Dems’ net worth: $3 billion-plus gap between candidates for governor

Florida Democratic candidates for governor, alphabetically from left: Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Jeff Greene, Chris King, Philip Levine.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum often describes himself as the only non-millionaire in the crowded Democratic primary for Florida governor.

Financial disclosure reports released Monday underscore his point.

As Florida’s candidate qualifying period opened, Gillum listed a net worth of $334,200 on the disclosure form required for all candidates for state office. Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham pegged her net worth at $14.4 million. And former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine estimated his at $133 million.

Candidates have until noon Friday to file disclosures and other paperwork and pay a $7,816.38 filing fee to qualify for the 2018 ballot.

Billionaire Palm Beach real estate investor Jeff Greene and Winter Park businessman Chris King have yet to file among Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls. If Greene lists a figure in the $3.8 billion neighborhood estimated by Forbes last year, that’s more than 11,000 times Gillum’s net worth.

Neither of the leading Republican candidates for governor, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam or U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, has filed yet, either. Putnam listed a $7.8 million net worth four years ago when he ran for a second term as ag commissioner.

Ted Deutch, other Dems call on Putnam to resign over gun check failure

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam campaigning for governor in Riviera Beach last year. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, called on Florida Agriculture Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam to resign after The Tampa Bay Times reported that Putnam’s office failed to conduct federal background checks on tens of thousands of applications for concealed weapons permits for more than a year in 2016 and 2017.

Putnam responded late Friday with a statement suggesting a much smaller-scale problem that his office worked to correct.

“To be clear, a criminal background investigation was completed on every single application,” Putnam said in a statement released by his office. “Upon discovery of this former employee’s negligence in not conducting the further review required on 365 applications, we immediately completed full background checks on those 365 applications, which resulted in 291 revocations. The former employee was both deceitful and negligent, and we immediately launched an investigation and implemented safeguards to ensure this never happens again.”

The lapse occurred between February 2016 and March 2017 because the employee in charge of background checks could not log into the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, according to a June 2017 Office of Inspector General report that the Times obtained through a public records request.

“The integrity of our department’s licensing program is our highest priority,” Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services spokesman Aaron Keller told the Times. “As soon as we learned that one employee failed to review applicants’ non-criminal disqualifying information, we immediately terminated the employee, thoroughly reviewed every application potentially impacted, and implemented safeguards to prevent this from happening again.”

Deutch, whose Palm Beach-Broward district includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, reacted angrily on Twitter this afternoon.

“My blood is boiling. This is an unimaginable failure for anyone who serves the public. He made FL less safe. He put lives at risk. He must resign,” Deutch tweeted.

The story prompted Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene, who launched his Democratic candidacy for governor a week ago, to issue his first statement of the campaign.

“Adam Putnam isn’t just a self-proclaimed ‘proud NRA-sellout,’ he’s a downright danger to Floridians and should drop out of the race for Governor and resign from his position as Commissioner of Agriculture immediately,” Greene said.

The four other Democratic candidates for governor also teed off on Putnam this afternoon.

“Drop out now, Adam,” Democrat Gwen Graham tweeted.

“Adam Putnam should resign,” said Winter Park businessman and Democratic candidate Chris King.

“Negligence that threatens and costs lives must never be tolerated…An investigation should be opened immediately. These developments require an immediate response from Commissioner Putnam, starting with if he deserves to continue to serve in his current role,” said former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, in a Facebook live post, accused Putnam of “a complete and total dereliction of duty. It put the everyday citizens of this state, their lives, in harm’s way and at risk…This man does not deserve to be the next governor of Florida.”

 

 

Legalizing marijuana: Why nobody is winning the John Morgan primary

After his success with a medical marijuana referendum in 2016, attorney John Morgan favors full legalization but isn’t impressed with pot postures of this year’s Democratic candidates for governor.

The four Democrats running for Florida governor all favor some degree of legalizing or decriminalizing recreational marijuana use.

But John Morgan is not impressed.

Morgan, the Orlando-area trial lawyer who poured a combined $7 million into the losing 2014 medical marijuana campaign and the victorious 2016 follow-up, says Democratic frontrunners Gwen Graham and Philip Levine are too timid on the issue of full legalization. And he’s dismissive of the legalize/regulate/tax stances of Andrew Gillum and Chris King.

On the GOP side, gubernatorial candidates Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis oppose legalized pot.

