Friday, June 24, 2011

Hillsborough commissioner considers challenging Rep. Castor

Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, a Republican, is considering challenging Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, in the 11th Congressional District race next year. The district includes parts of Manatee County.

The Buzz reports:
Republican Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe is talking about challenging Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor for her Congressional seat in 2012. Sharpe, who pushed hard for the high speed rail line connecting Tampa to Orlando, said this week he wants to be able to participate in national discussions on deficit reduction and America's wars.

"The only question is how will I have that conversation," he said. "That's what I'll be announcing in August."

Sharpe, a retired Naval officer who worked on John McCain's presidential bid, is already floating a platform that could fly in Castor's heavily Democratic district. He said he disagrees with McCain's philosophies on U.S. action overseas.

"Before you send a man or woman overseas, you better understand wha tyou're going to do, how you're going to get in, and how you're going to get it out," Sharpe said. "I want to have that conversation about military affairs."

As for deficit reduction, Sharpe dismissed the budget plan put forward by Paul Ryan, and said he's interested in proposals put forward by President Barack Obama's debt-panel commission, chaired by former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson, a Republican, and Erskine Bowles, a former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton.

"They spent a lot of time working on it and it just kind of got dropped. It ought to be part of the conversation," Sharpe said.

Sharpe ran for Castor's District 11 seat in 1996, but lost to Democrat Jim Davis. He was elected to the Hillsborough County Commission in 2004.
So far, the only Republican who has filed for the seat is libertarian activist Josh Kiernan of Palm Harbor, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

State Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, had announced a bid but later dropped out of the race.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

New poll shows Romney with large lead in Florida

Public Policy Polling has the story:
Mitt Romney has a double digit lead for the Republican Presidential nomination in Florida, further cementing his front runner status in the wake of Mike Huckabee's exit from the race.

Romney is at 27% to 17% for Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, 10% for Herman Cain, 8% for Newt Gingrich, 7% for Ron Paul, 4% for Tim Pawlenty, and 2% for Jon Huntsman.

Romney now has the outright lead in PPP's most recent polls in all 5 of the key early Republican contests: in addition to the Florida advantage he's up by 9 in South Carolina, 6 in Iowa, 15 in Nevada, and 23 in New Hampshire.

Beyond Romney's continued strength the big stories here are the rise of Michele Bachmann and the collapse of Newt Gingrich. Bachmann's 17% standing represents a 10 point gain from PPP's last Florida poll in late March, when she stood at only 7%. Her strength comes from leading the field with 'very conservative' voters at 21%, followed by Palin at 20%, and Romney at 18%.

Romney's Florida lead is built on a familiar formula. He's not winning with the far right voters who constitute a plurality of the Republican electorate, but he's at least staying competitive with them. Meanwhile he's dominating the field with moderates (a 36-15 lead over Palin) and with voters who identify themselves as just 'somewhat conservative' (a 32-15 advantage over Bachmann.)
Read the whole story here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Buchanan sold off his BP stock after oil spill

We still don't have a final estimate of Rep. Vern Buchanan's net worth last year, but has discerned one interesting nugget:

Buchanan was one of several congressman last year who sold off their holdings in BP after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

In 2009, Buchanan's stock in BP was worth between $31,003 and $115,000. (Members of Congress are required only to report their holdings in broad ranges.)

At the end of 2010, Buchanan had no stock in BP. reports:
High-ranking congressmen made a concerted effort to financially distance themselves from BP in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, either by reducing or altogether dumping their stock holdings, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis of lawmakers' personal financial disclosure documents released Tuesday.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) gave up all or a significant amount of their holdings in BP after the 2010 spill, which leaked an estimated 205 million gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico and killed 11 oil platform crew members in the initial explosion.

Boehner, who in 2009 reported owning BP stocks valued between $15,001 and $50,000, sold all of his holdings sometime in 2010. His documents do not disclose specific dates of his transactions.

