Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Former GOP chairman Greer under criminal investigation

At 12:14 p.m. today, this email went out from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement:

Statement from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Regarding the
Information Referred by Attorney General Bill McCollum

FDLE has received information from Attorney General McCollum’s office which indicates possible criminal activity surrounding a former senior official of the
Republican Party of Florida and Victory Strategies, LLC.

Our Office of Executive Investigations is actively investigating this matter. Given
the open investigation, we are unable to provide additional details at this

This just in from the Associated Press and Miami Herald's Naked Politics blog:

Former Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer is the subject of a criminal investigation after an auditor found he funneled party money to a political consulting company he owned.

Attorney General Bill McCollum referred the matter to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Mar. 15 after it was discovered during a routine party audit. "This information indicates there may have been criminal activity surrounding a former senior official of the Republican Party of Florida and a company called Victory Strategies, LLC," McCollum said in a statement.

The audit showed that Greer owned 60 percent of the company and Delmar Johnson, the ousted former executive director, owned the remaining 40 percent. Greer authorized the contract to let Johnson take a 10 percent commission on all dollars he raised for the party coffers. It totaled $133,005 for 2009 with an additional $66,250 for other consulting services.

Party Chairman John Thrasher, a state senator, released a statement suggesting this disclosure if part of his effort to clean up party finances. "The Republican Party of Florida may have been the victim of illegal criminal activity on the part of one of its vendors, controlled by a senior-level official," he said in a statement.Read more:

Florida oil drilling said to be on the table

Washington bureau reporter Lesley Clark reports in her Naked Politics blog this morning:

President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will unveil the administration's plans for oil and gas drilling this morning and reports suggests exploration in the Gulf of Mexico 125 miles off Florida's coast are in the mix. The New York Times says "the eastern Gulf of Mexico tract that would be offered for lease is adjacent to an area that already contains thousands of wells and hundreds of drilling platforms. The eastern Gulf area is believed to contain as much as 3.5 billion barrels of oil and 17 trillion cubic feet of gas, the richest single tract that would be open to drilling under the Obama plan.

"Drilling there has been strongly opposed by officials from both political parties in Alabama and Florida who fear damage to coastlines, fisheries, popular beaches and wildlife. Interior Department officials said no wells would be allowed within 125 miles of the Florida and Alabama coasts, making them invisible from shore."

Obama is hoping to get support for a climate change bill but 10 coastal state Democrats -- including Florida's Bill Nelson who has vehemently opposed oil drilling -- say they won't support a big expansion of drilling.Read more:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A trip to Manatee just might seal RNC's interest

Day 2 of the RNC's scrutiny of Tampa-St. Pete for the 2012 convention is under way, with visits planned to Pinellas, Tropicana Field, the Don Cesar and the Vinoy. An impressive lineup, but still no clear sign of Tampa's choices.

As Jim Jones noted in this insert to today's story, officials in Manatee County said they stand ready to help steer business to local hotels and restaurants, should Tampa Bay land the 2012 GOP national convention.

“The people in the Tampa Bay area are as cranked up for anything like this as they would be for a final four,” said Larry White, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Observers suggest that it will take more than standing in the wings to get a piece of this political pie. Why keep Manatee County a secret?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Tampa woos GOP convention -- how about Manatee?

Organizers of the Republican National Convention have been in the Tampa Bay area today to scout possible sites for the 2012 convention.

Committee members are looking at hotels, transportation, restaurants and nightlife, as well as facilities that could be involved in the event, such as the Tampa Convention Center, St. Pete Times Forum and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, the Associated Press reported.

The group will compare the area's amenities with those in Salt Lake City and Phoenix, the two other cities vying to host the GOP convention, which is one of the nation's largest political events.

According to the St. Pete Times, the 10-member committee and about 10 GOP staff members were greeted by dozens of people waving American flags and elephant-adorned signs.