After his success with medical marijuana, Morgan says he’s not interested in pursuing another pro-pot referendum. Instead, he has already pumped more than $450,000 into his Florida For A Fair Wage committee, which is trying to put a question on the 2020 ballot to raise Florida’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Click here to read more details about Morgan’s views, candidates’ marijuana stances and where legalization efforts stand at MyPalmBeachPost.com

Florida governor’s money race: Donors bailed before Corcoran did; Soros weighs in again

 

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam at Mar-a-Lago in March for the Palm Beach County GOP’s Lincoln Day dinner. Corcoran last week abandoned his quest for governor and endorsed Putnam. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, didn’t formally abandon plans to run for governor until last week, but his contributor base appears to have bailed on the idea several weeks earlier.

Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC was raising more than $900,000 a month between last June and Jan. 9, when the 2018 legislative session began and lawmakers were barred from raising campaign money. When the session ended  — and with it, much of Corcoran’s clout — his PAC raised $249,750 during the last 11 days of March, but then only $49,545 in the entire month of April.

Watchdog PAC spent more than $3 million after Feb. 1, much of it on a statewide TV ad depicting Corcoran as tough on illegal immigration. Despite the red-meat messaging for Republican primary voters, Corcoran did not appear to make major inroads in a GOP race that already included Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast.

Corcoran endorsed Putnam last week.

Watchdog PAC, which raised nearly $7 million, still had nearly $2 million in cash on hand at the beginning of May.

Other highlights of campaign finance reports released last week:

• Putnam remains the money leader with nearly $19 million in cash on hand between his campaign and Florida Grown PAC at the beginning of May.

• DeSantis has about $7 million in cash on hand. He’s running roughly even with Putnam in GOP primary polls despite spending less than $800,000 so far between his campaign and affiliated PAC.

• Democrat Philip Levine pumped another $2.2 million in personal money into the race last month, bringing his personal stake to nearly $8 million so far. Levine and a pro-Levine PAC have spent about $8 million on TV ads so far. He began May with about $3.5 million cash on hand.

• Democrat Gwen Graham raised about $1 million in April between her campaign and affiliated PAC. She began May with about $4.7 million in the bank.

• A political committee supporting Democrat Andrew Gillum got a $250,000 check from liberal megadonor George Soros in April. In all, Soros has given $450,000 and son Alex Soros has chipped in $50,000 to the Forward Florida PAC. Between the PAC and his campaign, Gillum began May with about $1.4 million in cash on hand.

• Democrat Chris King began May with about $1.6 million in the bank. The Winter Park businessman has put $2.1 million of his own money into the race.

 

After $7 million trial balloon, Corcoran won’t run for governor, backs Putnam

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, and Gov. Rick Scott in West Palm Beach last year. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

After raising nearly $7  million for a widely anticipated campaign for Florida governor, state House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, announced in Tallahassee today he will not be a candidate and is backing Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam for the Republican nomination in a race that polls suggest is wide open.

Corcoran formed a political action committee last May that raised $6.9 million and spent $4.7 million through the end of March for an expected bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination against Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast.

“I’ve known Adam, I know his character. He is principled, authentic and passionate, and he loves this state,” Corcoran said in a statement released by Putnam’s campaign. “Adam will be a phenomenal leader.”

Corcoran said Democrats running for governor want to “over-regulate, raise taxes and put burdens back on the state” that would threaten job gains made under Gov. Rick Scott.

“Who can take those great gains and go much further down the road to a prosperous Florida? There is no question, there is no doubt that that person, that leader is Adam Putnam,” Corcoran said.

Putnam said Corcoran is “a principled conservative and has been an extraordinary Speaker of the House. I am honored to have his support.”

Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC had the appearance of a campaign-in-waiting. But the conventional wisdom on a Corcoran candidacy began to shift in recent weeks as the outgoing speaker didn’t pull the trigger on an announcement.

A turning point may have come in February, when Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC spent nearly $2 million to air a statewide TV ad in which Corcoran pledged that he won’t allow Florida to become a “sanctuary state” for illegal immigrants. The ad drew a heated response from Democrats — including a response ad from Philip Levine and a debate with Andrew Gillum — but didn’t appear to boost Republican primary voters.

Florida House speakers are towering figures in Tallahassee but have had mixed success pursuing statewide office. Former Speaker Johnnie Byrd‘s 2004 run for U.S. Senate is still seen as a legendary flameout. Former Speaker Marco Rubio was written off as a little-known underdog when he launched a Senate campaign in 2009, but he went on win the seat in 2010.

