Trump-linked Ballard lobby firm adds Justin Sayfie to D.C. office

Sayfie Review publisher Justin Sayfie is joining the Washington, D.C., office of Brian Ballard’s lobbying firm.

South Florida attorney, Republican operative and longtime enabler of Florida politics junkies Justin Sayfie is  joining the Washington, D.C., office of Ballard Partners — the lobbying firm headed by President Donald Trump Florida confidant Brian Ballard.

Sayfie, who was an adviser to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, publishes the Sayfie Review, a daily online aggregation of Florida politics headlines that has been a must-read in the Sunshine State since 2002.

“In light of this announcement, I wanted to be sure I let you know that this will not impact the Sayfie Review in any way. Florida politics is in my blood, and after 15 years of publishing the site every day, it’s even made it into my soul!” Sayfie told his readers this morning.

Sayfie heads a law firm that specializes in corporate transactional work and since 2015 has helmed the Ballard Partners office in Fort Lauderdale. He will specialize in lobbying executive branch agencies with Ballard’s D.C. office.

Ballard is a longtime Tallahassee lobbyist and Republican fundraiser. He was the Florida lobbyist for the Trump Organization and was the Florida finance chairman for Trump’s presidential campaign, then a member of the finance committee for the Trump transition.

Shortly after Trump took office, Ballard opened a Washington office. Among his hires: former Palm Beach County Democratic U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, who heads the firm’s international affairs practice.

 

‘Fire-breathing liberal’ Wexler joins lobby firm of Trump confidant Ballard

Robert Wexler, in 2009, discussing his decision to leave Congress to head a Middle East think tank. (Bill Ingram/The Palm Beach Post)

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, a prominent Palm Beach County liberal voice in Congress for 13 years, is joining the lobbying shop of Brian Ballard, the go-to Florida Republican fundraiser and confidant of President Donald Trump.

 

Liberal Democrat Robert Wexler is joining the lobbying firm of Republican fundraiser Brian Ballard.

Wexler will be a senior counselor in the new Ballard Partners office in Washington, D.C., and will spearhead its international affairs practice, according to a news release from the firm.

 

Wexler, whose 2008 biography is entitled “Fire-Breathing Liberal,” was elected to Congress seven times from a heavily Democratic Palm Beach-Broward district before resigning in 2010 to become president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace in Washington.

 

Ballard is a longtime Tallahassee lobbyist whose clients included the Trump Organization. He was the Florida finance chairman for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, then a member of the finance committee for the Trump transition. Last week, the Republican National Committee named Ballard a regional vice chairman for its finance committee.

 

“Having someone of Robert Wexler’s caliber on our team is a tremendous win for the firm,” said Ballard in his firm’s news release. “Having worked with numerous governments in Europe, Asia and the Middle East throughout his tenure as U.S. Congressman and advisor to President Barack Obama, Robert’s three decades of political experience will advance our work for international clients. We are pleased to welcome him to our office in the nation’s Capitol.”

Trump beefs up lobbying limits for those joining administration

President-elect Donald Trump is imposing new restrictions on lobbyists entering his administration
President-elect Donald Trump is imposing new restrictions on lobbyists entering his administration

President-elect Donald Trump is taking steps to keep lobbyists out of the new administration, with aides telling reporters Thursday that anyone vying for a top post must sever ties with clients and agree to a new five-year ban on lobbying when they leave government.

“What’s crucial to understand about this lobbying ban is that instead of looking back, it looks forward,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer, in a conference call with reporters.

“The focus of this is that service to the nation, truly is first,” he added. “And that the ability of oneself to enrich oneself is not at the heart of this.”

He called it “true, forward-thinking change.”

Trump also is imposing a lifetime ban on any former administration officials representing foreign governments.

President Barack Obama imposed a two-year lobbying ban for officials leaving his administration, which he instituted by executive order his first day in office.

Thursday’s media call was the first of what is anticipated to be daily scheduled updates with reporters as Trump readies his administration. The president-elect has more than 4,000 jobs to fill early in his administration, with a host of Floridians seen as in the running for some of them.

Gov. Rick Scott also is on Trump’s list of meetings today. The pair are set to meet at Trump Tower in New York City at 1 p.m., according to Scott’s schedule.

Incoming House speaker also has swamp he wants drained

Rep. Richard Corcoran
Rep. Richard Corcoran

The Florida House’s incoming-speaker Thursday unveiled new rules aimed at loosening the powerful bond between state lawmakers and lobbyists who finance political campaigns and shape public policy.

Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, set to take command of the House this month, borrows heavily from the “drain the swamp” message used by President-elect Donald Trump in his own campaign.

