Monday, June 16, 2014

Newspaper subscriptions make great gifts, particularly when you're looking for something at the last minute. Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry follows.

"That’s Rivera’s new story and he’s sticking to it"

Marc Caputo writes that, "to an observer of the many investigations into David Rivera, it came as little surprise that a judge earlier this month rapped the former Florida lawmaker and current congressional candidate for giving 'non credible' testimony and displaying 'corrupt intent' while breaking state ethics laws."

A big shocker that the judge didn’t notice or mention: Rivera actually testified that he might have planned to subvert federal campaign-finance law in 2010 when he successfully ran for Congress. . . . his testimony showed he has either a disregard for campaign finance laws — at the heart of three criminal investigations and the ethics case against him — or a stunning level of ignorance in light of his otherwise keen intellect and deep political knowledge.

The ethics case, in which Rivera is accused of filing improper state financial disclosure and reimbursements, highlights what one Republican friend of his privately called “another one of David’s marañas” (a Spanish word for “tangle” or “thicket” that’s used as Cuban slang for something like “a complicated web of schemes”).

In this instance, Rivera wove his tangled web with the company now known as Magic City Casino to lead a successful 2005 Miami-Dade gambling referendum.

Rivera made sure the consulting money, $132,000, wasn’t paid to him directly. The payments were routed over time through a company called Millennium Marketing that was owned by his mother, now deceased, and her friend.

Claiming publicly he wasn’t receiving “a penny” from Magic City, Rivera didn’t list the payments on his public disclosure forms as a sitting state legislator. He then publicly changed his story — and his disclosures — amid investigations launched in response to a series of Miami Herald articles.

Rivera’s new story: He did get gambling money after all. But it wasn’t income that had to be reported, he claimed, because it was from a “contingent liability loan” package exempt from public disclosure.

However, as Caputo explains,
Candidates, then and now, can’t borrow money from others then use those funds as if it’s their own money for a campaign. . . .

In 2012, a little-known congressional candidate named Justin Sternad learned this the hard way when he received about $82,000 in illegal payments, some deposited into his personal bank account, to run against fellow Democrat Joe Garcia and bash him on behalf of Rivera. Garcia beat Sternad in the primary and defeated then-Congressman Rivera in a general election matchup.

Under investigation in the Sternad case, Rivera now wants a rematch and has filed to run for congress in District 26. . . .

Administrative Law Judge W. David Watkins didn’t get into any of this when he issued an opinion in the state ethics case. Watkins, saying he didn’t believe Rivera in some instances, found that he unlawfully double-billed taxpayers and his campaigns for travel, filed incomplete financial disclosure reports and appeared to live off campaign money. The ethics commission must decide whether to find guilt ultimately. The Florida House would be in charge of levying a penalty if any.

Watkins said the “greater weight of the evidence” indicates Rivera used the gambling money as income, but he couldn’t find a violation because it couldn’t be proved by a “clear and convincing” evidence standard.

The IRS and FDLE examined the $132,000 worth of consulting payments made to Rivera but didn’t charge him criminally.

Maintaining his innocence, Rivera had a momentary slip about his “income” while he was being grilled by an assistant state attorney general in the ethics case about his disclosures.

Question: “Those speak to Millennium Marketing income; is that correct?”

Rivera: “Yes.”

Question: “So these were….”

Rivera: “No, no, no, sorry. I retract that. They do not speak to Millennium Marketing income. They speak to contingent liabilities related to Millennium Marketing.”

That’s Rivera’s new story and he’s sticking to it. But if he’s not careful, he could get stuck in his own maraña.
Much more here: "Rivera’s ‘marañas’ exposed in state ethics case."

Qualifying begins today for statewide and local offices

"Qualifying for Florida's 2014 elections is starting. Candidates seeking statewide and local offices can officially qualify for the ballot starting at noon on Monday. Qualifying closes at noon on Friday. Judicial candidates and candidates for U.S. Congress have already qualified." "Qualifying for Florida elections starting."

MJ caregivers

"Even as polls show plenty of Floridians are ready to approve the medical marijuana amendment on the November ballot, opposition groups are aggressively trying to swat down supporters' arguments." "Politifact Florida: Defining pot caregiver falls to state under Amendment 2."

The Gainesville Sun editors: "Scare tactics on pot."

Yee Haw!

"Police say a man shot his teenage son following an argument in New Smyrna Beach. . . . 46-year-old Eugene Blackwell Sr. shot his 18-year-old Eugene Blackwell Jr. around 6:15 p.m. on Father's Day." "Police: Dad shoots son on Father's Day."