Putnam served in the state House and five terms in Congress before returning to Florida and winning the first of two terms as agriculture commissioner in 2010.

DeSantis is a three-term member of Congress who’s running as a Tallahassee outsider. His campaign pooh-poohed Corcoran’s endorsement of Putnam as insider deal-making.

“Career politician Adam Putnam will now get the two-man race he’s been fearing for a year. A conservative Iraq Veteran endorsed by Donald Trump vs. a Never Trump career politician who supported amnesty for illegal aliens. We like our odds,” said DeSantis spokesman David Vasquez.

Trump in December tweeted that DeSantis “would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!”

Putnam originally backed Jeb Bush for president in 2016 and, at the Republican National Convention that year, said Trump “wasn’t my first or second choice, but he won fair and square.”

But Putnam was not part of the “Never Trump” movement. During the same interview in which he said Trump wasn’t his top choice, Putnam added: “I’m voting for Donald Trump…This is a choice. Ballots aren’t open-ended questions. This is a choice so I think it’s important for us to recognize that.”

Shocker: Republican candidate says ‘I was just wrong’ — and Obama was right

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast, at Saturday night’s Florida Family Policy Council dinner in Orlando. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

ORLANDO — Candidates rarely admit being wrong about anything.

It’s even more rare for a candidate in a Republican primary to say he was wrong and former President Barack Obama was right. But it happened during Saturday night’s Florida Family Policy Council dinner when moderator Frank Luntz asked U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who’s running in a GOP primary for governor against Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, to provide an example of a time he’s changed his mind about something.

“Actually, I think the one time that I was wrong in the Congress was when we had the breakout of Ebola and I thought we’ve just got to shut everything down, we can’t take any risks,” DeSantis said of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa and concerns about its spread to the U.S.

“Obama didn’t do that and I criticized him a lot for doing that. A lot of my Republican colleagues criticized him for doing that but, you know, I look back at it – it was handled well,” DeSantis said. “I was just wrong about that. I think that the way the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and some of the folks in government handled it was actually an example of government getting the job done. So I’m totally willing to just be honest and admit if I call it wrong. Just admit that you were wrong and people appreciate that. Because we’re going to make mistakes in this line of work, that’s just the bottom line.”

Click here for a more complete story on Saturday night’s forum with Putnam and DeSantis.

Luntz put the question to Putnam differently, asking him about longtime Republican control in Tallahassee and whether there were issues the GOP has gotten wrong.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam at the Florida Family Policy Council dinner. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Putnam, who as agriculture commissioner is a member of the Florida Cabinet, said he’d like a “do-over” on the way the 2014 dismissal of Florida Department of Law Enforcement head Gerald Bailey was handled by Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet. He also said the Cabinet should hold more meetings outside Tallahassee to better connect with citizens.

And Putnam addressed the Cabinet’s handling of the restoration of rights to felons who have completed their sentences.

“When you look at the issues around the restoration of rights I have said that nonviolent felons ought to have a faster track than violent felons. First-time offenders perhaps. But I support what we have done with Gov. Scott and Attorney General (Pam) Bondi with having the victims’ influence matter,” Putnam said.

Putnam, DeSantis weigh in on guns, transgender bathrooms, each other at Orlando dinner

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam (top) and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis — rival Republican candidates for governor — campaigning at Saturday’s Florida Family Policy Council dinner in Orlando. (Photos by George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

ORLANDO — After taking some long-distance shots at each other over the past week, Republican Florida gubernatorial rivals Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis kept it cordial on Saturday night when they appeared together in the same room for the first time.

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam and U.S. Rep. DeSantis didn’t actually share the stage at the conservative Florida Family Policy Council dinner. But first DeSantis and then Putnam each spent half an hour answering questions from Republican focus-group impresario and messaging maven Frank Luntz in front of about 450 members of the evangelical Christian group.

Luntz, who was applauded when he pledged not to ask any “gotcha” questions, urged the candidates to keep it civil during the primary and urged the crowd to be “referees of decency” in the GOP race.

But as dinner attendees left the ballroom at the Rosen Centre Hotel, they got to see a less-civil brand of primary politics in the hallway. Representatives of a Palm Beach County-based group, the National Liberty Federation, handed out anti-DeSantis material, including a depiction of the congressman with two faces and a collection of quotes suggesting he’s been inconsistent in supporting President Donald Trump.

