U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney mum about fat fees paid to White House Counsel’s ex-law firm

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org 

U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Naples

From last July to March, the campaign committee for freshman Florida Congressman Francis Rooney paid roughly $117,000 to the former law firm of White House Counsel Donald McGahn II. However, neither Rooney nor McGahn are answering questions about the payments to Jones Day, a global firm based in Cleveland where McGahn was a partner for nearly three years before joining President Donald Trump’s administration in January.

So far, the only information McGahn, a former commissioner for the Federal Election  Commission, has released is that he provided “legal services” exceeding $5,000 to the Rooney for Congress campaign committee, according to his public financial disclosure report. Campaign finance reports filed by Rooney for Congress show nine disbursements to Jones Day between last July and March. Jones Day received five of those payments totaling $72,328 after the Nov. 8 election, including $17,505 on the day of Trump’s inauguration, Jan. 19

Efforts by Florida Bulldog to get answers about the type of “legal services” McGahn and Jones Day provided Rooney for Congress were unsuccessful. Over the course of four days, White House media affairs director and former Miami political television host Helen Ferre did not respond to three email requests to interview McGahn. Likewise, Rooney press secretary Chris Berardi did not respond to three emails and three voicemails requesting comment from the Naples-area U.S. representative, a rising star in the Capitol’s GOP power circle. A spokesman for Jones Day declined comment.

McGahn and Rooney may not want to talk, but a government watchdog group and two campaign finance lawyers who spoke to Florida Bulldog believe the costly legal services may be for defending the congressman or his committee in a civil investigation for either ethics or campaign violations.

“You can never really know without them telling you,” said Jordan Libowitz, spokesman for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “But that pattern of spending is consistent with people who are under investigation by the Federal Election Commission.”

He added: “It certainly raised a flag when we started looking at Donald McGahn’s financial disclosure statement.”

The attorneys, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, concurred that the expenditures seem to indicate that a probe by the commission, also known as the FEC, is taking place. “There could be a civil investigation by the FEC inquiring about donations and expenditures within the campaign,” said one lawyer, who has represented clients accused of federal civil and criminal campaign violations. “Once the FEC starts an inquiry, you got to get a lawyer.”

The other lawyer, who primarily represents city, county and state candidates, said it could also be that Rooney is under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics. “That would entitle him to the use of his campaign funds to defend against a complaint,” the attorney said. “I can’t see anything else these payments are for but an investigation.”

Riding the Trump train

Rooney, one of the first prominent Florida Republicans to climb aboard the Trump train, has become a leading conservative voice. The former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, Rooney owns a construction company that built the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium and the presidential libraries honoring the two Bush presidents. Before jumping into the race to represent Florida’s 19th Congressional District, Rooney was one of the top Republican rainmakers in the country.

In February, Rooney participated in two panels about national security and political correctness at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC. In a press statement at the time, CPAC Chairman Matt Schlapp hailed Rooney as a “much needed and welcomed” addition to Congress. “He will stand up for you and for conservative policies,” Schlapp said. “We are proud to welcome him to our stage next week.”

While filings for Rooney for Congress don’t show any warning letters from the FEC regarding impermissible donations and expenditures, McGahn seems to be the ideal counselor to hire when campaigns run into trouble with the commission.

A January Jones Day press release touted McGahn’s commission credentials from 2008 to 2013 when Trump selected him as White House Counsel. “He led what has been called a ‘revolution’ in campaign finance,” the statement says. “He rewrote virtually all of the FEC’s procedures for audits, enforcement matters, and advisory opinions, which provide for an unprecedented amount of due process.”

However, press reports paint a much more controversial tenure. Campaign finance reform groups clashed with McGahn over his efforts to deregulate the FEC. He voted to loosen restrictions that prohibited parties from using campaign money for recounts and litigation. In 2013 before he resigned, he unsuccessfully pushed a rule that would have barred FEC lawyers from sharing information with federal prosecutors without commission approval. But McGahn was instrumental in passing a new rule allowing campaigns and party committees to present their cases in open session instead of behind closed doors.

