Marco Rubio’s campaign racks up inquiries about prohibited contributions

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org 

Sen. Marco Rubio

Sen. Marco Rubio

In what has become a regular habit for Marco Rubio’s campaigns, the Federal Elections Commission has again flagged the senator’s presidential committee for possibly skirting federal law limiting the types and amounts of donations it can receive.

The FEC’s latest questions about questionable behavior indicate a pattern that shows Rubio’s political committees have played fast and loose with rules governing campaign financing, according to Noah Bookbinder, executive director for the elections watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics In Washington (CREW).

“There seems to be a willingness by Sen. Rubio’s campaign and groups associated with it to doing things that are outside the rules and are not allowed,” Bookbinder said. “They push the envelope. It’s only when they feel pressure that they have retreated from those kind of tactics.”

In December, CREW requested that the Senate Ethics Committee investigate Rubio for allegedly paying his book author Mark Salter $20,000 for “strategic consulting” around the same time both worked on the 2012 memoir. The watchdog group also filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service last year against Conservative Solutions Project, a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization that spent $8 million in television ads promoting the Florida Republican.

Meanwhile, Rubio’s campaign has been racking up inquiries from the FEC regarding its donors. Since the beginning of the year, the commission has identified more than $1.2 million in questionable donations.

According to a March 28 letter sent to Rubio committee treasurer Lisa Lisker, FEC analyst Laura Beaufort cited $783,823 in “excessive, prohibited and impermissible” contributions that the campaign received in February. For comparison, the campaign for Jeb Bush, who dropped out prior to Rubio, received $29,189 in prohibited donations during the same period, according to the FEC.

The FEC letter was sent two weeks after Rubio suspended his presidential campaign following an embarrassing second-place finish in Florida’s winner-take-all Republican primary to frontrunner Donald Trump, who trounced the senator by 18 points on his home turf.

The 44-year-old pol, who said he will retire from the Senate after his term ends, still hopes to play a spoiler if the nomination is contested at the Republican National Convention this summer. According to recent media reports, Rubio intends to keep the delegates he won.

On the outside chance Rubio were to become the nominee through a contested convention, it would appear the campaign intends to maintain its war chest for the general election until told otherwise.

 In an April 12 response to the FEC, Lisker said the campaign is re-designating 84 contributions received in January and February for the general election that total a little over $1 million. Yet only 16 contributions totaling $119,950 are being refunded.

No comment

Rubio’s Senate spokeswoman Kristen Morrell did not respond to emails seeking comment. Over the phone, one of his aides told FloridaBulldog.org that Rubio’s office only accepts media inquiries submitted electronically. Lisker ignored multiple requests for comment via voicemail at her office and home.

Since 2009, Rubio’s Senate and presidential committees have received 23 “request for additional information” letters, or RFAIs, according to the FEC’s website. The letters typically alert treasurers to questionable contributions and request an explanation as to why their campaigns accepted possibly illegal donations. In many cases, those contributions are either refunded to the donor or applied to a general election if the donation was incorrectly logged for a primary election.

In 2012, Rubio’s committee agreed to pay an $8,000 civil penalty to the FEC after the commission determined it accepted $210,173 in excessive contributions during his senate campaign six years ago. The sloppy bookkeeping has persisted through his presidential campaign. Last September, it refunded more than $120,000 in contributions the FEC tagged as excessive.

In a February RFAI, FEC analyst Beaufort documented $540,676 in “excessive, prohibited and impermissible” contributions the Rubio presidential committee received in January. In late March, Lisker notified the FEC that the campaign had sent refunds to 45 of the 101 donors listed in the February RFAI.

Beaufort’s most recent RFAI included a 31-page list of 93 donors who gave more than the maximum $2,700 limit allowed per individual per election. Beaufort also singled out $10,000 in excessive contributions from two Super PACs, $6,710 in prohibited contributions by individuals with a foreign address, and $2,500 combined from three organizations not registered with the FEC.

“The frequency of these additional inquiries and other potential problems with Sen. Rubio’s campaigns is a little bit alarming,” Bookbinder said. “We should really be figuring out how we can reign in people disregarding or breaking the rules.”

Republican-led Broward Health paid $3 million in legal fees to firms tied to Gov. Rick Scott

By Dan Christensen and Buddy Nevins, FloridaBulldog.org 

The Foley & Lardner law firm recently removed from its Facebook page this photo of Gov. Scott paying a visit to its Jacksonville office on Aug. 24. Pictured with the governor, left to right, are Scott's former environmental secretary Herschel Vinyard, office managing partner Kevin Hyde and Karen Bowling, Scott's ex-partner in the Solantic urgent-care clinic chain

The Foley & Lardner law firm recently removed from its Facebook page this photo of Gov. Scott paying a visit to its Jacksonville office on Aug. 24. Pictured with the governor, left to right, are Scott’s former environmental secretary Herschel Vinyard, office managing partner Kevin Hyde and Karen Bowling, Scott’s ex-partner in the Solantic urgent-care clinic chain

Republican-controlled Broward Health paid two law firms with strong ties to Republican Gov. Rick Scott more than $3 million in legal fees in the last 12 months.

The law firms are Foley & Lardner, which billed $1.72 million, and Greenberg Traurig, whose invoices totaled $1.65 million, according to data compiled by Broward Health.