DeSantis campaign manager Brad Herold called the material “false attacks.”

Putnam’s campaign said it had nothing to do with the literature and spokeswoman Amanda Bevis criticized “such repulsive attacks at what should have been a family-friendly event.”
During the event, Luntz asked each candidate to differentiate himself from his rival.

“He’s a good guy, I respect him,” DeSantis said of Putnam. As for a difference, he said, “I think the fact that I’ve done things like served in the military and served our country…I thought it was important that I be willing to put my money where my mouth was.”

DeSantis, who has a Harvard law degree, was a U.S. Navy JAG officer who was deployed to Iraq as an adviser to Navy SEALs and to the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

DeSantis drew the contrast with Putnam in more forceful terms a few days ago.

“He’s been in office since he was 22 years old and has been a career politician. When he was in his 20s, he was in elective office, when I was in my 20s I was serving in Iraq, in Guantanamo Bay, and our military. So, it’s a much different approach,” DeSantis said in a radio interview with conservative syndicated host John Fredericks. He also called Putnam a supporter of “amnesty” and generally weak on curbing illegal immigration in the radio interview.

Putnam, at a Forum Club of the Palm Beaches appearance last Monday, criticized DeSantis for skipping that event and said the frequent Fox News guest “can’t run for governor from a D.C.-based studio. You better be willing to get out amongst the people whose votes you’re asking for and look them in the eye and tell them your vision for Florida.”

Speaking after DeSantis on Saturday night, Putnam said he’s “grateful” for his rival’s military service and used subtler terms than he did at the Forum Club to describe their differences.

“The next governor of Florida needs to know Florida, needs to know every corner of our state, the diversity of our state, the challenges of our state…I believe that some of us really have a passion for state issues and some of us really have a passion for federal issues. I left Washington with my soul and my sanity still intact because I was more convinced than ever before that our founders had it right, that the states are the laboratories of democracy,” said Putnam, who served five U.S. House terms before returning to Florida in 2010 to run for agriculture commissioner.

Shortly before the dinner began, Putnam unveiled a “Florida Families First Agenda” that includes a pledge to “Fight for the life of the unborn by expanding services that help mothers successfully carry their pregnancy to term” and to “Remove activist judges who seek to protect abortions by legislating from the bench.”

Putnam also said he’d create an Office of Faith-Based and Community-Based Initiatives to empower churches and community organizations who provide disaster relief and other public assistance. And he promised to create an ombudsman in the Florida Department of Education to focus solely on helping families who opt to home school their children.

In response to a question from Luntz, Putnam said he’d sign a “heartbeat bill” banning abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is generally six weeks after conception.

That drew condemnation from the Florida Democratic Party.

“Adam Putnam showed us who he was tonight: an anti-choice extremist hell-bent with taking away women’s health freedom. Putnam went full Trump tonight, promising to wage war on the judiciary and do everything he can to undermine women’s health,” said FDP spokesman Kevin Donohoe.

Luntz asked both Putnam and DeSantis how they’d respond to a hypothetical bill allowing transgender people to use the restroom of their choice.

“I would leave it as it is and stay out of that,” DeSantis said. When pressed about a hypothetical bill, DeSantis said he’d veto it, adding “Getting into the bathroom wars, I don’t think that’s a good use of our time.”

When Putnam was asked about such a bill, he said: “As a father…I am not going to sign a bill that allows men into my daughters’ restrooms.”

Both Putnam and DeSantis criticized a bill passed after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland and signed by Gov. Rick Scott that, in addition to a variety of school safety and mental health measures, raises the age to buy a gun in Florida to 21 instead of 18 and imposes a three-day waiting period on most firearm purchases.

DeSantis applauded the school safety and mental health provisions in the bill, but said “I would have approached it differently because I think it scapegoated law-abiding citizens in terms of their Second Amendment rights.”

DeSantis also said that if he were governor he would have removed Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel over his agency’s handling of warning signs prior to the shooting.

Putnam also said he supported much of the post-Parkland bill, but would not have signed it because of its gun provisions.

“I don’t think it’s right to say to someone who’s 20 years that it’s OK to go to Iraq and Afghanistan and defend freedom and defend liberty with your life but you can’t go to the sporting goods store and buy a shotgun to go to a dove-shoot down the street,” Putnam said.