"Straight from solitary confinement to the streets"

Fred Grimm points out that, "in Florida, data rules. Except for prisons."

Odd, then, that a state leadership obsessed with number-based accountability doesn't hold Florida’s other great depository of human potential to performance metrics.

Probably because the Department of Corrections would flunk.

Some 27.6 percent of DOC’s grads cycle back into prison....

Yet, legislators grant DOC more money than they allocate to the university system — $2.3 billion a year, with no strings, no metrics, no incentives attached. . . .

“The way the reward system works, the way you increase your budget and increase your importance is to get more inmates,” said Allison DeFoor, chairman of the Project on Accountable Justice at Florida State University. “Nobody's getting paid to drop the number of prisoners.” “Prisons have zero accountability,” said DeFoor, famous hereabouts for his time as a judge and sheriff in Monroe County. He said the average community college faces more accountability than Corrections. It’s a system, he said, that fails to recognize the stark reality that the average prisoner will be heading back into society, utterly unprepared for life on the outside, in just 2.8 years.

Rather, DOC seems to operate on the assumption that its 100,000-plus inmates are never getting out. Only 2 percent of the DOC budget goes to education or drug rehab (although 16.9 percent of the prison populations are serving drug sentences.)

There’s no incentive to do otherwise. No legislation to reward DOC, with one of every seven state workers on its payroll, to reduce recidivism. No incentive to empty prison beds.

So even as the crime rate goes down, the prison population goes up.

Much of the prison boom can be blamed on the state’s get-tough-on-crime laws. Florida abolished parole in 1983 and adopted a series of mandatory sentencing laws. Then in 1995, the state passed a law requiring prisoners to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence.

"The unintended consequences of the harsh sentencing binge were captured nicely in a report released June 2 by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Florida now leads the nation in the percentage of prisoners released straight back into society without some period of supervision. The Pew study found that 64.3 percent of Florida inmates in 2012 (21,426 convicts) were set loose without parole monitoring or with some sort of support network to help ease them back into society. That was the highest rate of any state."
In Florida, DeFoor noted dryly, an inmate can go “straight from solitary confinement to the streets.” . . .

But why not give prisons the same kind of incentives and penalties in getting their grads ready for the real world that we’ve forced on public schools and universities? It’s time to crunch the prison data like we do with so many other taxpayer-supported institutions."

"Florida’s prisons should be graded just like other tax-funded institutions."

The Tampa Bay Times editors: "Florida's costly crime problem."

Well, at least it is within the MOE

Jeff Henderson: "Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s ambitions at home received a jolt this week when Democrat pollster PPP found the South Florida congresswoman trailing two Republicans in possible 2016 Senate matchups. Wasserman Schultz can be excused for losing to Marco Rubio, 48-40. The Republican is well-known in Florida and is a constant presence in the national media. But Wasserman Schultz can’t be pleased with being down to tea party darling Allen West who beat her out 41-40 in the poll." "Debbie Wasserman Schultz's Way Up is Via Washington, Not Florida."

"Hustling money out of Adelson"

Nancy Smith's "take on what's going on with [Billionaire GOPer Sheldon] Adelson can be summed up in two words: Mel Sembler."

Sembler, the GOP fundraiser, St. Petersburg anti-drug crusader, ambassador to Italy who couldn't speak a word of Italian -- and, oh, yes, the founder of drug-rehab-program-from-hell STRAIGHT Inc. -- is one of Adelson's oldest friends.

Sembler has always defended the program, the tactics and the need to deal harshly with teens using -- even suspected of using -- drugs. My guess is, it was Sembler who went to work hustling money out of Adelson to oppose Amendment 2, and Adelson capitulated.

Think about it. Adelson has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on marijuana research to get a single breakthrough on multiple sclerosis. His institute has been cautious. He's going the Food and Drug Administration route. Now, all of a sudden, he's shown a loosely written ballot amendment, penned and backed by a rich and powerful Democratic lawyer (John Morgan) trying to buy a governor (Charlie Crist) in the process -- plus maybe work out some extra goodies for himself.

You can imagine, with Sembler's special twist how that would offend Sheldon Adelson.

Adelson stopped giving money to Rick Scott a while back, according to newspaper stories. He and the governor had a falling out over Scott's gaming negotiations with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. So, Adelson just happened to have an extra $2.5 million lying around.

By his own account on Bloomberg Television, Adelson wants to control sin "when possible." He wants to regulate illegal activities like prostitution, drug abuse and gambling by minors. It's a rich old man's fancy. I'm not saying I agree with him, but I do suspect his motives are purer than either Sembler's or Morgan's.

"Why Is Sheldon Adelson Opposing Medical Marijuana?."