And Kerry, who in 2009 owned BP assets valued between $351,003 and $765,000 -- the most of any congressmen that year -- sold hundreds of thousands in a string of transactions between the months of April and May when the spill occurred. During his two transactions in May, he sold between $100,000 and $250,000 worth of his holdings each time.

As BP tries to make its way back into politics, contributions from its political action committee have often been labeled as "toxic," and many congressmen have refused to accept money associated with the company.
(Hat tip to The Buzz.)

GOP poll: Gov. Rick Scott getting more popular in Florida

From the Miami Herald's Marc Caputo via The Buzz:
A new poll of Florida voters shows that Rick Scott might not be so unpopular after all, with 51 percent of respondeents disapproving of his job performance and 45 percent approving of it. That's according to a survey of 1,235 Florida voters taken by a group that calls itself Viewpoint Florida -- a firm headed up by GOP operatives Randy Nielsen (Public Concepts) and Pat Bainter (Data Targeting).

The numbers aren't much to brag about -- except when you compare this poll to the survey taken by Quinnipiac University last month, which showed that only 29 percent favored Scott's job performance, making him the least-popular governor in America.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rep. Buchanan's 2011 financial disclosure form now available for your review

Rep. Vern Buchanan's 2011 financial disclosure report is now available for your review here.

Buchanan, who in 2010 was listed as the seventh-wealthiest member of Congress, filed a 116-page report detailing his various assets and liabilities. The 2011 report, which became available to the public today, covers his holdings as of the end of 2010.

Determining Buchanan's exact wealth isn't possible from the report, as members of Congress are required only to list their holdings in broad ranges. In 2010, determined that Buchanan's wealth ranged from minus-$-69,434,661 to $366,180,982, for an average of $148,373,160 -- the seventh highest in Congress.

As for the latest report, we'll add up the numbers as soon as possible and share what we find.

Romney in Sarasota on Thursday for fund-raiser

Mitt Romney, the front-runner for now in the race for the Republican presidential nomination next year, will be in Sarasota on Thursday for a fund-raising lunch.

The event is set for 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Sarasota Yacht Club, 1100 John Ringling Blvd., Sarasota.

Organizers of the event include honorary chair state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, and his wife Dee.

The "suggested donation" for the event is $250, and the maximum allowable contribution is $2,500.

R.S.V.P. to Meredith O'Rourke at or (561) 818-6064.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sen. Mike Bennett drops bid for seat in Congress

State Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, today ended his bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, concluding he didn't have the needed "fire in the belly" to run for Congress.

Bennett, who last month announced a bid to unseat Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said he was overwhelmed by support he had identified across the district. But "I quickly realized that the 'fire' I was feeling was heartburn over constant fundraising, travel and the other demands of running for federal office," Bennett said in a statement.

“Watching all that is going on in Washington and knowing the constant fight that is required to make a difference there, I have decided to no longer pursue my bid for Congress."

Bennett does not currently live in the 13th Congressional District, which does include part of Manatee County. Bennett was hoping that congressional redistricting next year would take in more of Manatee and offer him a reasonable chance of winning the GOP nomination and unseating Castor. Bennett also said he would consider moving into the district, if necessary, although state law would not require him to do so.

Bennett said he was looking forward to fishing and travel when his current term in the Florida Senate ends at the end of 2012. He cannot run for re-election because of term limits.

“Let me be clear. Is this the end of my life in politics?" Bennett quipped. "You all know me better than that.”

FEC dismisses campaign finance complaints against Buchanan

The Federal Elections Commission has dismissed complaints against U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan that he violated campaign finance laws, according to FEC letters released today by his campaign.

Specifically, the FEC found no evidence that Buchanan encouraged employees of a Jacksonville car dealership to make donations to his campaign which were later reimbursed by their employer in violation of federal law. "(T)he FEC concluded that the Hyundai dealership's former owner, Sam Kazran, was responsible for violating campaign finance laws," a news release from Buchanan's campaign states.