 

 

 

Adam Putnam coming to Forum Club next week

Adam Putnam at the Riviera Beach Marina last year. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a 2018 candidate for Florida governor, will appear next Monday at a Forum Club of the Palm Beaches lunch that organizers originally hoped would pair him with GOP rival Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis, however, had a scheduling conflict and could not attend the event at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, his campaign said.

DeSantis and Putnam have opened Republican campaigns for governor. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, is also expected to get in the GOP nominating contest.

Tickets for the Forum Club lunch are $40 for members, $60 for guests of members and $85 for the general public. Tickets can be purchased at the Forum Club website  or by contacting Kelsey Joyce at kjoyce@forumclubpb.com.

Putnam and DeSantis — and Corcoran, if he gets in the race — are slated to appear at a Florida Family Policy Council forum in Orlando on May 5 and a Broward County Lincoln Day dinner on May 18.

The Republican Party of Florida is also teaming with Fox News to host a nationally televised GOP candidates debate in Orlando on June 28.

 

 

 

Money race: Republican Putnam laps the field of Florida governor candidates

Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam rolling out his 2018 campaign for governor in Bartow last year. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Florida Agriculture Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam had another boffo fundraising month in March, snagging more than $2.2 million between his main campaign and his Florida Grown political committee, according to finance reports posted this week.

Putnam began April with more than $19.2 million in cash on hand — nearly three times as much as GOP primary foe Ron DeSantis and more than double the combined cash on hand of the entire four-candidate Democratic gubernatorial field.

Among Democrats, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham began April with nearly $4 million available between her campaign and a pro-Graham PAC. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is next with nearly $2.9 million.

Levine, who has put more than $5.5 million of his own money into the race, has spent the most of any candidate — more than $8.6 million.

Palm Beach County Trump backers host DeSantis; not interested in Putnam, Corcoran

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast, at the kickoff of his campaign for governor in Boca Raton in January. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

U.S. Rep. and 2018 Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast, will get an exclusive chance to tap into President Donald Trump‘s base of supporters on Monday night when he speaks at a Palm Beach County Trump Club gathering in West Palm Beach.

Ron DeSantis and attorrney general candidate Jay Fant will speak to the Palm Beach County Trump Club on Monday.

More than 600 people had RSVP’d for the event at the Palm Beach Kennel Club as of Friday, organizers said.

The local Trump booster club is one of several such organizations formed around Florida in the past year to try to engage Trump supporters who aren’t necessarily traditional Republican voters. The local organization drew about 350 people for its initial meeting in February, which featured Trump’s favorite pastor, Mark Burns.

DeSantis’ GOP primary rivals — Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and likely candidate Richard Corcoran, the speaker of the Florida House — won’t get a similar audience with Trump backers, Palm Beach County Trump Club Vice President Larry Snowden said.

“Donald Trump has endorsed Ron DeSantis and we are only inviting that endorsee to speak at our club,” Snowden said.

On Dec. 22, as Air Force One taxied on the runway at Palm Beach International Airport  before Trump began a Christmas-New Year’s stay at Mar-a-Lago, the president tweeted: “Congressman Ron DeSantis is a brilliant young leader, Yale and then Harvard Law, who would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!”

Trump clubs began cropping up around Florida last year. The Republican Party of Florida gave its blessing to several of the clubs in hopes of persuading Trump backers — many of whom are disdainful of the GOP establishment — to turn out for Republican candidates in the 2018 midterm elections.

In January 2016, when much of the GOP establishment in Florida backed Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio for president, Joe Budd was an early supporter of Donald Trump. Budd, now the county’s Republican state committeeman, is president of a local Trump club. The club’s VP, Larry Snowden, is behind Budd in this picture. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County’s Trump Club is independent of the Republican Party even though its president, Joe Budd, is Palm Beach County’s Republican state committeeman and its other leaders — Vice President Snowden; his wife and the club’s Treasurer, Sue Snowden; and Secretary Linda Stoch — are longtime GOP activists.

Although the local Trump Club isn’t an official party organ, Larry Snowden said it shares the GOP goal of electing Republicans in 2018 — because that is Trump’s goal.

“Donald Trump is all about electing more Republicans in the midterms and we are totally supporting Donald Trump,” Snowden said. “We are completely aligned with our president’s posture on electing more Republicans and not electing more Democrats.”