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Rick Scott pours another $18 million of his money into U.S. Senate campaign

Republican Gov. Rick Scott tapped his own wealth in August and September to the tune of more than $18 million to fuel his U.S. Senate campaign.

The contributions, listed in the latest campaign finance reports covering the period of Aug. 9-Sept. 30, brings Scott’s total personal contributions to his campaign to almost $39 million, accounting for 70 percent of the nearly $54 million his campaign had raised through the end of the third quarter of 2018, and the campaign had spent nearly all of that going into October.

Meanwhile the re-election campaign of his opponent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has raised just under half as much  – but none of it through Nelson’s wealth – and spent about a third as much so far as Scott’s campaign has done.

And as a result, Nelson entered the stretch run on Oct. 1 with more campaign cash on hand, though Scott’s personal contributions may continue.

On Oct. 2, Nelson’s campaign reported having $8.6 million in the bank for the stretch run. Scott’s campaign reported having $2 million, according to the latest campaign finance reports posted by Tuesday by the Federal Election Commission.

Since the pre-primary campaign finance report for the period that ended Aug. 9, Scott’s campaign reported raising $4.9 million from individuals, $306,000 from political action committees, and $18,275,528 million from Scott’s own contributions. That presented a total raised during the seven-week period of $23.5 million.

Scott’s personal donations included $275,528 in his in-kind contributions, mainly campaign transportation aboard his private jet.

He also made pretty much weekly contributions in the millions of dollars cash. On Aug. 15, he gave his campaign $2.5 million; on Aug 21, $3 million; on Aug. 28, $3 million; on Sept. 7, $1.5 million; Sept. 17, $4 million; and Sept. 24, $4 million.

Scott’s campaign also spent $24.9 million during that period ending Sept. 30.

That brought the total spent to date by Rick Scott for Florida to $52.7 million, with five weeks left in the campaign.

During the same period Nelson’s campaign reported raising $5 million from individuals, $176,000 from PACs. With a few other receipts and refunds, that meant his campaign cleared $5.3 million in the seven weeks after Aug. 8.

Nelson’s campaign spent $11.3 million during the period.

Yet the campaign had held back spending for months, so through Sept. 30 Bill Nelson for U.S. Senate had spent only $18 million.

All of this is in addition to the money being spent on the race by outside groups. Various political committees trying to get Nelson elected have spent $25 million campaigning in Florida so far, and political groups trying to get Scott elected have spent $17 million.

Vice News scrutinizes Manatee County minority voting decline

A new Vice News investigation is spotlighting declines of in-person voting in Manatee County under Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett.

The report notes that since his election in 2012, Bennett reduced the number of polling places in the county by 30 percent in, primarily by consolidating precincts in black and Latino areas.

The news outlet cited a University of Florida study from 2016 that showed Hispanic voters in particular proved more likely not to vote if reassigned to a new precinct. The study shows black and Latino turnout dropped 3 to 5 percent because of changes in polling places.

“In theory, voters who have difficulty traveling to a polling place can cast a vote through the mail. In practice, many voters prefer to cast a ballot in person, even if it’s less convenient,” the Vice report reads.

Bennett, though, pushed back at the Vice report, saying that overall, minority turnout has gone up in the county. And while in-person voting indeed declined in Manatee and throughout Florida, vote-by-mail and early voting rose.

“We just had the largest primary turnout in the history of Manatee County going back 25 years,” Bennett told Florida Politics.

Bennett acknowledges the decision to eliminate 30 of the 99 polling locations previously used in the county drew rebuke when he made the proposal in 2014. At the time, the Manatee County Commission voted 6-1 against the change, with Democratic County Commissioner Michael Gallen the lone ‘no’ vote.

The Vice report quotes Rodney Jones, president of the Manatee County NAACP chapter, saying his own polling place went from being a five-minute walk to a 30-minute walk from his home.

“We still have transportation impediments,” Jones told Vice.

Bennett, though, says since reducing polling locations that the county has not been plagued by long lines. That’s because he’s expanded voting in other ways, going from one to five early voting locations. Considering the cost of staffing those four new locations for eight days, Bennett said that’s the equivalent of adding 32 new polling locations.