They were led to the St. Pete Times Forum, the proposed main convention site, by the Mystic Sheiks of Morocco playing Kool and the Gang's Celebration.

Did they take the time to come across the Skyway Bridge and check out Manatee County's amenities? We'll get Manatee officials' reactions -- check back on Tuesday, here and in the Herald.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Live from Sarasota, it's Karl Rove

In case you can't afford a ticket or being in a roomful of Republicans is not your idea of fun, you'll still have a chance Wednesday to listen in when Karl Rove speaks at the Sarasota County Republican party's Lincoln Day Dinner.

Rove, the reputed "mastermind" behind George W. Bush's political career, will address GOP faithful gathered at the Hyatt Sarasota, 1000 Boulevard of the Arts. (Tickets start at $150 each; you can register here.)

A private reception will run from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., a cocktail reception from 6 to 7 p.m. and dinner starts at 7 p.m.

But you'll also be able to listen to Rove talk about health care reform and other topics via your computer. Get details of the Webcast here.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Buchanan details opposition to health care reform

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan voted against the health care reform legislation approved by the House late Sunday.

Here's his explanation, as laid out in a news release from his office:
Washington, D.C. – Congressman Vern Buchanan (FL-13) voted today against a trillion-dollar health care bill that cuts Medicare, increases taxes and does nothing to lower the cost of health care. The bill creates a massive, new entitlement program at a time when Social Security and Medicare are facing bankruptcy, the Congressman said.

“This bill represents all that is wrong with Washington," Buchanan said. “Deficit spending, higher taxes, more government control and an arrogant dismissal of the will of the American people. This is why so many people are fed up with Washington -- and I don't blame them."

Buchanan noted that of the 11,000 constituents who contacted his office on the bill, 75 percent opposed it.

The 13th District Congressman highlighted the reasons for his opposition:

Tax Increases:

The bill includes $570 billion in new tax increases, including tax increases on small businesses, middle-income families, hospitals, seniors, medical device makers, among others. The National Federation of Independent Businesses estimates that an employer mandate will cost our fragile economy 1.6 million jobs. There are so many new taxes in this bill that it is estimated that up to 16,500 new Internal Revenue Service agents will be needed to collect, examine and audit new tax information mandated on families and small businesses.

Massive Cuts to Medicare:

The bill cuts over $500 billion in critical Medicare services. Over $200 billion would be cut from the popular Medicare Advantage program, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates these cuts will force two million seniors off their current plans. Currently, about 30,000 seniors in FL-13 receive their Medicare benefits from Medicare Advantage. Hospitals are cut by over $100 billion, nursing homes by $15 billion, and hospice services by $7 billion. The Obama Administration’s own health analyst concluded these cuts will threaten seniors’ access to Medicare services and may force health providers to stop accepting Medicare patients altogether.

Deficit Spending:

The bill includes $1 trillion in new spending we can’t afford, creating a new entitlement spending program that, according to some experts this bill will cost $2.5 trillion once fully implemented. Adding $662 billion to our already record-high $1.4 trillion budget deficit.

Backroom Deals:

The now infamous “Cornhusker Kickback” got “fixed” by expanding it to every state. The “Louisiana Purchase” sends an extra $300 million in extra Medicaid payments to Louisiana. Tennessee will receive almost $100 million in extra assistance too. The “Connecticut" deal will give $100 million for a single hospital in Connecticut. A special provision was inserted that only helps the residents of Libby, Montana. This kind of backroom deal-making is why the American people believe Washington is broken.

Heavy Hand of Government:

This health care bill creates a new Washington bureaucracy -- nearly 160 new boards, commissions, and programs. Further, it will be illegal to have insurance that is not approved by the federal government. The federal government will decide for you what health insurance you can and cannot purchase. The sweeping legislation also includes $17 billion in new taxes on Americans who do not comply with the individual mandate to have health insurance, $52 billion in new taxes on employers that do not provide health coverage deemed “acceptable” or “affordable” by government bureaucrats.