Buchanan had notified the FEC of the questionable donations more than two years ago.

"After considering the circumstances of the matter, the commission determined on February 1, 2011, to take no further action and close the file as to Vernon G. Buchanan" regarding the Kazran-related contributions, a Feb. 7 FEC letter states.

The FEC also dismissed in a March 1 letter an unrelated complaint filed in 2008 by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) that alleged similar violations.

"The congressman has been completely exonerated, as we know he would be," campaign spokeswoman Sally Tibbetts said in the news release. "These phony accusations have been exposed as dishonest and partisan attacks."

The FEC letters were dated Feb. 7 and March 1 but had not been disclosed because of FEC confidentiality rules. The FEC allowed Buchanan to release them "in the face of bogus political attacks by Democrats," his campaign said.

Democrats had recently gone on the offensive against Buchanan because of new disclosures in the case, including buying radio time in his 13th Congressional District.

Buchanan's camp dismissed the Democrats' efforts, arguing they were trying to distract attention from the sex scandal revolving around Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y.

"The Democrats' partisan attacks have now backfired in the face of Buchanan's complete exoneration by the FEC," Tibbetts said. "The Democrats and CREW have egg on their face and should be embarrassed by their cynical attacks."

Friday, June 10, 2011

Buchanan: Democrats are targeting him because they're embarrassed by Weiner

This just in from our Washington correspondent, Lesley Clark:

National Democrats said Friday they'll run radio ads slamming Rep. Vern Buchanan for his ties to an auto dealer that is facing a $67,900 fine from the Federal Election Commission.

In response, Buchanan's campaign said he is being targeted because Democrats are embarrassed by the Rep. Anthony Weiner sex scandal.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said the spots will begin running Monday during the news-weather-traffic spots in Buchanan's district.

The ads say that Buchanan's "old business was caught illegally funneling over $60,000 in campaign donations to Buchanan to influence his election. Tell Buchanan to come clean."

The DCCC would not release the size of the ad buy.

Buchanan's camp Friday accused Democrats trying to cover up Weiner's sins by targeting the Sarasota Republican.

"The Democrats are trying to deflect attention from the Anthony Weiner scandal with a laughable attack against Congressman Buchanan," the campaign said in a statement. 

The FEC last month asked a federal court to impose a $67,900 fine on a company Buchanan once owned that the FEC says engaged in an “extensive and ongoing scheme” to reimburse employees who made contributions to Buchanan's congressional campaign.

Buchanan wasn't named in the lawsuit and his campaign has said that it is “an issue between the FEC and Hyundai of North Jacksonville, which Vern Buchanan has no interest or stake in.”

On Friday, the campaign said, "It was Buchanan who first reported these questionable donations to the FEC two and a half years ago. And the FEC obviously found that Buchanan had no involvement because the fine was issued against Sam Kazran, not Buchanan or the Buchanan campaign.  Buchanan sold his ownership in the Hyundai of N. Jacksonville store to Kazran in 2005."

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor calls on Weiner to resign

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, whose district includes part of Manatee, has joined the chorus demanding that her fellow Democrat, Rep. Anthony Weiner, resign from Congress because of revelations about his online relationships with several women.

The St. Petersburg Times reports:
Castor adds to growing calls on Capitol Hill for Weiner to go away before his problem becomes an even bigger one for Democrats. The Twitter sex scandal has come as Democrats were gaining momentum over the GOP plan to shift Medicare to private insurers.
As to whether Weiner plans to quit, the New York Post's headline this morning contains his answer:

For more tabloid headlines on the scandal, go here.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Congressional leader to meet with local veterans on Monday

 U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, will meet with local veterans Monday to discuss federal issues and hear their concerns, according to Rep. Vern Buchanan.

The meeting will be at 3 p.m. at New College's Mildred Sainer Music and Arts Pavilion, 5313 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. You can RSVP here or by calling (941) 951-6643.