“Those who cannot live up to the highest ethical and professional standards will find the Florida House a difficult place to work or visit,” Corcoran said in unveiling the rules, set to be adopted at the Legislature’s Nov. 22 organization session.

“Now it is time to live out the trust placed in us by the citizens of our great state,” he added.

Mast, Perkins touting points made during debate

Republican Brian Mast and Democrat Randy Perkins, battling it out in one of the most competitive and important congressional races in the country, are both highlighting points made during Monday’s debate in Palm Beach Gardens.

Mast, a former U.S. Army bomb technician who lost both legs in Afghanistan, jumped on Perkins’ comment that he would “print more money for our seniors” in an effort to portray Perkins as fiscally reckless.

Brian Mast
Brian Mast

“Clearly, Randy Perkins is unprepared to serve in Congress,” Mast says in a news release highlighting their debate exchange.

Perkins, a wealthy businessman, latched onto Mast donations he said came from lobbyists for All Aboard Florida, a passenger rail project that would connect Miami to Orlando.

Both Perkins and Mast have opposed the project, as do many residents in Martin County, which is part of District 18.

“Why would All Aboard Florida’s backers back Brian Mast?” Perkins asked in a news release. “I think we know the answer.”

Randy Perkins
Randy Perkins

 

 

Scott’s bid for $1 billion in tax cuts gets more TV help

Gov. Rick Scott
Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott is going up with a television ad touting his bid for $1 billion in tax cuts, mostly helping businesses.

And now Scott’s $1 million ad buy — through his Let’s Get to Work spending committee — is being backed by another 30-second spot from a coalition of business groups backing a key portion of the governor’s plan.

The Cut My Rent 1 Percent coalition, which includes the National Federation of Independent Business, Florida Retail Federation, Boca Chamber of Commerce and others, is airing a TV ad across the state next week urging that lawmakers support Scott’s bid for reducing the tax on commercial real estate.

The air campaign comes even as the governor is drawing resistance from Republican legislative leaders worried the size of the cuts would permanently drain too much from the state treasury.

 

Speaker: Gambling deal making Palm Beach Kennel Club top dog may not be fair

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island

With Palm Beach Kennel Club looking ahead to having slot machines under a gambling compact negotiated by Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli echoed Friday what a lot of lobbyists and industry-watchers are saying in Tallahassee:

That prospect may not be fair to other counties where voters also have approved the machines.

Crisafulli’s home Brevard County is among six counties which gave the go-ahead to slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities, even though only Palm Beach County is singled out in the latest proposed deal heading to the Legislature next month.

“Personally, I didn’t vote for it in Brevard,” Crisafulli told reporters. “That’s just me personally.

“The reality is. Are you going to create a level playing field or are you not? Are you going to pick winners and losers? And that’s a decision we have to make.”

Crisafulli said large numbers of House votes are certain to be swayed by which counties benefit from the proposed compact with the Seminole Tribe. For PBKC to be the sole slots winner, questions of “fairness and equity” emerge, he said.

“The bill that’s before us now would be a very challenging lift…there’s a reality to vote counts,” Crisafulli said. “And there’s a reality to understanding that there’s an interest in these communities.”

But he stopped short of acknowledging that he would feel pressure to assure that his home county was included in the mix.

“It’s a conversation that would need be need to be had,” Crisafulli said. “We would have to determine whether Brevard, or Gretna, Jacksonville, or Lee County falls into that umbrella…that deserves to have it, based on the local referenda.”

“Then you have other interests like Disney that don’t want something like that as close to them as Melbourne…there’s a lot of conversations. That’s what makes this issue so challenging,” he concluded.

Corizon, controversial prison health provider, walks away from Florida contract

Corizon, which has drawn heat for its prison health services, is walking away from $1.2 billion state contract
Corizon, which has drawn heat for its prison health services, is walking away from $1.2 billion state contract

Embattled Corizon Health on Monday terminated its $1.2 billion contract to provide health services in more than 150 Florida prisons and corrections facilities across the northern and central parts of the state.

The company is facing a federal class-action lawsuit from inmates over the quality of care they received. Corizon also has been fined almost $70,000 for failing to meet standards set by the state.

The five-year contract with Tennessee-based Corizon began in 2013, with a similar contract for the state’s southern tier of prisons also launched then with Wexford Health Sources. Wexford’s contract is worth $240 million.

In the breakup, Corizon said it will end its contract in 180 days. Corizon broke the news Monday in a meeting with Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones.

“In the coming months, Secretary Jones will work closely with the Department’s Office of Health Services to ensure that the appropriate staff and resources are available at our facilities to continue seamless delivery of appropriate medical care to our inmate population,” DOC said in a statement.