Foley & Lardner’s Republican-heavy roster includes Herschel Vinyard, the governor’s former environmental protection secretary; Christopher Kise, general counsel to Scott’s transition team who was later appointed by Scott to the board of Enterprise Florida, and Karen Bowling, Scott’s partner in the multi-million dollar Solantic urgent-care clinic chain.

Foley & Lardner has been generous to the Republican Party of Florida, giving it more than $195,000 during the last two gubernatorial campaigns won by Scott.

Greenberg Traurig was similarly helpful to the state GOP. Since 2010, it donated more than $192,000 to the Republican Party of Florida.

Greenberg Traurig’s principal connections to Gov. Scott are Fred Karlinsky and Hayden Dempsey.

Karlinsky is a Fort Lauderdale lawyer, insurance lobbyist and Republican finance official who co-chairs Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera’s bid to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Dempsey is a former special counsel to both Gov. Scott and his campaign. Dempsey leads Greenberg’s Florida government practice.

Greenberg Traurig lawyer/lobbyist Fred Karlinsky

Greenberg Traurig lawyer/lobbyist Fred Karlinsky

Karlinsky is responsible for all three contracts Greenberg Traurig obtained from Broward Health last year – one for legal services and two more to supply federal and state lobbying.

The district’s legal costs, with hourly rates as high as $695, were the focus of criticism at a meeting of Broward Health’s board in late February when it was disclosed that the work of the two law firms was in addition to Broward Health’s in-house staff of six lawyers.

“The chair [David Di Pietro] expressed concern that the legal bills are completely out of control,” say minutes of the meeting. “He feels this is runaway lawyering with no governance from the board.”

Less than a month later, Gov. Scott suspended Di Pietro and board colleague Darryl Wright for alleged malfeasance after his chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, expressed concern that Broward Health board members might be interfering with her ongoing review of contracts and other matters at the district.

Di Pietro is suing to be reinstated, contending the governor overstepped his authority. A hearing was held Friday; a ruling is expected this week.

El Sanadi signed contracts

The contracts of both Foley & Lardner and Greenberg Traurig were signed last year by then-Broward Health Chief Executive Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, who killed himself in January. El Sanadi was a long-time contributor to the Republican Party of Florida who gave the party more than $90,000 during Scott’s two gubernatorial campaigns, state records show.

Broward Health’s governing board, whose members were appointed by Gov. Scott, hired El Sanadi as CEO in December 2014.

Within months, El Sanadi hired Foley & Lardner and Greenberg Traurig. District sources say El Sanadi acted at the direction of Fort Lauderdale lobbyist and Scott confidant William “Billy” Rubin.

Lobbyist William "Billy" Rubin

Lobbyist William “Billy” Rubin

Rubin did not respond to requests for comment. His company, The Rubin Group, posts on its website a client list that includes a trio of companies that do business with Broward Health, including 21st Century Oncology.

In February, FloridaBulldog.org reported that Gov. Scott owned an indirect financial interest in Fort Myers-based 21st Century Oncology in 2012 when it was awarded an extraordinary no-bid, 25-year contract to supply radiation oncology services to Broward Health. The governor’s ownership interest was through his $210,000 investment in Vestar Capital Partners, the private equity firm that owns 21st Century.

State records show 21st Century later contributed nearly $400,000 to Scott’s re-election campaign and another $275,000 to the Republican Party of Florida.

Invoices sent to Broward Health by Foley & Lardner and Greenberg Traurig were reviewed and approved by El Sanadi and Broward Health General Counsel Lynn Barrett, whose duties include employing and directing outside counsel.

In her contract with the hospital district, Barrett agreed not to “engage nor retain her prior employers to provide any legal representation on behalf of the district and not to refer any district legal services to her prior employers.”

Barrett listed three of her recent prior employers in the contract, including the Jones Walker law firm.

Legal work referred to general counsel’s ex-boss

As general counsel, Barrett has referred no legal work to Jones Walker. She has, however, referred hundreds of thousands of dollars of work to her former boss at Jones Walker, Myla Reizen.

Reizen led Jones Walker’s healthcare practice when Barrett joined that firm in January 2010. Reizen was quoted in a press release then as calling Barrett an “outstanding addition…to our healthcare practice.”

Broward Health General Counsel Lynn Barrett, left, and Foley & Lardner partner Myla Reizen

Broward Health General Counsel Lynn Barrett, left, and Foley & Lardner partner Myla Reizen

Reizen jumped to Foley & Lardner in December 2013.

In March 2015, El Sanadi hired Foley & Lardner to represent Broward Health with regulatory and compliance issues “as requested” at rates as high as $695 an hour. The contract gave Reizen “primary responsibility” for that representation.

About the same time, El Sanadi was looking to hire an in-house lawyer to replace Broward Health’s then-outside General Counsel Sam Goren. Sources said Reizen recommended Barrett for the job. Barrett, following approval by the board, took over in July 2015.

Between June 2015 and January 2016, Foley & Lardner billed $1.51 million, records show.

Barrett did not respond to a detailed request for comment.

Reizen also did not respond to a request to discuss Foley & Lardner’s connections to Gov. Scott and how Broward Health came to hire her and her firm.