“At a time when the federal government should be encouraging job growth, this bill will kill jobs," Buchanan said. "It is supposed to be about jobs, jobs, jobs, and we are making it more expensive to employ people. It makes no sense.”

Buchanan also questioned whether the federal government has the authority to force every American to purchase health insurance under threat of financial penalty. “For the first time in our history, under this bill, the federal government will tax you if you don’t purchase a particular product,” said the Congressman. Florida's attorney general said he will file a lawsuit to prevent its enactment in Florida.

In addition, Buchanan expressed concern that the bill does not include language in the original House bill to protect TRICARE. “In Florida’s 13th District, we have 97,000 veterans,” said Buchanan. “Many of them depend on TRICARE. There is nothing in this bill to ensure that they continue to receive the health care they have earned.”

The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) said the bill “betrays veterans” because it “does not protect the health programs provided to veterans, service-members or their families.”

Buchanan also noted that the $940 billion dollar bill does not include the estimated $300 billion “doctor fix” to ensure that seniors have access to physicians through Medicare. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill combined with the increase in Medicare reimbursement rates would increase federal deficits by at least $59 billion, and more likely $260 billion, over the next 10 years.

“People are fed up with reckless spending coming out of Washington,” Buchanan said. “They want health care reform that lowers the cost of health insurance -- not expands the size of government.”

Buchanan expressed concern that the bill does nothing to reduce the cost of health care, noting that the President of the Business Roundtable said recently, “if present trends continue, the cost to provide an employee with health care will rise from $10,000 to $28,000 over the next ten years.”

Buchanan said he supports common-sense reform to lower the cost of health care by allowing insurance to be sold across state lines, establishing high-risk insurance pools, limiting frivolous lawsuits and prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating on the basis of pre-existing conditions.

Buchanan: Health bill raises taxes, cuts Medicare (UPDATED)

Just after 5 p.m. today, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan took to the well of the U.S. House to again express his distaste with the health care bill put forth by Democrats.

Lesley Clark, the Bradenton Herald's Washington correspondent, reports that Buchanan, R-Sarasota, said the bill does "nothing to lower costs, or little to lower costs, it raises taxes $540 billion and it cuts Medicare. Being in business for 30 years and signing the front of payroll checks, I can tell you that one of the biggest concerns with small businesses is the escalation of health care.

"It's $10,000 to $12,000 today for a small business and a family, (Congressional Budget Office) is saying if we do nothing about it and this bill does nothing about it, it will go to $28,000 in the next 10 years. It also increases taxes $540 billion, a lot of those taxes are passed through to small businesses. ... It hurts working families and it will not increase jobs.

"As someone that represents an area that has the most seniors in the country, we have real cuts, not just waste fraud and abuse, of $500 billion and this will really hurt seniors."

Buchanan said he had a senior recently tell him: "All I have is my Social Security and Medicare. It's not perfect, but don't mess with my Medicare."

UPDATED, 6:45 p.m. EDT - The office of House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer put out a statement disputing Buchanan's claim about the health care reform bill cutting funding to Medicare:
"There are no cuts to Medicare benefits. Rather, this bill strengthens Medicare - extending its solvency by nine years and closing the “donut hole.” These false claims are yet another attempt by Republicans to mislead and scare. In fact it’s Republicans who have been long-time opponents of Medicare and are proposing to voucherize it."
UPDATED, 10:45 p.m. — Here is the video of Buchanan's speech

Buchanan: This is why I oppose health care bill

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, on Friday posted a You Tube video in which he explains why he opposes the health care bill being considered today in the U.S. House.

Here's the video:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Buchanan blasts Democrats' health care strategy

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, this afternoon blasted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders for suggesting they may use complex parliamentary procedures to ensure passage of health care reform legislation without taking a recorded vote.

