Tuesday, February 28, 2012

House Speaker John Boehner coming to Sarasota for fundraiser

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner will be in Sarasota on Saturday to raise money for his political operation.

"Boehner for Speaker" is "a joint fundraising committee authorized by and composed of Friends of John Boehner, the National Republican Congressional Committee, The Freedom Project, and the Ohio Republican Party State Central & Executive Committee (ORP Congressional Fund)," according to a disclaimer included in an email invitation from Sarasota County Republican Party.

The event is hosted by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota.

Tickets for the event, at 5 p.m. at a private Sarasota residence, range from $500 to $5,000 per person and $1,000 to $10,000 per couple.

For more details, contact Celena Thibodeaux via email at: CampaignRSVP2012@gmail.com or via phone at: (941) 552-4227.

Keith Fitzgerald makes 'pledge' to restore trust in government

Keith Fitzgerald, who has pegged his race for Congress in large part by raising questions about the honesty and ethics of incumbent Vern Buchanan, has unveiled a "Pledge to the Citizens of Florida and the United States to restore trust and transparency in government and reduce the deficit."

Among the specific promises Fitzgerald is making is to sponsor legislation that would require members of Congress to divest most individual investments.

That is perhaps a swipe at Buchanan, who is one of the wealthiest members of Congress and currently the subject of a House Ethics Committee review of charges that he withheld certain business positions and income from his financial disclosure filings. (The Justice Department also is investigating Buchanan's campaign fundraising, according to his attorneys.)

Among other promises are pledges to never work as a lobbyist, to make his official schedules available in real time for public review, to grant the president a line-item veto and to ban congressional earmarks.

“For too long, we have seen that Congress is held hostage by special interests who pledge to protect corporate special interests over the interests of their constituents," Fitzgerald said in a statement.  "Today, I am making public a pledge to the citizens of my district, this state, our country in order to restore trust in our government. I am going to work every day to change the culture of Congress and this specific and sincere pledge will be my guide.”

Read all of Fitzgerald's pledge here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Attorney: Buchanan orchestrated money laundering 'scheme'

His client, Sam Kazran, is the only one being held legally responsible for improperly reimbursing employees of a Jacksonville car dealership for contributions they made to U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan's congressional campaigns.

But in talking about the consent judgment Kazran entered into with the Federal Elections Commission, attorney Robert Stok on Tuesday renewed the accusation -- investigated and dismissed by the FEC -- that Kazran was only doing Buchanan's bidding. Buchanan, said Stok, orchestrated the "scheme" in which Kazran reimbursed a total of $67,900 to employees in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

“It’s impossible from a legal or factual point of view for Mr. Kazran to be guilty and Mr. Buchanan not to be guilty,” Stok said.

Read more about the judgement, and Buchanan's attorney's reaction to the news, here.

And the read the judgement here.

Read more here: http://www.bradenton.com/2012/02/22/3892607/buchanan-accuser-admits-to-reimbursing.html#storylink=cpy

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Buchanan accuser cuts deal with FEC that clears congressman

A former business partner admits that he, not U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, was responsible for improperly reimbursing employees  for contributions they made to Buchanan's campaigns.

Under a consent judgement announced Tuesday, a federal court in Jacksonville found that Sam Kazran committed “non-knowing and non-willful” violations when he reimbursed employees of a Jacksonville car dealership he co-owned with Buchanan a total of $67,900 for contributions they made to Buchanan’s congressional campaigns in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

As part of the settlement, Kazran will pay the FEC civil penalties totaling $11,000.

“Defendant Kazran does not admit liability but has entered into this consent judgement to avoid the costs and risks of further litigation,” the consent judgement states.

Read more, including a comment from Buchanan's attorney, here.

Is Alex Sink planning a rematch with Gov. Rick Scott in 2014?

Alex Sink is starting to sound like someone who soon may decide to start considering the possibility of a possible second run for governor of Florida.

Forgive the wiggle room included in the above sentence, but it only reflects the space -- or rope, if you prefer -- Sink is leaving herself as she answers questions about whether she is preparing for a rematch against Gov. Rick Scott in the 2014 election.

After all, in 2010, she lost by only 61,000 votes to Scott, who had to spend $73 million of his own money to achieve such a narrow victory, and remains unpopular with most Floridians.

Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times tries to pin Sink down in a new column:

Alex Sink feels regret. 
That's understandable when you come within 1 percentage point of being elected governor of Florida. 
The Democratic former chief financial officer lost the 2010 race for governor to Republican Rick Scott by that margin. 
She lost by 61,550 votes out of more than 5 million cast, in a year that was disastrous for Democrats, not just in Florida but all over the country. 
"Some days I wake up and I think, 'Why couldn't I find those extra 60,000 votes?' " Sink says.  
"And with a great sense of regret that we didn't get the Democratic turnout, particularly in South Florida. It was very low. But then the next day, I wake up and say, 'How in the hell did I come so close?' " 
Sink lost to a political neophyte who spent $73 million of his own money, most of it on TV ads, and whose popularity remains low. 
Sink is back on the speaking circuit. She has launched a nonprofit think tank, the Florida Next Foundation (FloridaNext.org), to promote a Democratic agenda on issues affecting families and small businesses. 
Lately, she sounds like she wants a rematch with Scott. 
"Of course, I've thought about it," Sink said. "Many, many people are encouraging me. Even strangers who I've never met before would like to see me back."
Read the whole thing here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Manatee commissioners' election year plans are set

Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash's announcement late Friday that he would be running for re-election means all four incumbent commissioners have revealed their plans for this election year:

  • McClash, a Republican, currently faces two GOP challengers, former county planner Betsy Benac and business owner Paul Stehle, in the race for the at-large District 7 seat.
  • Larry Bustle, a Republican, currently faces a Democrat challenger, former Manatee County sheriff's deputy Corie Holmes, in District 1, which is comprised of Palmetto, Ellenton and Parrish.
  • John Chappie, a Republican, is currently the only candidate in District, which includes most of Bradenton and Anna Maria Island.

As for Donna Hayes, the fourth incumbent whose term ends this year, she announced last month that she would not be running for re-election in District 5, which is comprised of East Manatee, including Lakewood Ranch. She had earlier entered the race, dropped out and re-entered the race.

The Manatee County supervisor of elections' website currently lists Hayes as an official candidate.

The announced candidates are Republican businesswoman Vanessa Baugh; and Democrat James Golden, a former member of the Bradenton City Council.

There is plenty of time for other candidates to enter the race.

The qualifying period, during which candidates can file petitions or pay a filing fee to get on the ballot, is June 3-8.

Primary elections are Aug. 14, and the general election is Nov. 6.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Florida Rep. Darryl Rouson: Help fund USF with Internet taxes

State Rep. Darryl Rouson this morning tries to link the controversy over cuts in state funding to the University of South Florida to efforts to allow Florida to collect sales taxes on online transactions that originate in the state.

Here a statement that Rouson, D-St. Petersburg,, whose district includes part of Manatee County, issued this morning:
“Now is the time to step back, take a breath, and ask how we got into this situation. ... Sometimes, when you’re painfully sensitive to declining dollars yet still presented with critical needs, it’s hard to remember when the cupboards were full. The cuts to the areas of the budget and specifically to the University of South Florida are Draconian. It’s crucial to remember that we don’t live in a vacuum of cuts. Rather, we have an available safety net of laws designed to create revenues for the entirety of our state, including the University System. No one university need be the ultimate loser. 
“The reality is we are going to have to make cuts. We are not going to necessarily gain allies by making the cuts equal across the board. As we cut, we must use existing opportunities, such as the Internet sales tax and the remittance of the collected sales tax proceeds from online travel companies. In Florida Trend business magazine this morning, I found a growing clamor for enforcing the Internet sales tax as I have been advocating for years. Enforcement alone would substantially plug the gap in the state budget and eliminate all of our cuts at USF. So instead of shifting our pain to others, the Bull Nation should tell our state legislators that ‘we want to collect taxes that are already on the books and support you for doing so.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Watchdog group again asks Justice Department to investigate Buchanan

One of Vern Buchanan's most persistent nemeses is asking the U.S. Justice Department to open another investigation of the congressman.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington on Monday wrote the Justice Department, requesting it investigate allegations that Buchanan broke federal law by omitting certain positions he holds and income from his financial disclosure reports. The Office of Congressional Ethics last week reported it had found 17 positions that had been included on the list and more than $14,000 in income over four years that had not been properly reported.

Buchanan, who has denied wrongdoing, later amended the reports, saying the omissions were the result of "oversights."

The House Ethics Committee is reviewing the OCE report to determine whether to open a formal investigation.

“Rep. Buchanan’s list of crimes is seemingly unending," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW. "There is already a criminal investigation into whether he violated campaign finance laws, and last August we had asked DOJ to explore whether he had also engaged in witness tampering, obstruction of justice, and bribery. Now it seems the congressman may have added false statements to his portfolio.”

Buchanan's campaign dismissed CREW's complaint.

“CREW  is a left-wing, partisan attack group funded by George Soros and run by Democrat operatives,” said campaign spokeswoman Sally Tibbetts.

(For a critical look at CREW's activities, including how it has filed more complaints against Republicans than Democrats, read this website.)

CREW was a driving force behind earlier allegations that Buchanan had directed a former business partner to improperly reimburse employees for contributions they had made to Buchanan's campaigns. The Federal Elections Commission investigated and last year closed its case without pursuing action against Buchanan.