Karlinsky, of Greenberg Traurig, referred a similar request for comment to a law firm spokeswoman, who released this statement: “We believe we provide high quality and responsive legal services nationally and internationally; we believe that is why we have been retained here, as well as by many other clients in the healthcare field throughout the U.S. and internationally.”

Ties run deep

Karlinsky’s ties to the governor run deep. In addition to serving as statewide finance co-chair for Scott’s re-election campaign last year, he accompanied the governor on two foreign trade missions – to London in 2012 and Israel in 2011. Also on the governor’s Israel trade mission: Billy Rubin.

The two Broward Health lobbying contracts Karlinsky secured for Greenberg are for terms of 19 months. The total value of the federal contract is $150,000. The state lobbying contract is worth another $50,000.

Information compiled by Broward Health staff and disclosed at a February board meeting says that Greenberg Traurig was tasked with reviewing approximately 1,700 contracts. The firm also assisted in drafting and negotiating contracts for doctors, including Dr. Zachariah P. Zachariah, who recently switched his hospital affiliation from Holy Cross to Broward Health Imperial Point.

Zachariah is an important Republican fundraiser whose son, Zachariah P. “Reggie” Zachariah Jr., is an associate in Greenberg Traurig’s Fort Lauderdale office. In 2012, Gov. Scott appointed Reggie Zachariah to a four-year term on Broward’s Judicial Nominating Commission that expires in July.

Broward Health’s contract with Greenberg Traurig says that when conflicts of interest arise, the law firm will either obtain a written conflict waiver or, if the conflict can’t be waived, will recommend other counsel. It is not known whether Greenberg Traurig sought such a waiver from Broward Health regarding Zachariah.

Curiously, Foley & Lardner’s contract with Broward Health includes an “advance waiver of conflict” in which the hospital district agreed up front to allow the firm to represent “current or new clients in work directly adverse” to Broward Health. That includes “clients in contract negotiations adverse to the company.”

Ted Cruz’s Senate campaign refuses to disclose true source of loans

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org 

Ted Cruz running for the U.S. Senate in 2012

Ted Cruz running for the U.S. Senate in 2012

While Ted Cruz was barnstorming Florida last week, the treasurer for his 2012 U.S. Senate bid was refusing to answer a routine inquiry by the Federal Elections Commission to determine where the Texas Republican got the money to loan his Senate campaign as much as $1,000,000.

In a March 8 letter, the Cruz campaign’s Bradley Knippa told the FEC’s reports analysis division, that the campaign cannot fulfill a “Request For Additional Information” (RFAI) about the loans until the elections watchdog agency completes a separate investigation initiated by two complaints filed against Cruz in mid-January. Those cases likely won’t be concluded until next year.

“It is our understanding that the Commission does not send RFAIs during the pendency of a complaint,” Knippa wrote. “Therefore, we intend to file our responses as they relate to this matter in accordance with the agency’s standard practices and procedures.”

Craig McDonald, director of the non-profit Texans for Public Justice, one of the groups that filed a complaint, said the Cruz campaign continues to stall public disclosure that would reveal if major financial institutions Goldman Sachs and Citibank financed his Senate campaign.

McDonald accused Cruz of painting himself as a populist who took on the Wall Street banks when at the same time the same banks secretly funded his senate campaigns.

“This information should have been disclosed in real time so Texas voters could have seen it during his campaign,” McDonald said in an interview. “We believe he deliberately withheld the information because it would have exposed him as a hypocrite.”

Now that Cruz finds himself within striking distance of Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, the senator is not going to address the FEC’s inquiries until after the election, McDonald said.

“No doubt about it,” McDonald said. “If he wasn’t a candidate for president, this information would be quickly forthcoming.”

No comments

Knippa, a certified public account with the Jackson Walker law firm in Austin, Texas, did not respond to a phone message and email on Friday seeking comment. Cruz’s national campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart did not return two emails and two phones messages requesting a response.

In addition to the complaint filed by McDonald’s group, Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center filed a joint complaint about a week after Knippa notified the FEC on Jan. 14 that Cruz’s senate committee had “inadvertently omitted” a margin loan from Goldman Sachs valued at $100,000 to $250,000, carrying a 3 percent interest, and two Citibank loans totaling $500,000 to $1 million on campaign finance disclosure reports.

Cruz did disclose the loans on a personal financial disclosure form he filed with the Senate on July 12, 2012, three weeks before his runoff against Texas’ then-Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

The disclosures with the FEC and the Senate do not describe the bank loans as being used for the campaign. In previous media reports, spokespeople for Cruz have maintained the omission to the FEC was an oversight and not intentional.

Before the March 10 Republican debate at the University of Miami campus, Cruz made a campaign stop at the downtown campus of Miami Dade College, where he made his pitch to a group of GOP voters that he is the candidate who can beat Trump.

According to the Miami Herald, Cruz told the audience: “If you were a Jeb [Bush] supporter. If you’re a Marco [Rubio] supporter now. If you’re a [John] Kasich supporter: We welcome you to our team.”