Here is Buchanan's statement:
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, author of the Sunshine Resolution on health care, today blasted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan to adopt the Senate’s sweeping health care bill without a vote in the House.

Under Pelosi’s plan, House Democrats would use a rare procedural maneuver to “deem” that the Senate bill has passed without holding a recorded vote on the actual bill.
The Washington Post called Pelosi’s plan “unseemly” and “contrary to Democrats’ promises of transparency.”

Buchanan added, “This is sweeping legislation that will impact every American and one-sixth of our economy. The American people deserve to have a recorded vote so they can hold their elected officials accountable.”

The Congressman said, “Speaker Pelosi was quoted widely last week saying ‘we have to pass the health care bill so you can find out what’s in it.’ And now we learn the Speaker wants to pass the bill without an actual vote to give cover to vulnerable members. No wonder the American people are fed up with Washington.”

Buchanan is opposed to the bill, which includes nearly $500 billion in new taxes on small business, $500 billion in cuts to Medicare and backroom deals, such as the “cornhusker kickback” that will cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Buchanan authored a resolution requiring talks on the health care bill be open to the public, a proposal that was ignored by Pelosi.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Are Cuban Americans lukewarm on Rubio?

If he beats Gov. Charlie Crist and then the Democratic nominee, Marco Rubio would be the nation's third Cuban American to be elected to the U.S. Senate, and the first to be born and raised in Miami. It would be a significant event in the history of the Cuban diaspora in Florida.

But by at least one indicator of support -- campaign contributions -- Cuban Americans are not blindly supporting Rubio, according to a posting on the National Journal's political blog.

The influential U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC has donated $7,500 to Democratic candidate U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, but nothing yet to either Rubio or Crist.

Meek is " the only one who's been in Congress and has a long track record of being an outspoken advocate for human rights and a strong Cuba policy," said Maurice Claver-Carone, head of the PAC's Washington operation. "Charlie and Marco are great, and they would be great members of Congress, but they haven't had that yet. They've talked about it and they've advocated, but never from a legislative perspective."

But, as the National Journal notes, that belies the fact that in 2004 the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC donated to the campaign of Mel Martinez, who went on to be the first Cuban American elected to the Senate, even though he had never served in Congress. Also, the 25 members of the PAC's board of directors had contributed a total of $8,150 to Rubio's campaign -- far less than the $31,200 collected by Crist and the $14,950 by Meek.

The National Journal continues:
Does Rubio have a Cuban-American problem? No recent polls have broken down Cuban-American support for Rubio and Crist. But a Public Policy Polling survey released March 10 shows Crist faring better than Rubio with Hispanics in a general election matchup. Crist wins Hispanic voters -- Cuban-Americans account for close to half of Florida's Hispanic vote -- by a 43-22 margin over Meek in a potential matchup. Rubio, meanwhile, trails Meek by a 48-35 gap among Hispanics. Both Republicans would defeat Meek, according to the poll, but Crist enjoys a wider margin of victory, thanks in part to this differential.
Some of Rubio's policy positions may be costing him support from Cuban Americans and other Hispanics in the state, according to the National Journal:
Still, while Rubio would love to carry the Cuban vote, Little Havana isn't his base. His most strident supporters have largely been white conservatives -- including Tea Partiers nationally. They are the ones who shook the rafters at his CPAC speech last month and continue to pour money into his coffers with one-day online fundraising drives, or "money bombs." Moderate Floridians still favor Crist, but among self-described conservative voters, Rubio trounces the governor by a 69-12 margin in the PPP poll.

Rubio, meanwhile, has taken stances at odds with the Latino community. He is against any immigration reform bill that provides a path to citizenship for the nation's 12 million illegal aliens; a spokesman said Rubio believes the 1986 amnesty was "a mistake." He also opposes counting undocumented immigrants in the Census for the purposes of federal aid and congressional reapportionment.