Buchanan's attorneys have acknowledged that the Justice Department is conducting a separate investigation on whether Buchanan broke campaign finance laws. Justice does not comment on pending investigations.

Sloan said leaving the alleged disclosures violations to the Ethics Committee is "insufficient."

"First, who can have any confidence in a committee itself under an ethics investigation?" Sloan said. " In any event, deliberately filing false (personal financial disclosures) isn’t just an ethics violation, it is a federal crime.”

Buchanan is one of 10 Republicans four Democrats on its 2011 list of the "most corrupt " members of Congress. He was also on the 2008 and 2009 versions of the list.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Rep. Buchanan to hold town hall in Bradenton

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan will hold a town hall meeting on Saturday in Bradenton.

The meeting will take place at 11 a.m. at St. Stephen’s Sunlight Middle School, 315 41st St. W.

To RSVP, call 941-747-9081.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Already flush with cash, Bill Galvano holds another fundraiser

Former state Rep. Bill Galvano started the year with more than $211,000 in his campaign account, and he still doesn't have an opponent in his bid this year for a seat in the Florida Senate.

But taking no chances -- especially with the exact boundaries of his district still being determined by the redistricting process in Tallahassee -- Galvano on Thursday is holding another fund-raising event.

The reception is set for 5 to 7 p.m. at the Sarasota penthouse of Katie and Jesse Biter. The "suggested minimum contribution" is $100 per person. (For more information, including how to RSVP, go here.)

As of Dec. 31, Galvano had raised more than $348,000, and spent almost $137,000 on his campaign, according reports filed with the Florida Division of Elections.

Galvano is well known in Bradenton and Manatee County. However, redistricting could place Galavano in a district that extends from Manatee, through part of Hillsborough and into Polk County, including Lakeland, that he never represented while in the Florida House.

Establishing name recognition there, even if no one else enters the race, will take time and, of course, money.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

GOP presidential candidate Gary Johnson in Bradenton today

The Florida Republican presidential primary was Jan. 31, but that won't stop candidate Gary Johnson from making a stop in Bradenton later today.

Johnson, a former governor of New Mexico, will speak at a gathering of Tea Party Manatee members at Mixon Farms. The meeting will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at Mixon Farms, 2525 27th St. E., Bradenton.

Johnson received 1,195 votes statewide in last week's primary.

In Manatee, he received the support of two voters, according to election results.

The stop in Bradenton is part of a statewide swing that will take him also to Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach County, Clearwater and Orlando.

Monday, February 6, 2012

House Ethics Committee extends review of complaint against Rep. Vern Buchanan

The House Ethics Committee will continue its investigation into Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., with a focus on discrepancies in his income taxes and the financial disclosure forms he's required to file as a congressman.
The committee said Monday in a statement that it would continue its investigation. It also noted that "the mere fact of conducting further review of a referral, and any mandatory disclosure of such further review, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the committee," .
However, in a report issued Monday, the committee said it also found "substantial reason to believe that Rep. Buchanan failed to disclose reportable positions and unearned income on his financial disclosure statements" for the years 2007-2010. Buchanan's financial disclosure statements report an amount of unearned income that he received from certain companies that is inconsistent with the amount reported on federal income tax returns.  
Buchanan has been the target of separate Justice Department and Federal Election Commission investigations alleging that he improperly instructed a former business partner, Sam Kazran, to reimburse $67,900 to employees of a Jacksonville auto dealership they co-owned for contributions they made to Buchanan’s 2006 and 2008 congressional campaigns.
At first, FEC lawyers believed there was probable cause to pursue a case against Buchanan.
But those concerns were eventually outweighed by a continuing investigation that revealed numerous questions -- some of which Buchanan’s lawyers raised in the congressman’s defense -- about Kazran’s credibility. The investigation has since been closed.

Buchanan last year amended his disclosure statements to include items that had previously not been listed.

“Today’s action by the House Committee on Ethics does not constitute any judgment on the merits," said William McGinley, a Washington, D.C., attorney representing Buchanan.

"Rather, the committee’s decision to take more time to review the matter reflects the committee’s heavy workload.  The fact is that, in accordance with House rules, members commonly amend their financial disclosure statements. Congressman Buchanan followed the rules, and we are confident that, at the end of its deliberations, the committee will find no violation.”

The report does not say who filed the complaint, as that information is considered confidential.

For links to the OCE report, go here.

-- Erika Bolstad, Herald Washington Bureau, and Marc Masferrer, Bradenton Herald.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Reports: Buchanan campaign has almost $1M more in bank than Fitzgerald

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, began 2012 with almost $1 million more in the bank than his presumptive Democratic challenger, former state Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, according to campaign finance records newly filed with the Federal Elections Commission.