Bennett, a former state senator, previously made controversial remarks about voting rights, including a 2011 speech in which he said: “I want the people of the state of Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who’s willing to walk 200 miles.”

Those remarks certainly drew scrutiny at the time, and Vice made note of that as well.

On that, Bennett said even he had to review the tape to verify he’d said those exact words. Bennett said his message got muddled.

“The words never come out the way you intend them to come out,” he said.

Andrew Gillum goes high — and low — in two new ads

Andrew Gillum is confronting Florida voters with mixed messages as he approaches the home stretch of his Democratic bid for Governor.

Gillum’s campaign debuted two new ads on Tuesday, the three-week mark ahead of the Nov. 6 Election Day. One, a negative attack on his Republican opponent Ron DeSantis, criticizes the former congressman’s voting record on Medicare and social security. Another features one of his closest surrogates, wife R. Jai Gillum, who offers an overwhelmingly positive overview of her husband and his quest for the Governor’s Mansion.

The negative ad in part focuses on health care, noting DeSantis’ prior willingness to increase the age of Medicare retirement — a continuation bet on Gillum’s health care offensive against DeSantis.

Prior televised criticisms from Gillum have questioned DeSantis’ health care ambitions. The Florida Democratic Party has also harped on the same issue via television, a parody website — even a real-time clock tracking how much time has elapsed since DeSantis entered the race. (From the Democrats’ perspective, it’s a matter of how long it’s taken for DeSantis to unveil his highly anticipated but prolonged health care plan.)

But the ad also serves as an attempt to appeal to Florida’s coveted older voting bloc, featuring presumed seniors saying things like, “I’ve earned my retirement.” The criticisms aren’t exactly fresh. In fact, they’re repurposed from DeSantis’ tough primary against Adam Putnam, who aired a similar affront in July to no avail.

In response, DeSantis campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson said Gillum’s health care plan, which in part provides support for Medicare for all, “would take away the health insurance choices that most Floridians enjoy today and hurt seniors who have earned their benefits by paying into the system their entire lives.”

According to the Gillum campaign, the 30-second spot is airing in most of the Sunshine State’s major media markets.

The other ad featuring R. Jai Gillum serves as a positive testimonial to her husband’s widely publicized political story arc.

“One thing I can tell you about my husband is that he is a fighter,” R. Jai Gillum says in the spot. “He was the first in his family to graduate high school and college.”

She also speaks to Gillum’s tenure as the Mayor of Tallahassee, including his legal victory against the National Rifle Association. Confirmation is pending on whether that positive message will also air across the state.

To watch the ads, click on the images below:

Sweet deal: Everglades Trust vouches for Ron DeSantis’ environmental record

Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis burnished his environmental credentials Tuesday, scoring an endorsement from the Everglades Trust.

At the same time, another enviro group accused him of trying to “greenwash himself.”

The Trust already had endorsed him in the primary over Adam Putnam, who they characterized as a pay-to-play agent of the sugar industry.

In contrast, DeSantis voted against sugar subsidies in Congress, and was targeted by millions of dollars of negative ads funded by the industry.

Everglades Trust Executive Director Kimberly Mitchell offered an extended statement of support for DeSantis, whom she characterized as a “hero” in the fight against “Big Sugar.”

“The tragic symptoms of a fatally-flawed water management system, kept broken to appease the sugar industry, are on full display for the world to see. Dead sea life and closed beaches on both coasts of Florida cannot be Florida’s new normal. And the days of the Everglades serving as a mere bullet point in an environmental platform should be over.

“The Everglades and coastal estuaries couldn’t care less about partisan politics, so the Trust doesn’t. They are in desperate need of a hero – and they found one in Ron DeSantis,” Mitchell said.

According to Mitchell, DeSantis “has a track record of standing up to an industry that is physically and politically blocking the reconnection of Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades – Big Sugar.

“Floridians have had enough of rhetoric and broken promises from our politicians. ‘I will stand up to the special interests,’ is what we’re told in an election year. Well, we now have a politician who has actually walked the walk and for the millions who depend on a healthy Everglades, and all the critters who call them home, it could not come soon enough,” Mitchell said.