Advertising mogul threw fundraiser for chairman’s wife amid Broward Health deals

By Buddy Nevins and Dan Christensen FloridaBulldog.org 

Jordan Zimmerman is flanked by Broward Health Commissioners Darryl Wright, left, and David Di Pietro at last June's fundraiser for Judge Nina Di Pietro. Photo: Downtown Photo, Fort Lauderdale

Jordan Zimmerman is flanked by Broward Health Commissioners Darryl Wright, left, and David Di Pietro at last June’s fundraiser for Judge Nina Di Pietro. Photo: Downtown Photo, Fort Lauderdale

Just seven weeks after signing a $2.1 million-a-year no-bid contract with Broward Health, advertising executive Jordan Zimmerman threw a political fundraiser for the wife of the hospital district’s chairman.

Broward County Court Judge Nina Di Pietro, whose husband David Di Pietro chairs Broward Health’s board of commissioners, raised almost $22,000, nearly all of it from lawyers, auto dealers and other non-healthcare companies, campaign records say.

Jordan and Terry Zimmerman, his wife, spent nearly $2,000 hosting the June 25 reception at Zimmerman Advertising’s showcase modernistic headquarters on North Andrews Avenue in Fort Lauderdale.

A few months later, Zimmerman was back before Broward Health’s board seeking approval for yet another advertising deal – this one worth as much as $71.4 million over six years.

That deal, supported by David Di Pietro and a majority of the board, was set for approval at last month’s board meeting, but was put on hold after Broward President/CEO Dr. Nabil El Sanadi’s Jan. 23 suicide.

Broward Health Chief Financial Officer Robert K. Martin opposed the deal at the Dec. 17 board meeting, saying it was based on bogus statistics that made it appear like a good deal when it was not.

Martin was fired Jan. 7. He was later given a settlement agreement that included a large payout and a requirement that he not disparage Broward Health.

No influence?

In an interview, David Di Pietro said Zimmerman’s help for his wife’s campaign didn’t influence his decision to favor awarding the contract to Zimmerman Advertising.

“I don’t run Nina’s campaign. I don’t directly solicit money. I haven’t since she started her campaign,” Di Pietro said. “We had horrible advertising…a football player. I want a marketing strategy so the public knows about the healthcare our doctors and staff provide. Even if it’s not Zimmerman we need a marketing plan.”

Jordan Zimmerman and Judge Nina Di Pietro. Photo: Downtown Photo, Fort Lauderdale

Jordan Zimmerman and Judge Nina Di Pietro. Photo: Downtown Photo, Fort Lauderdale

The money raised for Nina Di Pietro at the Zimmerman fundraiser is a fraction of the $237,968 she had in her campaign account as of the end of January, including $100,000 of her own money.

At least $35,000, however, came from more than 50 donors who self-identify as healthcare firms, physicians or clinics. No other candidate for a county court judgeship, a job that deals with criminal misdemeanors and civil disputes for less than $15,000, has received close to that amount from the healthcare industry.

Judge Di Pietro had an opponent who has since dropped out. She has raised more than double the amount of any other Broward County Court candidate. Likewise, she also has a bigger campaign warchest than veteran politicians like former State Sens. Nan Rich and Steve Geller, who are running for Broward County Commission, traditionally more expensive races.

Gov. Rick Scott appointed Nina Di Pietro to the bench on April 30. Because appointed judges run in the first General Election after their appointment, the Zimmerman fundraiser was to finance her 2016 campaign.

Among those attending the fundraiser was County Commissioner Chip LaMarca, a Zimmerman employee and friend and Republican political ally of David Di Pietro; Broward Health Commissioner Darryl Wright; longtime Northeast Broward GOP activist William “Bill” Bucknam; and Levi Williams, former Broward Republican Party general counsel.

Among those contributing $1,000 that day were retired AutoNation president and chief executive officer Mike Maroone, Coral Gables businessman and car dealer Manny Kadre, Kadre’s company MBB Auto Management, and Lighthouse Point lawyer William R. Scherer III.

On May 5, Zimmerman’s firm signed a $2.1 million-a-year advertising contract with Broward Health. The deal is renewable for three years. No proposals or bids were sought from other firms.

Dr. El Sanadi signed the contract on behalf of Broward Health, but appears to have have exceeded his authority in doing so. The signing authority of Broward Health’s chief executive is $250,000; the board must approve deals beyond that. A review of the minutes of every public board meeting in 2015 revealed no indication that Zimmerman’s initial contract was ever brought to the board for its approval.

The agreement placed Zimmerman in charge of all broadcast, print, billboard, digital advertising production and purchasing, plus outreach to the “mainly Hispanic and Creole” minority communities, according to the contract.

A board of Republican activists

Broward Health’s commissioners, who sit on the governing board that David Di Pietro chairs, are all Republican activists appointed by Gov. Scott to run the public health system. Di Pietro was first appointed in September 2011.

Besieged by public and private healthcare competitors, Broward Health has trouble filling its beds with patients paying for elective surgery. The public hospital system’s patient admissions are down nearly three percent and operating revenues are under budget by nearly $29 million this year.

El Sanadi, named president/CEO in December 2014, apparently became convinced that a new advertising strategy was called for.

Sources differ on how Jordan Zimmerman, who had little experience handling marketing for a public health system, suddenly became Broward Health’s potential savior.

Zimmerman said in an interview that former Republican U. S. Sen. George LeMieux, now chairman of the board of the Republican legal and lobbying powerhouse Gunster, introduced him to El Sanadi.