In Congress since 2007, Buchanan bolstered his campaign by collecting almost $1.28 million in contributions in 2011, including almost $510,000 from individuals and more than $404,000 from political action committees, according to his filing.

Of the more than $1.1 million his campaign spent last year, more than $643,000 was paid to Buchanan -- who is one of the wealthiest members of Congress -- to pay back loans he had made to finance previous campaigns, according to the report.

As of Dec. 31, Buchanan reported having $1,122,789 cash on hand.

In his first filing since announcing his bid in October, Fitzgerald reported having $194,696 cash on hand. He reported contributions totaling $224,266, including almost $215,000 from individuals and $9,000 from political action committees.

Fitzgerald spent almost $30,000 in the first three months of his campaign.

Fitzgerald starts out with a large financial disadvantage in his bid to unseat Buchanan. However, national Democrats were impressed enough by his showing to commit to Fitzgerald fundraising and other support.

To review the reports in detail, visit FEC.gov.

The Florida Supreme Court comes to the defense of Vern Buchanan

The legal ramifications for Rep. Vern Buchanan are perhaps not as significant as the potential political gain after the Florida Supreme Court lawsuit reprimanded a lawyer who filed lawsuits accusing him of various types of fraud related to his auto dealership businesses.

Ten of the 11 lawsuits have been dismissed with prejudice. So the Supreme Court's decision last week to reprimand Tallahassee lawyer Doug Lyons, at least as to how it directly affects Buchanan, is an exclamation point on the conclusion that Lyons and his clients didn't have a case.

Investigators with the Florida Bar concluded that Lyons tried to extort $43 million from Buchanan in order to settle the first of the lawsuits and to stop the filing of the subsequent cases in the weeks and months leading up to the 2008 election. Lyons denied the extortion claim, but he agreed to plead guilty because the Bar complaint also included an allegation that his law firm had mailed solicitations to some of Buchanan's former customers without the proper disclaimer -- which Lyons admitted was true.

A House Ethics Committee investigation of Buchanan may still be forthcoming. But the Supreme Court ruling, along with the Federal Elections Commission closing an investigation that in part was borne from the Lyons lawsuits, may help Buchanan clear the decks as he prepares for a re-election campaign in which the presumptive Democratic nominee, Keith Fitzgerald, already has tried to gain traction with criticisms of Buchanan's honesty and ethics.

Unwittingly, the Florida Supreme Court last week came to Buchanan's defense.

Read more about the Supreme Court decision, including a "referee's" report on the Bar complaint, here.

Manatee Democrats name new leaders

 David Fernandez

Hayley Markman

The Manatee County Democratic Party has named two officials to its leadership team, according to a news release.

Attorney David A. Fernandez has been appointed executive director; and Hayley I. Markman has been named associated executive director.

A commercial litigator with the firm Englander Fischer and a Navy veteran, Fernandez will be responsible for fundraising and will report directly to party chairman Richard O'Brien.

As associate executive director, Markman will oversee execution of the Manatee County Democratic Campaign Plan. Her duties include liaison with candidates, campaigns and staffs, and coordinating party resources for canvassing in person and by phones.

Markam, a recent graduate of the University of South Florida, also will supervise interns and be in charge of rallies, voter registration and other party functions.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Romney's win bigger than McCain's in 2008

Mitt Romney won Tuesday's presidential primary not only because he received more votes than Newt Gingrich and the other Republican candidates, but also because he got more votes than in the 2008 primary when he finished second to John McCain.

That may be self-evident, but a closer look at the numbers may reveal more about the depth and breadth of Romney's victory and what it may mean in an increasingly likely general election showdown with President Barack Obama, when Florida again will be a battleground state.

Statewide, Romney on Tuesday received 774,989 votes -- not only 105,000 more than what he received in 2008, but also about 74,000 more than what McCain received in the 2008 Florida primary. That's made more impressive by the fact that almost 280,000 more ballots were cast in 2008 than on Tuesday.

(Similarly, Romney in Manatee County on Tuesday received 18,589 votes, about 3,400 more than in 2008; and about 2,400 more than what McCain received in his first-place finish.)

The race may have been  more competitive in 2008, when McCain finished with 36 percent statewide, compared to 31 percent for Romney, 14.7 percent for Rudy Giuliani and 13.5 percent of Mike Huckabee. On Tuesday, Gingrich finished a distant second, with about 32 percent, compared to Romney's 46 percent.

McCain all but clinched the nomination after his 2008 win in Florida, but he ended up losing Florida in the race against Obama.

Romney, too, may have wrapped up the nomination on Tuesday. And by the numbers, at least in Florida he may have emerged as a much stronger candidate.

To see Tuesday's statewide results, go here.

To see Tuesday's Manatee County results, go here.

To see the 2008 statewide results, go here.

To see the 2008 Manatee County results, go here.