That stance drew a stern rebuke from Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. The organization honored Rubio in 2007 when he became the first Cuban-American leader of the Florida House, but "that was a very different Marco Rubio," Vargas told the Miami Herald last week.

"I know that in visiting Florida there has been some significant disappointment in the positions he's taken," Vargas told

Read the whole National Journal posting, here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rubio pours some sugar on Crist's political wounds

Marco Rubio today launched a new video salvo on Gov. Charlie Crist, focusing on Crist's proposed deal to buy a large swath of land from U.S. Sugar in order to restore the Everglades.

Sands ready to bet on casino gambling in Florida

Casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corp. is pitching to Florida lawmakers today a plan to build an operate as many as four casinos, including in the Tampa area, to compete against tribal casinos. has a few details of the proposal:
Executives from Las Vegas Sands is scheduled to introduce a proposal to Florida Legislatures today to bring Vegas style casinos to the state and add competition to the gaming monopoly now controlled by the Seminole Tribe.

Sands is proposing that expanding gambling and allowing non tribal casinos to enter the market will bolster the state’s economy and tourism industry.

Under Sands proposal the state would except up to four bids to build resort casinos in areas including Tampa and South Florida to attract international convention business.

The proposal also states that no more than 10% of the floor space would be devoted to casino games.

Sands stresses that while the offerings would add competition to the Seminole Tribe, the new casinos would not compete against the state’s pari-mutuel industry as long as they were also allowed to install slot machines at the tracks.

“Their market is not the market we are looking to attract,” said Andy Abboud, vice president of Las Vegas Sands Government Relations, “The pari-mutuels appeal to a regional market, while the Sands’ project would attract visitors from South America and Europe.”

Sands currently operates eight casinos: three each in Las Vegas and Macau, in East Asia; and one each in Singapore and Bethlehem, Penn.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Democrats 'wax' poetic about Crist, Rubio spat

The Democratic National Committee has no love for the opposing sides in "wax-gate," so it has some fun at their expense.

Manatee officials make lobbying trip to Tallahassee

County Commissioners Carol Whitmore and John Chappie are on their way back from Tallahassee this afternoon after meeting with the county’s legislative delegation over two days.

“It was probably the most productive trip to the state capital since I’ve been elected,” Whitmore said from the back seat of the automobile she was traveling in with Chappie, county Deputy Administrator Karen Windon and county Information Outreach Coordinator Nick Azzara.

“We went when they were not meeting and they were able to spend more time with us,” she said.

Whitmore said they were able to meet with about 10 other Senate and House members or their staff, along with the county delegation.

“It was perfect time for us to go,” Chappie said. “I thought it was a great opportunity to help move forward local issues.”

One of those local issues was pre-trial release of arrested individuals, a plan that would relieve the over-crowding at the county jail and reduce costs.

Another concern for the county is the inequity of juvenile detention funding. Manatee County has a lower rate of juvenile detention than several other counties, yet has to pay the same or more.

Whitmore said she and Chappie also talked to legislators about the issue of allowing golf carts on sidewalks. Several mobile home parks have asked the county to change the law to permit them to use the sidewalks to get to shopping near their homes, but sidewalks are regulated at the state level.

--- Carl Mario Nudi

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bill would ban release of 911 calls

A bill set for a hearing in Tallahassee on Wednesday morning would pull the shades on one of the ways the public and media in Florida can hold law enforcement and other public safety agencies accountable for how they protect the public.

The measure - dubbed by open-government advocates as the "Tiger Woods Relief Act," even though the sponsor says it has nothing to do with the wayward golfer whose "transgressions" became public after he crashed his SUV outside his Orlando home - would block the release of audio recordings of 911 calls, and only a written transcript could be released 60 days after the call.

The recordings could be released "by court order upon a showing of good cause."

The sponsor, Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, says he wants to protect the victims of crimes, fires, accidents, etc., but that belies the fact that under current law, the release of any identifying information contained in a 911 call - name, address, etc. - is already exempt from disclosure.