Miller represents the 1st Congressional District in northwest Florida, including Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Marco Rubio returns to the classroom, teaching 'Florida politics' at FIU

Marco Rubio returns to the classroom, teaching "Florida politics" at Florida International University.
The Florida senator -- who previously taught political science at the Miami school -- is returning to academia while holding down his senatorial duties. He'll earn $24,000 a year for the gig -- which his office says has been cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee.
"I love teaching," the Miami Republican told the Shark Tank blog which first reported the new job. Spokesman Alex Burgos said Rubio was invited by FIU to take up a course he had taught from 2008 through 2010.
Rubio in May began teaching as a newly hired senior fellow. He'll co-teach four courses at the School of International and Public Affairs over the next year. His current class is "Florida Politics."
Rubio's ties to FIU were questioned during his Senate run in 2010 when critics questioned how he in 2008 landed a $69,000 a year, part-time job as trustees grappled with a budget shortfall that led to tuition hikes and the loss of 23 degree programs and 200 jobs.
He delivered the commencement speech there last Friday.
Rubio will co-teach the 4 classes with professors Dario Moreno and Nicol Rae and will earn $24,000.
His office says the Senate Ethics Committee, chaired by California Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer, examined the arrangement and "concluded that his compensation is within the mid-range of the normal and customary amount set forth in the compensation schedule for Senior Fellows and for similar appointments at FIU."
In a letter to Rubio, the committee said the Republican freshman assured it that "no Senate resources or time will be used in connection" with the teaching job. Any raise or increase in job responsibilities would have to be reviewed by the committee.
Per Senate ethics rules, senators may not have "outside earned income" in a calendar year that exceeds 15 percent of the annual rate of basic pay for level II of the Executive Schedule -- or $26,955."
The committee said the university has pledged that Rubio's salary would be paid from the school's general funds "and not from earmarked grants, appropriations or dedicated contributions from other entities."
Rubio's office says the course will held on Monday and Friday mornings -- when the Senate is not generally not in session. And it says the part-time position will be shared with the other two professors, "providing flexibility in the event that unforeseen Senate business prevents Senator Rubio from being in Miami for a class."
Rubio's not the first to moonlight as a professor: then senator and now vice president Joe Biden began teaching Topics in Constitutional Law at the Widener School of Law in 1991.
The Delaware school still lists the former Delaware senator as an adjunct professor -- "currently on leave of absence."
-- Lesley Clark, Herald Washington Bureau.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Florida Democrats call on Buchanan to resign GOP post because of fundraising charges (UPDATED)

Florida Democrats have some advice for Republicans in the U.S. House: Dump Rep. Vern Buchanan from his leadership post in the GOP caucus' political operation.

Considering the source is the other side of the aisle that's not likely to happen. But the Dems' demand that Buchanan resign as vice chairman for finance of the National Republican Congressional Committee does show they are trying to put the Sarasota Republican on the defensive to charges that his election campaign collected illegal contributions from employees at one of his former auto dealerships.

The Bradenton Herald reported Thursday that the Federal Election Commission is asking a federal court to impose a $67,900 fine on a company formerly owned by Buchanan that it says engaged in an "extensive and ongoing scheme" to reimburse employees who contributed to Buchanan's congressional campaign. The co-owner of the business said Buchanan directed the operation.

Buchanan is not named as a defendant in the suit, but that isn't stopping Florida Democrats from holding him accountable.

“After being embroiled in an ‘extensive and ongoing scheme’ to break campaign finance rules, Congressman Vern Buchanan is the last person that should be running the finances for the National Republican Congressional Committee,” said Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff in a statement.“It’s past time for Vern Buchanan to come clean about his role and for Republicans to live up to their promised a zero tolerance policy for Republican members caught in ethics scandals.”

UPDATED, June 2, 2011 -- Buchanan's campaign late Wednesday dismissed as "silly" the call for him to resign, "even from an outfit that managed to lose every statewide election in Florida last year"