heroin are Schedule 2,” Caldwell noted.

When asked to appraise current Commissioner Adam Putnam’s performance in the job, one performed while campaigning for months ahead of the August primary, Caldwell allowed that while “mistakes were made” regarding background checks on the concealed weapons program, that they should be seen in context.

“It’s a huge office,” Caldwell said. “A challenge when you’ve got 3,400 employees.”

Meanwhile, the “interest level” regarding the concealed weapons program was high, moving from 400,000 licenses in 2010 to two million today.

“The interest spiked exponentially,” Caldwell notes. “It looks like from the outside that they really struggled with catching up with that interest and processing it well.”

Caldwell promises a “day one” review of the program should he be elected, saying “nobody that doesn’t qualify for a license should be given one.”

Caldwell also sees the water issue — including algae blooms and the Everglades issues — as one that the state is solving despite the “harangues” of activists, with it being his “signature issue” in the House.

“We’ve built more projects in the last four years and are going to be build more projects in the next decade than the last 40 years combined,” Caldwell said.

“It’s an engineering problem. You put eight million people in the Everglades and its not going to react the way it [would] in 1845.”

“I will count it as a personal failure if we don’t have real progress on the Everglades problem in the next four — hopefully, eight — years. If there is a number one priority,” Caldwell said, “it will be water policy.”

Andrew Gillum video promises opportunity; campaign pushes back at tax critics

Democratic candidate for Governor Andrew Gillum rolled out a new advertisement promoting his economic message as his campaign pushed back on suggestions his election would usher in higher taxes.

A campaign video released Sunday includes footage from a rally last weekend in Orlando.

The audio for the ad showcases lines from Gillum’s speech about restoring economic opportunity for “our teachers who need to get paid what they’re worth” and “our kids who need an opportunity that should not be defined by their ZIP code, where they live or what side of the track they grow up on.”

The clip comes as the Tallahassee mayor’s gubernatorial campaign responds to accusations the candidate’s “Fair Shake for Florida’s Future” would bring high taxes and dangerous socialism.

Indeed, Gillum in April unveiled the plan with a promise to increase corporate taxes in order to increase education spending by $1 billion.

A new statement from Gillum’s campaign echoed that sentiment while taking a fresh swipe at Republican opponent Ron DeSantis.

“Mayor Gillum is asking our state’s richest corporations to pay their fair share so our children can have the high-quality public education they deserve — while Ron DeSantis has no plan for public education, or any other critical issue facing Floridians,” the statement reads.

But the campaign also says “No Floridian would pay even $1 more in taxes.”

The campaign said the proposed tax would be a “2.25 percent (5.5 percent, adjusted to 7.75 percent) increase on corporate income taxes,” not a 40-percent increase “as misleadingly reported.”

That appears to be a reference to an analysis by the Americans for Tax Reform, which after the primary reported that Gillum’s proposal would give Florida the “highest corporate tax in the region.”

ATR did account for Gillum’s 7.75 percent adjusted figure and said that constituted a 40.9 percent increase from taxes now, which accounts for the $1 billion in new funding Gillum wants for education.

Florida, should it institute that rate, would charge a higher corporate tax than Alabama or Tennessee (6.5 percent) or than Georgia (6 percent), according to ATR.

DeSantis, in contrast, signed a pledge before the primary not to raise taxes on Floridians.

But Gillum’s campaign says 98 percent of businesses would still pay no corporate income tax, and that 2 to 3 percent of C-Corporations that would be subject to any new tax would still pay 83.9 percent less overall in corporate taxes than they were charged in the last eight years under Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

C-Corporations with less than $50,000 income annually would be exempt, as would all S-Corporations and limited liability corporations, according to the campaign.

Gillum insists the economic message will provide empowerment for more Floridians by bolstering educational resources. And in his new campaign video, he ends on a Barack Obama-esque message just as opponents try to paint him as a big government liberal.

“The politics of hope and aspiration and inspiration and opportunity still lives, and it lives right here in the state of Florida,” Gillum says at the rally, before signing off with the campaign motto “Let’s bring it home.”

Did Ron DeSantis just put a charity’s tax status at risk?

Did Ron DeSantis’ campaign just put a First Responder group’s nonprofit status into jeopardy? Well, probably not — but there’s still time.

Schedulers for the Republican nominee for Governor included a charitable fundraiser on a list of “several campaign events” that the candidate will attend today.