Another purpose, according to language in the bill, would be to ensure that people aren't afraid to call 911 when they witness a crime or their house catches fire because of the possibility that the call would be aired on the nightly news or a newspaper Web site.

As if that "chilling effect" would stop a rational person from doing whatever they can to protect their property and their life.

Not written in the bill is how a ban on releasing 911 recordings might protect police officers, firefighters and paramedics whose mistakes and bad decisions could pose a real danger to the public.

The House Governmental Affairs Committee is scheduled to consider the bill at its meeting Wednesday, starting at 8 a.m.

You can read the latest version of the bill, here.

--- Marc R. Masferrer

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

McClash, Thaxton to debate Hometown Democracy initiative

LAKEWOOD RANCH — Manatee County Republican Commissioner Joe McClash and Sarasota County Republican Commissioner Jon Thaxton are set to debate the merits of Amendment 4, a proposed change to the Florida Constitution that will be on the ballot Nov. 2.

The Florida Hometown Democracy Land Use Initiative proposes to require voter approval of all changes to their community’s comprehensive plans. McClash in January endorsed the measure.

The commissioners discussion will be before the Lakewood Ranch Democratic Club at 7 p.m., Tuesday, March 9, at the Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, 8175 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.

The meeting is open to the public.

Might Charlie Crist show some independence?

It wouldn't be as easy as you might think:
Crist has staked out some centrist stances lately, strongly defending his support for the stimulus package, suggesting that the health care bill need not be entirely scrapped, and saying that he does not call for overturning Roe vs. Wade. "We ought to instead of change laws, change hearts,'' Crist said after a Christian Family Coalition gathering in Miami on Saturday.

Most political strategists, however, doubt the potential of any independent candidate in Florida. No independent candidate has won a major statewide race here.

"Even if he didn't have to give a dime back to Republicans demanding refunds, it would be the last dime he would raise,'' said Republican consultant Rick Wilson. "There would be no more D.C. money, no more major donor money."

Democratic pollster Dave Beattie noted that Florida partisan allegiances tend to be quite strong and that any Democrat or Republican starts out with at least 40 percent of the vote.

"If Crist did run as an independent, it would help Meek more than it would help Rubio, because independents are mad at Democrats right now and defaulting to Republicans," Beattie said.

Republican consultant Brett Doster said that while Crist faces serious trouble in the primary it would be riskier for him to run as an independent.

"If I were on the Charlie Crist team, I would take my chances on all my money being spent in the Republican primary,'' he said. "The known scary is always better than the unknown scary."

Monday, March 1, 2010

Buchanan to meet with community bankers

Addressing the needs of small businesses is the cornerstone of Rep. Vern Buchanan's economic proposals, and one of the biggest needs as noted by Buchanan and others is for banks to again open their spigots to provide the funding small businesses need to expand and hire more workers.

On Tuesday, Buchanan will meet with local community bankers to encourage them to get back into the game.

"Buchanan is seeking input on legislative proposals to encourage small business lending to help create jobs," a news release we just received states.

The meeting will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Room 206 of the Federal Building in Sarasota, 111 Orange Ave.

For more information about the meeting, call Buchanan's Sarasota office at (941) 951-6643.

Heavy agenda for the Florida Legislature.

Oil drilling.

The class-size amendment.

Alternative energy.

Job creation.

Red-light cameras.

Golf carts on sidewalks.

Those are just some of the issues, big and small, sure to come up before the Florida Legislature during its new session, which starts Tuesday.

But the biggest gorilla in the room will be the state budget, with predictions that lawmakers will have to cut $2 billion to $3 billion in spending in order to balance the books. Even if a deal for expanding gambling is reached, more spending cuts will be needed.

For a look at what local lawmakers expect, take a look at our legislative preview story from Sunday's paper.