Zimmerman said El Sanadi “believed BH wasn’t performing like it should” and that Zimmerman Advertising could help with a stepped-up advertising campaign.

A majority of the board, including Di Pietro, later agreed.

Zimmerman, using talents described in news releases as “ambitious entrepreneurship, fearless energy and strategy,” built a multi-million-dollar advertising company with a client list that claims the likes of Papa John’s, Party City and AutoNation, but no healthcare firms. Zimmerman is now part of the Omnicon Group.

Before raising money for Judge Di Pietro, Zimmerman was a well-known and reliable donor to Republican campaigns.

In 2012, Zimmerman co-hosted a $25,000-a-plate dinner for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, whose Broward campaign chairman was David Di Pietro. Last July, Zimmerman co-hosted a $10,800-a-ticket reception for ex-Gov. Jeb Bush’s recent presidential bid.

Company tied to Gov. Scott got Broward Health contract, gave $400K to his campaign

By Dan Christensen and Buddy Nevins, FloridaBulldog.org 

Gov. Rick Scott speaks about cancer research funding at 21st Century Oncology, April 10, 2014 Photo: Dania Maxwell/Political Fix Florida, the joint bureau of Naples Daily News / Tampa Tribune / Treasure Coast in Tallahassee.

Gov. Rick Scott speaks about cancer research funding at 21st Century Oncology, April 10, 2014
Photo: Dania Maxwell/Political Fix Florida, the joint bureau of Naples Daily News / Tampa Tribune / Treasure Coast in Tallahassee.

A cancer treatment company financially tied to Gov. Rick Scott that got a no-bid, 25-year contract from Broward Health in January 2012 later contributed nearly $400,000 to the governor’s re-election campaign, state records show.

21st Century Oncology’s political generosity went deeper. Since Republican Scott was first elected in November 2010, the Fort Myers-based company has contributed another $340,000 to the Republican Party of Florida.

FloridaBulldog.org this week reported on Gov. Scott’s indirect ownership interest in 21st Century Oncology via his $210,000 investment in the company’s owner, the private equity firm Vestar Capital Partners. The story also reported that attorneys for Broward Health, a tax-supported public hospital system, had denied a public records request for a copy of the contract.

Hours after the story was published, however, the hospital district’s lawyers at the Foley Lardner law firm changed their minds and released a copy of the 42-page contract, exhibits and amendments.

The contract spells out the terms of an exclusive and lengthy arrangement in which Broward Health gave 21st Century Oncology LLC exclusive rights to supply radiation oncology services to Broward Health’s patients – and collect all the revenue those patients generate.

21st Century paid zero for access to patients

21st Century paid Broward Health nothing to obtain that access. Likewise, Broward Health did not pay 21st Century to assume a practice area that then-Broward Health president and chief executive Frank Nask told the district’s board of commissioners in 2012 was losing $3.5 million a year.

Broward Health Acting President/CEO Kevin Fusco isn't talking

Broward Health Acting President/CEO Kevin Fusco isn’t talking

Why would 21st Century want to take over a money-losing operation? How might it turn it into a profit maker? Kevin Fusco, who holds Nask’s job today, was asked by email to discuss the oncology radiation program’s performance under 21st Century. He did not respond.

The contract, however, says the parties executed a separate agreement that requires 21st Century to pay Broward Health unspecified fees for the right to use its space and equipment, such as CT scanners, located at Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale and Broward Health North in Pompano Beach. That agreement is a public record, and a copy has been requested by FloridaBulldog.org.

At the same time, the contract also specifically allows 21st Century to continue to operate radiation oncology facilities in Deerfield Beach, Plantation, Tamarac, Pembroke Pines, Coral Springs and Aventura “without being in violation of this agreement.”

The contract is for 10 years and automatically renews for three consecutive five-year periods unless 21st Century wants out earlier.

Broward Health also pays 21st Century a yearly fee of $120,000 to provide a medical director for the oncology program. The director sets physician schedules and monitors performance, and is paid based on 8 to 12 hours of work a week.

More significantly, the contract requires Broward Health to pay 21st Century Oncology to treat poor patients who don’t have the money for treatment. Money that comes from taxpayers.

Broward Health’s payments for indigent patients under the original contract were broken into three categories of rates: $21,000 for high level services (prostate, lung, head and neck); $14,000 for intermediate level services (breast, gastrointestinal [esophagus, pancreas, anal canal], brain; $8,000 for low level services (lymphoma, skin, palliative cases).

About a year later, the contract was amended to delete any reference to indigent patient fees. Broward Health’s payment schedule for indigent services was changed to now pay the radiation company 65 percent of the Medicare Part B allowable. No explanation for the change, or its cost to the public health system, was given.

One knowledgeable source, however, said it is his understanding that 21st Century Oncology’s contract with Broward Health is worth $20-30 million a year to the company, “multiplied by 25” years.

A reliable contributor to Scott

Throughout all this time, 21st Century was a reliable contributor to Gov. Scott, who appoints Broward Health’s governing Board of Commissioners.

21st Century Oncology has donated to Florida’s Republican Party since the late 1990s.

Its contributions increased noticeably, however, during Scott’s first campaign in 2010, including a $20,000 contribution by 21st Century CEO Dr. Daniel Dosoretz days before the vote.