The Everglades Trust endorsed Gwen Graham in the Democratic primary.

What’s clear: Gillum couldn’t make the sale once he got the nomination. And DeSantis had already closed the deal.

The Ponte Vedra Beach Republican doesn’t have unanimous environmentalist support, however.

Florida Conservation Voters noted that “DeSantis has a lifetime environmental score of 2 percent from the League of Conservation Voters (and) that number speaks for itself.”

“On every environmental issue, from protecting our waters and wetlands to acting on climate, he sides with polluters over people every time. Floridians shouldn’t be fooled by these recent attempts to greenwash himself. He can’t run away from his votes.”

New Rick Scott ad spotlights storm relief efforts

Gov. Rick Scott is dedicated largely to post-Michael recovery these days, and a new ad from his campaign is designed to remind voters of that fact.

“With the campaign nearly over, let’s take a behind the scenes peek at both candidates,” the narrator observes.

Scott is “leading hurricane recovery, directing relief efforts, and even housing state troopers in his own home.”

The aforementioned home is the Governor’s Mansion.

“And Sen. Nelson? Running false attack ads mocking Gov. Scott’s service in the Navy,” the narrator chides, calling it a “new low” and “dirty politics” from Nelson.

One tripwire for this spot: a third-party group (VoteVets) accusing Scott of using his familiar Navy ball cap for political optics while he “cheated” veterans, in an ad that got national coverage in outlets like Fox News.

Another tripwire: a senior Nelson campaign hand charging Scott with using storm recovery as a way to dodge voters and media on the campaign trail, while spending $18 million on ad buys … including negative ads targeted against the Democratic incumbent.

The Scott campaign decried all of this, somehow invoking the Senate Minority Leader in the process.

“Sen. Nelson and his Democratic Party boss Chuck Schumer have truly reached a new low by mocking the Governor’s military service. Considering that Schumer controls Nelson’s vote and is funding his campaign, it hardly comes as a surprise that Democrats have gotten this desperate. Regardless, while Nelson continues to play dirty politics, Governor Scott will continue to focus on leading hurricane recovery,” asserted Chris Hartline, Scott for Florida Spokesman.

To view the ad, click on the image below:

Central Florida Sheriffs slam ‘anti-police’ Andrew Gillum, back Ron DeSantis

A group of Republican Sheriffs from Central Florida endorsed Republican Ron DeSantis for Governor on Tuesday, spotlighting the alleged “anti-police” radicalism of Democrat Andrew Gillum in the bargain.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd distilled the pro-DeSantis case neatly: “When I looked at this election, I asked myself a simple question that every voter should ask themselves: Do you want a governor who is a decorated veteran and former prosecutor, or a governor who ignored pleas from police for more support and more officers while crime skyrocketed in his city?”

Seminole Sheriff Dennis Lemma echoed these themes: “Andrew Gillum’s Tallahassee has become the most dangerous city in Florida four-years in a row, that’s not the kind of record that deserves a promotion. His anti-law enforcement way of thinking has made it more dangerous for the people of Tallahassee.”

The Gillum camp disputes that characterization, a Republican staple. Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil, a Democrat, noted that “violent crime is down 24 percent, and overall crime is down 10 percent with crime at a five-year low in Tallahassee.”

Brevard’s head lawman, Sheriff Wayne Ivey, said, “When I found out that Andrew Gillum pledged his allegiance to the ‘Freedom Papers,’ an anti-police manifesto from the Dream Defenders organization, I was appalled.

“I am tired of this rhetoric that demonizes our law enforcement officers. It makes the jobs of our deputies harder and more dangerous,” Ivey lamented.

(Worth noting: The Freedom Papers case extends beyond the police, with such insights as “billionaires use Florida as a playground because 20 million of us live on little to nothing.” The DeSantis campaign has already spotlighted the Dream Defenders in advertising.)

The other Sheriffs endorsing the candidate include: Carmine Marceno (Lee), Sheriff Al Nienhuis (Hernando), Sheriff Bill Farmer (Sumter), Sheriff Arnold Lanier (Hardee), Sheriff Steve Whidden (Hendry), Sheriff Wayne Padgett (Taylor), Sheriff Rick Staly (Flagler), and Sheriff Billy Woods (Marion).