The final public event for DeSantis will be the First Responders Fall Cook-off at the Indian River Fairgrounds in Vero Beach.

The problem? The event serves as a benefit for the First Responders of Indian River County, a 501(c)(3) organization with tax-exempt status. That designation comes with rules aplenty, according to LegalZoom, chief among them a prohibition on any political or substantial lobbying activity.

It’s something local party leaders have been conscious of as they spread the word that DeSantis would attend the cook-off as a guest judge. Frank Sosta, Jr., Indian River County chairman for the DeSantis campaign, stressed on social media posts that there will be “NO CAMPAIGNING” (note the all-caps) permitted at the event.

That’s because event organizers don’t want their tax status revoked. Now, Sosta will have T-shirts to sell on-hand but those are not something to be worn at the event.

The local Republican Executive Committee will be on hand with voter registration cards. The Democratic Executive Committee could do that too, but says nobody invited them. But there will be no campaigning materials on the tables, and candidates themselves have been asked not to stump at the event.

And for the record, DeSantis campaign officials make clear that they don’t intend to treat the cook-off like a sign-waving campaign event.

Candidates can only speak about how they support first responders, something that could present challenges for politicians, especially for those who want to tout any work on behalf of police and firefighters.

But last night, the event made it into the campaign event line-up pushed out as a paid political message from the DeSantis campaign. It was also alluded to in a pointed political release comparing the activity of the Republic to that of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.

None of this was done by the First Responders group, of course, which doesn’t clear releases from the DeSantis headquarters.

That said, the question quickly arises why DeSantis would serve as a guest judge at a nonprofit event anyway. Vero Beach and Indian River County actually sit well south of Florida’s 6th Congressional District, the area he actually represented in the House. Besides, he resigned from the seat this week to focus his efforts on his run for Governor. He’s a curious choice to put on a panel.

Obviously, DeSantis has little reason to spend his weekend in Vero Beach six weeks out from the biggest election of his life other than to introduce himself to voters. But then, that’s probably true of a lot of the people manning booths at events like this. Cook-offs held within two months of elections tend to inspire huge numbers of politicians to discover family recipes worthy of sharing with the world.

To list the event as a campaign function in any way, though, invites scrutiny no nonprofit welcomes. If anyone from the campaign shows up with the wrong T-shirt or too large a campaign button, they may need a change of clothes handy.

And DeSantis may need to be more careful than ever about the words that come out of his mouth. On the bright side, it looks like there will be plenty of delicious food to put there instead.

Andrew Gillum agrees to Univision, Leadership Florida debates

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum accepted invitations to debates hosted by Univision and by Leadership Florida. But whether Republican Ron DeSantis will be on stage as well remains unclear.

“We hope that Congressman DeSantis will join us, though it’s unclear whether he’ll be able to answer a single question about his nonexistent campaign platform,” said Gillum adviser Scott Arceneaux in a statement.

No dates have been determined yet, except that the events would happen in October. DeSantis has yet to confirm attendance.

A release from the Gillum campaign says Univision 23 Miami and Leadership Florida invited the candidate to debates, and the release seems to indicate both of those events will take place in South Florida.

The campaign says it has insisted on having at least one debate outside of that region of the state to ensure voters across the state have heard from both candidates.

“Florida voters deserve the chance to hear from Mayor Gillum and Congressman DeSantis about the critical issues facing our state,” Arceneaux said. “Mayor Gillum looks forward to sharing his vision for Florida that lifts people up, with higher wages, more money for schools and affordable health care.”

The Gillum campaign release notes that in addition to five Democratic primary debates, Gillum also participated in February in a one-on-one debate with Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran as well.

Univision has made no announcement about when it plans to hold a debate with gubernatorial candidates. The network in 2010 held the first debate between Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink on Oct. 8, less than a month before Scott won the governorship.

Leadership Florida, along with the Florida Press Association, hosted a 2014 televised debate between Scott and Democrat Charlie Crist on Oct. 14.

The Florida governor’s race, scheduled for Nov. 6 this year, remains one of the most closely watched in the country. All polls released included in Real Clear Politics index since the candidates won their respecting primaries show Gillum leading by between 2 and 6 percentage points.

A St. Pete Polls survey last week found the race almost tied, with Gillum holding the slightest of edge.

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