The bulk of 21st Century’s political contributions have been to Gov. Scott’s Let’s Get to Work committee, which can accept unlimited donations. More than $360,000 over a half-dozen large donations were made to the committee between May 2012 and January 2014 when Scott faced a tough re-election challenge from former Gov. Charlie Crist. 21st Century Oncology gave an additional $30,000 last March to Let’s Get to Work after the governor won re-election.

Scott’s own campaign organization, which is limited under the law as to how much it can accept from each donor, also got money from 21st Century. Four corporations owned by the company gave the maximum $3,000 contribution each on Jan. 31, 2014. One of those corporations was 21st Century Oncology LLC, the entity that entered into the deal with Broward Health.

The firm’s giving also extended to the governor’s first inauguration. In 2011, 21st Century Oncology gave $25,000 to the governor’s inaugural committee.

Jackie Schutz, a spokesman for the governor, said this week that Gov. Scott wasn’t aware that 21st Century had sought the Broward Health contract prior to its award in 2012. She also said the governor keeps his assets in a blind trust and doesn’t know about or control what he owns.

“The governor and his staff have had no conversation or contact about Vestar or 21st Century Oncology with the North Broward Hospital District,” Schutz said.

Donald Trump and the art of the campaign expense

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

Inside Donald Trump's Boeing 757

Inside Donald Trump’s Boeing 757

Donald Trump knows how to make money, even when he’s running for president.

Federal records show that Trump’s campaign paid the Republican frontrunner and 10 companies he owns more than $1.64 million for various campaign expenses since the billionaire businessman began his run last spring.

The payouts amounted to nearly one of every three dollars the Trump campaign spent through Sept. 30, according to campaign reports, including an amended quarterly report filed Dec. 17 with the Federal Elections Commission.

Most of that money, $1.2 million, was paid to Tag Air, the holding company for the luxury Boeing 757 with 24-karat gold plated seat belts that Trump uses on the campaign trail. The jet can accommodate up to 43 passengers. The payout was the fair market value of those flights, according to the campaign. You can take a video tour of the plane here.

Another $410,000 went to Trump and Trump entities to reimburse payroll expenses and pay rent, hotel and restaurant bills.

Trump himself was paid more than $100,000, including $45,000 for rent and $60,000 in reimbursements for campaign payroll expenses he incurred, the records show.

The Trump campaign pie also was sliced to pay rent to The Trump Corporation, Trump Tower Commercial LLC, Trump Plaza LLC, and Trump CPS LLC. Together, they collected more than $278,000.

Trump Payroll Corp., too, was paid nearly $18,000 for pre-paid payroll expenses. Campaign checks also went to Trump Restaurants LLC and Trump hotels in New York and Las Vegas for meals and lodging, though in much lesser amounts.

While noteworthy, it’s not unlawful for Trump’s campaign to pay Trump or his companies for their services. Indeed, federal law often requires it.

“It’s not illegal as long as they’re paying fair market value,” said prominent Washington, D.C. campaigns and elections lawyer Jan Witold Baran. “In fact, if a campaign uses the goods and services of a corporation they have to pay for it. Otherwise, it would be an illegal corporate contribution even though the candidate might be the 100 percent owner of the business. That has been the policy of the Federal Elections Commission for decades.”

Federal election law, however, does not contemplate a mega-wealthy candidate like Trump.

“There’s no question that Trump is conducting a campaign that’s unique in many respects. I’ve been doing this for 40 years and I never heard of a candidate disclosing his financial numbers and complaining they were too low – that I’m really richer than these forms say,” said Baran.

GIVING MONEY TO A BILLIONAIRE

Trump and campaign manager Corey Lewandowski have said repeatedly – most recently in a radio interview with Lewandowski three weeks ago – that Trump is self-funding his campaign. While that was true last spring when Trump seeded his campaign with a $1.8 million loan, it no longer is.

The Trump campaign solicits credit card donations on its website, telling supporters to “Stand with Donald Trump to Make America Great Again.” Through Sept. 30, the campaign reported accepting $3.8 million in contributions – a number that’s sure to rise with the campaign’s year-end report due Jan. 31.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

About $2.8 million of those contributions to billionaire Trump were given by small donors whose names aren’t required to be disclosed because they contributed $200 or less.

Neither the Trump campaign nor Dan Scavino, a senior advisor to the campaign, responded to requests for comment.

What the Trump campaign took in from outside contributors in the last reported quarter is less than what it spent, $4 million. In all, the campaign’s reported net operating expenditures were $5.4 million.

Some other major Republican candidates have spent much more.

For example, Sen. Marco Rubio raised $14.8 million in contributions and spent $6.9 million on operating expenditures through Sept. 30. Jeb 2016 Inc., the campaign committee set up by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, raked in $24.2 million in individual contributions and spent $14.5 million during the same period.

All those contributions, and Trump’s as well, are designated for the primary elections. $2,700 is the maximum an individual may give for the primaries.

The Trump campaign’s first television ad, released Sunday, marks a turning point in spending. To date, Trump has benefitted from untold hours of free coverage. With the Iowa caucus on Feb. 1, the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9 and Super Tuesday on March 1, he and other candidates are expected to shell out big bucks to blanket the airwaves.