Ahead of the primary, Adam Putnam was the runaway choice of most Sheriffs and police unions. Since late August, however, their support has largely (with the exception of a handful of Democratic Sheriffs) fallen in behind DeSantis.

For his part, DeSantis sounded like Gov. Rick Scott when accepting the lawman backing.

 “I am proud to have the support of this group of Florida’s finest here today, along with the support of law enforcement officers from across this state. There is nothing more fundamental to the job of the next governor than ensuring safety for our residents and our visitors. And as I stand here today, I stand where I will as governor, next to our law enforcement and in support of them,” DeSantis vowed.

“Crime is currently at a 47-year low thanks to these Sheriffs and the work of law enforcement officers from across the state who are on the front lines. However, they don’t just need our praise, they need support, they need resources, and they need a governor who will stand alongside them at every turn. So, while I am honored to have their support, I want to take this opportunity to restate my commitment to them and to ensuring Florida has the safest, most well-enforced communities in the country,” DeSantis added.


All hands on deck: Ron DeSantis campaign staffs up for final sprint

The Ron DeSantis campaign has added a plethora of high-power politicos for the closing weeks of the race for Florida Governor, including reinforcements in campaign communications and political consulting.

Under the leadership of Susie Wiles, who helmed Donald Trump’s Florida campaign two years ago, Team DeSantis has added numerous campaign veterans. Wiles started bringing on key staffers shortly after taking the chair position on the Republican gubernatorial campaign, onboarding Jennifer Locetta to oversee operations and Tim Page to manage local and national surrogates.

Also among the new faces joining the Republican nominee’s campaign is Matt Parker, who will serve as Team DeSantis’ senior consultant for all things related to field operations.

“These staffers are the best of the best and dropped everything to come join this team. They know what’s at stake in Florida and gladly offered their help a few weeks ago,” Wiles said. “I am proud to have them on the DeSantis team and Ron is grateful for their willingness to help.”

Lending their talents in consulting are veteran GOP operative Pat Bainter of Data Targeting Inc. and longtime Florida GOP strategists David JohnsonRich Heffley and Jim Rimes, who has been described as “the hardest working guy in the business” and as “the most understated and underrated political consultant in the state.”

Wiles didn’t disclose the exact responsibilities of the additions to the consultant corps so as not to reveal the campaign’s strategy in the closing stretch, but she said “we are very grateful to have them on the team. DJ, Rich, and Pat are tested strategists with many wins under their belts. This expanded team is made up the leadership of winning GOP campaigns in Florida.”

The new additions back up campaign manager Brad Herold, senior campaign adviser James Blair and communications director Stephen Lawson, political director Jordan Wiggins, strategist Tim Baker and GOP communications expert Sarah Bascom and her team at Bascom Communications.

DeSantis and his LG pick, state Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, are up against Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum and running mate Chris King in the general election.

Most polls have shown Gillum with a slight lead — RealClearPolitics’ average of all public polling the Tallahassee mayor up 3.7 percentage points — though DeSantis has recently surged in fundraising thanks to a $5 million check from Chicago billionaire Kenneth Griffin, fueling him up for the final stretch.

Election Day is Nov. 6.

Former Vice President Joe Biden endorses Sean Shaw

The statewide race for the open Attorney General post is attracting national involvement.

Calling state Rep. Sean Shaw a “fighter with a proven track record of standing up for the little guy,” former Vice President Joe Biden is throwing his political weight behind Florida’s Democratic option for Attorney General.

In an endorsement announced on Tuesday, the former two-term Vice President said, “Sean Shaw will be the kind of Attorney General that the state of Florida desperately needs.”

Shaw responded, likening himself to the former Veep.

“Much like Vice President Biden did during his time in the White House, I plan to give issues surrounding common-sense gun reform and tackling sexual assault, the focus, and attention that they deserve,” Shaw said. “The grace with which Vice President Biden has carried himself, through both triumph and tragedy, is a lesson in the resilience of the human spirit.”

This isn’t Biden’s first wade into races down the ballot. He has offered support for candidates running in special elections during the past two years, even going as far as recording robocalls to go out ahead of February’s House District 72 race, which saw Democrat Margaret Good secure an upset victory.