“While Corizon has terminated its contract with the Department of Corrections, we will continue our partnership with Wexford Health Sources and will work closely with their leadership throughout this process,” the department added.

A Palm Beach Post series has cited wholesale flaws in inmate health care – much of it involving the state’s private contractors. The Post also has reported that inmate death reports weren’t regularly submitted to the state by the private companies and medical exams showing whether inmates were injured by guards were missing in 2013 and 2014.

With scrutiny of DOC and its contracted health services heightening, Jones earlier this year said she planned to reopen bidding for prison contracts before the start of 2016.

In its letter to Jones, Corizon’s CEO, Karey Witty, offered no insight into why it was walking away from Florida. But Witty did say efforts would be attempted to assure a smooth transition.

“In the interest of continuity of patient care and stability of operations, we look forward to convening with your Health Services and other staff to begin the planning of a transition schedule,” Witty wrote. “We also seek to mitigate employee concerns regarding their future employment, to create a stable environment for safe and effective clinical care for the patients during this changeover.”

 

 

Health officials select five marijuana-growing nurseries in Florida

Florida Department of Health selects five marijuana-growing nurseries
Florida Department of Health selects five marijuana-growing nurseries

Florida’s long-delayed medical marijuana initiative took a step forward Monday with the selection of five large nurseries to start growing, processing and distributing the non-euphoric pot.

The state’s Department of Health chose the five from a list of 28 nurseries that had applied in July for the potentially lucrative licenses to provide Charlotte’s Web, a form of marijuana oil.

The product is low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — which gives marijuana its psychoactive quality — but high in cannabadiol, or CBD, which research shows eases convulsions, inflammation, anxiety and nausea.

Cancer patients and those suffering from severe epilepsy were supposed to be able to obtain a non-euphoric marijuana oil dubbed Charlotte’s Web beginning Jan. 1, 2015. But crafting regulations for a new Florida marijuana industry has stalled the introduction.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether more delays could stem from legal appeals by any of the nurseries not selected by health officials.

Under the state’s 2014 law, the nurseries are chosen geographically, with Costa Nursery Farm in south Miami-Dade County, the location where patients from Palm Beach County would be expected to pick up the product.

Like all the winning nurseries, Costa is expected to post a $5 million bond within 10 days and 75 days from today to request approval to start growing medical marijuana. Once that so-called cultivation authorization is approved, growers must begin dispensing the product within 210 days, according to the notices sent Monday by the Department of Health.

 

 

Florida House members who are former cops oppose campus, open-carry gun bills

Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, led several House Democrats who are former law enforcement officials opposing gun bills
Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, led several House Democrats who are former law enforcement officials opposing gun bills

A handful of House Democrats with law enforcement backgrounds Tuesday condemned advancing legislation that would allow concealed weapons holders to openly carry guns in Florida and also have them on college campuses.

Led by Rep. Dave Kerner, a Lake Worth Democrat and former Alachua police officer, the lawmakers said the measures would only add to the risk of more gun violence at schools, shopping malls, on city streets and virtually anywhere else the public gathers.

“I do believe the NRA (National Rifle Association) is playing a very persuasive role in this debate,” said Kerner, who added that a prime concern for him was that the legislation fails to include any standards assuring that those with weapons would be skilled at handling them in public settings.

The legislation is moving forward in the House and Senate. While the proposals have been floated before, they seem to be gaining new momentum with a major election year on the horizon.

At every committee stop so far, the measures have drawn heated debate. Law enforcement agencies and campus administrators have criticized the bills as potentially sparking more accidental gun violence and causing confusion for police arriving at a scene where a number of people are toting weapons.

“As a retired cop from New York City…we don’t need to put more guns out on the street,” said Rep. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, a former transit detective.

Rep. Clovis Watson, D-Alachua, a former deputy police chief, said the bills, ” would put our officers in harm’s way.”

The open-carry measure would allow the more than 1.4 million Floridians with concealed weapons permits to walk the streets with handguns displayed – not tucked into a purse, under a jacket or in a pocket.

Although 43 states now allow open-carry, opponents have argued it would hurt Florida’s lucrative tourist industry, confuse law enforcement in tense situations, and heighten the risk of violence for Floridians.

Supporters said it would enhance public safety.

“I call this the Crime Protection 101 bill,” Sheriff Gordon Smith of rural Bradford County, told a Senate committee last month. “Criminals pick soft targets…I’d rather know who’s got the gun than guess who’s got the gun.”

A similar argument is used to promote the campus carry measure.

Rebekah Hargrove, with Florida Students for Concealed Carry and a graduate student at Florida State University, said recently that students who qualify for a weapons permit have a right to protect themselves and others.

“We are extremely responsible citizens,” Hargrove said.