Can Trump turn a profit on his campaign — that is, see his loans repaid in full and additional campaign dollars flowing to his companies? It will depend on his fortunes in the primaries, his contributors’ staying power and his determination to win.

Senate ethics committee asked to investigate Marco Rubio for improper use of campaign funds

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org 

Rubio speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland Photo: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia

Rubio speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland Photo: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia

A national watchdog group is claiming U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio may have broken U.S. congressional ethics rules by allegedly using funds from a political action committee to pay a writer who helped pen the Miami Republican presidential candidate’s 2012 memoir, An American Son.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, wants the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics to investigate whether Rubio converted campaign funds to personal use, which is a violation of Senate rules, according to a Dec. 17 letter the group’s executive director Noah Bookbinder sent committee chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and vice-chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

Between May 14 and October 3, 2012, the Rubio-affiliated Reclaim America paid a total of $20,000 to book author Mark Salter for “strategic consulting,” according to a 2012 quarterly campaign finance report filed by the PAC. However, Bookbinder’s letter claims that the payments to Salter came around the same time he was helping Rubio organize and revise the memoir, for which the senator received an $800,000 advance.

“Campaign contributions should be used for their intended purpose—campaigning,” Bookbinder said in a statement. “It is up to the ethics committee to make sure that actually happened here.”

Alex Conant, spokesman for Rubio’s presidential campaign, and Reclaim America treasurer Lisa Lisker did not respond to emails requesting comment. In an interview with the National Journal, Salter said his Reclaim America payments were for “work unrelated to the book.”

According to CREW’s letter, it is unclear what the $20,000 actually paid for. Bookbinder cites a 2013 Tampa Bay Times article that states: “Rubio used his PAC to pay $20,000 to Mark Salter, a strategist who helped run John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, for help writing a memoir.” Bookbinder also noted that Rubio personally profited from the memoir when he received his six-figure advance.

SECOND COMPLAINT

This marks the second time in three months that CREW has accused Rubio and one of his political organizations of breaking federal campaign finance laws and regulations. In October, Bookbinder filed a complaint with Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen asking for an investigation into the non-profit group Conservative Solutions Project Inc.

The complaint states that Conservative Solutions Project exists only to benefit Rubio’s presidential campaign, spending more than $8 million on television ads supporting the senator’s bid for the Republican nomination. Under federal law, 501(c)(4) organizations like Conservative Solutions Project must be primarily engaged in promoting social welfare and are excluded from participation in political campaigns.

Bookbinder noted that Conservative Solutions Project is closely affiliated with a PAC that uses the same name and was set up to support Rubio’s presidential run. The two organizations share board members, fundraising consultants and spokesmen, Bookbinder said.

“Groups registered as social welfare organizations need to be just that, social welfare organizations,” Bookbinder said. “This is just a blatant attempt to get around the law and keep secret donors supporting Sen. Rubio’s campaign.”

Rubio’s campaign finance activities have faced scrutiny from watchdogs and federal regulators since he first ran for federal office in 2010, when his campaign accepted $210,173 in excessive contributions that resulted in an $8,000 civil penalty by Federal Elections Commission in 2012.

Two years later, the FEC warned the Rubio campaign it was accepting individual contributions that exceeded the $2,700 maximum after each of its four quarterly filings in 2014. This past September, his presidential campaign refunded more than $120,000 in excessive contributions that had been flagged by the FEC.

Lawmakers protect title loan firms while borrowers pay sky-high interest rates

GOP governors, including Rick Scott, take cue from Obama on how to push policy

By Rachel Baye, Center for Public Integrity 

The Let's Get to Work political group began running this ad featuring Florida Gov. Rick Scott, called "On the Move," in March to help promote the Republican's proposed tax-cut plan. Use of such political groups to push policies, rather than elections, is a new twist on how governors are using political money. Youtube/Let's Get To Work

The Let’s Get to Work political group began running this ad featuring Florida Gov. Rick Scott, called “On the Move,” in March to help promote the Republican’s proposed tax-cut plan. Use of such political groups to push policies, rather than elections, is a new twist on how governors are using political money. Youtube/Let’s Get To Work

Two Republican governors are copying an unusual tactic from President Barack Obama’s political playbook: using pet political groups seeded by donors to push policies, not just candidates.

Political organizations tied to Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner are diverging from the typical so-called leadership PACs used by federal lawmakers and some governors to amass power because they are not just giving campaign contributions to like-minded legislators. Instead they are pushing the governors’ legislative agendas with public campaigns far removed from the campaign trail. (more…)

Rubio’s ambition tied to hundreds of millions of dollars in losses for South Florida schools

By William Gjebre, FloridaBulldog.org 

Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio

Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach public schools have lost hundreds of millions of dollars since 2004 when the Florida Legislature changed the way schools are funded – an action linked to the political ambitions of Republican Party presidential candidate Marco Rubio.

The New York Times reported Oct. 21 that then-State Rep. Rubio bargained for political support to become speaker of the Florida House in exchange for not opposing measures that diverted funds from large school districts like his home county of Miami-Dade to smaller districts upstate.

Rubio served as Florida House Speaker from 2006-2008. According to The Times, he secured the position in 2003 with backing from upstate legislators after he agreed not to oppose measures that would reduce funding to heavily populated areas with higher property tax bases like Miami and increase spending in less dense, rural regions in the state.