Shaw faces former Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Ashley Moody, a Republican who has long carried support from term-limited Attorney General Pam Bondi. Moody faced a brutal primary challenge from Frank White, which exhausted much of her campaign funds. Currently, Shaw leads in the money chase with $1.2 million on hand, while Moody’s close behind at $870,000 — although her weekly hauls have recently topped Shaw’s.


Backers press case for Amendment 2

Supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment to keep the 10 percent non-homestead tax cap pressed their case at a Tuesday press conference.

“I’m asking Florida voters to vote ‘yes’ on Amendment 2 this November,” said Anna King, owner of a Tallahassee salon.

“As a business owner who rents my salon space, the 10 percent non-homestead tax cap is one of the few protections I have, along with every other non-homestead owner and business owners,” she said. “Amendment 2 is a protective of every Florida citizen including renters and consumers.

“If my landlord’s taxes go up, it will be passed on to me. That will impact my ability to keep my costs of the salon services at a competitive, fair, affordable price.”

The press conference was organized by Everybody is for Amendment 2, supporters of passage of the amendment who include thousands of small business owners across Florida, and residential renters.

Ten years ago, Florida voters realized that property taxes were getting out of hand and approved a temporary 10 percent cap on non-homestead properties, which includes businesses, residential rentals, and vacant lots.

“After seeing the positive effect it has had since then, we need to make it permanent by passing Amendment 2,” said Robert Weissert of Florida TaxWatch.

“It allows for businesses to keep their prices at a degree of stability as they can accurately project their budgets for months and even years to come, and this benefit is passed on to the consumer, every Florida citizen.”

Added French Brown, a tax attorney with Dean Mead: “The largest number of non-homestead properties are used for residential rentals. So if Amendment 2 fails, renters will get hit first and hardest.”

Marsy’s Law group offers crime victims’ pleas in new Amendment 6 ads

Two new television commercials are being launched Tuesday telling the stories of a rape victim and the mother of a murder victim, who explain how helpless they’ve felt in pursuing justice and why they want Florida voters to adopt Amendment 6.

The commercials are part of the $30 million campaign being run by Marsy’s Law for Florida, a group created to push for “Marsy’s Law” victims rights laws much like those adopted in California and other states, pushed for by the family of Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, a California college student murdered in 1983.

For the two new Florida campaign TV commercials, the fifth and sixth from Marsy’s Law of Florida, the real-life Florida victims are Ann Rowe of Tallahassee and Mary Futrill Petersen.

In the first new 30-second ad, Rowe tells her own story, about how she was brutally raped and beaten outside her Tallahassee home two years ago.

“Regrettably, to this day I have no justice,” she says. “Amendment 6 is an initiative that will give victims the same level of rights that the accused currently have.”

As she says that, several of the rights in question appear on the screen in text: rights to restitution,  to notification, to be heard in court, and to have a voice in sentencing and parole.

In the other ad, Petersen’s mother, Francis Futrill of Jacksonville, tells of her daughter, who was murdered in her own bed in 2002, her body discovered the next day by her 8-year-old son. The case remains unsolved.

“We would call over to the detectives. It would be weeks or even never that they would return our calls,” Futrill recalled.

The issue raised by opponents of Amendment 6 – and they include the Public Defenders Association of Florida, the League of Women Voters of Florida, and the ACLU – is that many of the rights included in Amendment 6 already are in Florida law, including some already in the Florida Constitution. Opponents contend that Amendment 6 would go beyond equal rights between victims and perpetrators, to infringe on Constitutional rights of the accused.

In fact, opponents of Amendment 6 argue that Florida already is on the cutting edge of victims’ rights law.

The Amendment 6 proposal was created by Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission, which bundled the Marsy’s Law provisions with two other proposed changes of law in Florida unrelated to victims’ rights.

If approved by at least 60 percent of the voters in the Nov. 6 election, Amendment 6 also would raise the mandatory retirement age of Florida judges, including Supreme Court justices, to 75, from 70; and it would revise how courts are permitted to interpret Florida law, forbidding judges from deferring to state agencies’ own interpretations as the default legal interpretation.

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