Rubio, 44, now a first-term U.S. senator and serious Republican challenger for his party’s presidential nomination next year, did not respond to requests for comment left with his campaign and his Senate office. The Times, however, reported that Rubio previously said there were no tradeoffs in his successful effort to become Speaker of the House, and that he had complained that there was excessive spending and waste of funds by the Miami-Dade school district.

The changes that have cost South Florida’s school districts so much included alterations to the school funding formula that determined student allocations. One change to the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) involved the addition of an “amenity factor” to the so-called district cost differential, or DCD, which at the time sent more money to large districts due to their higher costs of living.

Another change involved so-called “compression or equalization” funding in which school districts rich in local property taxes – like Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach – saw funds above a statewide average taken away and given to less property-rich districts. Under this take-from-the-rich-and-give-to-the-poor arrangement, school districts in South Florida became known as “donors.”

The changes, signed into law by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, were effective starting in the 2004-2005 school year.

At the request of FloridaBulldog.org, Miami-Dade Public Schools compiled a list of the cumulative gains and losses from then until now due to those funding changes at school districts in each of Florida’s 67 counties.

MIAMI-DADE THE BIGGEST LOSER

Miami-Dade County Public Schools was the biggest loser of state funds, with an eye-popping total loss of slightly more than $1 billion.

Broward County Public Schools took the second biggest hit, ranking 66th among Florida’s 67 county school districts with total losses from 2004 thru 2015-16 due to the funding changes of $509 million.

Palm Beach Public Schools was third with losses of $335 million, and ranked 65th among the counties, according to the list. Even Monroe County schools lost big: $30.5 million, ranking 63rd.

The Miami-Dade School’s study also found the biggest winner from the funding changes was Duval County, with a cumulative gain of $309 million since the 2004-2005 school year. Hillsborough County ranked second with a $271 million gain and Polk County was third with a gain of $225 million.

Federick Ingram

Federick Ingram

Fedrick Ingram, the recently elected vice president of the Florida Education Association and outgoing president of the United Teachers of Dade, said the funding loss in South Florida impacted teacher salaries and resulted in some program cuts.

“He (Rubio) could have assisted the local area … but supported more funds for the north (schools districts), ‘’ Ingram said. “He chose personal ambition.”

School districts in Broward and Palm Beach confirmed that they, too, suffered significant cumulative losses as a result of the changes to the funding formula and the district cost differential since 2004. They calculated their total losses to be millions of dollars lower than what Miami-Dade found.

Broward County Public Schools lost approximately $346 million since 2004 as a result of the changes, according to the district’s public information office. An official with knowledge of financing at Palm Beach County Public Schools said that district lost $189 million through last year as a result in the changes.

The Times story outlined how Rubio, after being elected to the House in a special election in 2000, set out to curry favor with House Republican leaders, leading to his ascent to House speaker after making the alleged deal.

While the Legislature was in session in 2004, the Miami-Dade School Board attempted to thwart the funding changes. Records show that on April 14, 2004 the board instructed staff that its top issue was to “preserve” the existing favorable district cost differential.

But a month later, with the change apparently by then approved by the Legislature, the Board instructed staff to hire lawyers to sue to stop it. The legal effort was later joined by the Broward and Palm Beach school districts.

SCHOOL DISTRICTS’ CASE TOSSED OUT

The courts, however, dismissed the case about June 2005. But not before legal costs rose to $620,000, the Miami-Dade School Board was later informed. Broward paid $150,000 and Palm Beach, $125,000.

It didn’t take long before Miami-Dade and other large districts felt the pain of the funding cuts.

Then-Miami-Dade Superintendent Rudy Crew outlined the financial impact of the changes at the March 12, 2008 School Board meeting.

“The continuation of the loss of the DCD has meant that between 2004 and now this district has lost approximately $200 million,” said Crew, according to the minutes. He went on to discuss a series of budget cuts that included layoffs and furlough days.

Two months later, at its May 5, 2008 meeting, the school board was informed that the losses were worse than originally thought.

“Another impact has been equalization of local millage where the state adopted a policy that deprived Miami-Dade and other like counties of general revenues coming from general revenue taxes – sales taxes, explained then-Associate Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, according to the minutes.

“The impact of that on Miami-Dade over the past four years, beginning in 2005-2006, with a $10 million hit progressing all the way to 2007-2008, current year, to the tune of $67 million, and projected to become $18 million next year,” Carvalho said.

Adam Hasner, a former Florida legislator who was a part of Rubio’s Tallahassee team, did not return calls for comment. The New York Times story reported Hasner praised Rubio for looking out for the entire state rather than just his home county.

But that stance also appears to have helped Rubio achieve what only two other South Florida politicians have accomplished in the last half-century: capturing the powerful post of Speaker of the Florida House.

While Miami-Dade school officials fumed about the funding cuts, at least one education watchdog cheered the changes. Charlotte Greenbarg, who for years has closely monitored education in Miami-Dade and Broward, said the funding change was necessary because the large districts had wasteful spending practices.

Miami-Dade, Greenbarg said, was top heavy with high-paying administrators, many of them earning more than $100,000 year while teachers were paid much less.

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