McGahn joined the Trump team early on in the billionaire developer’s astonishing run to win the White House. He served as the campaign’s general counsel and lists several Trump political committees as clients on his financial disclosure form. When Trump appointed him as the commander-in-chief’s top lawyer, 13 attorneys from Jones Day joined McGahn at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Since Trump took office, McGahn has been at the center of some of the biggest controversies to hit the new administration. For instance, then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned McGahn’s office in January that Michael Flynn, Trump’s first pick as National Security Adviser, had misled officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, about his conversations with Russia’s U.S. Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

When Flynn was subsequently forced to resign after his compromised position was leaked to national media outlets, questions arose about McGahn’s handling of the information he received. During a February press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer defended McGahn, saying he “informed the President immediately” and that he concluded Flynn did not violate any laws after conducting “exhaustive and extensive questioning of Flynn.”

Owners at South Beach’s Shelborne fight $30 million assessments, foreclosure

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org 

The Shelborne Wyndham Grand South Beach

The Shelborne Wyndham Grand South Beach

For the past four years, about 40 investors and snowbirds who own 42 rooms in a landmark oceanfront art deco hotel have been locked in a pitched court battle with one of Miami Beach’s most politically connected families to keep their units.

An ongoing civil lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court alleges that Miami Beach developer Russell Galbut, along with relatives and business associates, broke Florida condo association laws by passing nearly $30 million in illegal assessments for renovations at what is now the Shelborne Wyndham Grand South Beach. That works out to roughly $107,142 per room.

The group, 10 of whom spoke with a reporter but asked that their names not be used, claim Galbut stacked the condo association’s board with flunkies and is trying to take control of the entire building by initiating foreclosure proceedings against them for refusing to pay what they believe are outrageous assessments. They also alleged that their rooms were demolished without their consent during the renovations, resulting in the City of Miami Beach revoking their certificates of occupancy until they fixed their units.

“They are using the old game of charging us exorbitant assessments to push us out,” said one New Yorker who purchased two rooms in the late 1990s as an investment. “There is a conspiracy to take our deeds for peanuts. Their end game is to own all the units.”

Galbut is not a defendant in the case, but a Galbut company that owns 100 rooms and 57 commercial spaces at the Shelborne is a defendant. Other defendants with Sherborne Property Associates are four shell companies Galbut controls, his cousins Keith Menin and Joan Brent and the Sherborne Ocean Beach Hotel Condominium Association.

Ronald M. Rosengarten of the Greenberg Traurig law firm represents Sherborne Property Associates. 

“While it is true that friends and supporters of the Galbut family projects may sit on the board, the Galbut family does not ‘control’ their votes,” Rosengarten said. “Currently, Galbut family related entities only have a minority interest in the Shelborne, owning less than one sixth of the units and certainly do not control the units.”

Rosengarten said court records also show the Galbuts’ renovation of the Shelborne “has been a financial boon for the unit-owners and not a fraud.”

Built in 1940, the iconic hotel at 1801 Collins Avenue was entirely owned by Galbut and his relatives in the 1980s. A decade later, the Galbuts began selling some of their units to outside investors when the property was converted to a condo-hotel, according to the 10 owners and Rosegarten. The new owners were allowed to rent their rooms to tourists through a Galbut entity that managed the hotel or other companies that provided booking services.

Galbut family big political contributors

Galbut family members and companies they control have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to political committees supporting Miami Beach city commission candidates. Through six companies he controls, Russell Galbut also has raised $10,000 for a PAC supporting Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s re-election. Three Galbut family members have contributed a combined $15,100 this year to Republican congressional candidates including Sen. Marco Rubio, and Republican U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Things began going awry in 2010, a year after management of the Shelborne was handed over to Menin Hotels, a company controlled by Galbut and his cousin, Keith Menin, the lawsuit states. From 2006 through the beginning of 2015, Menin also served on the condo association board. The lawsuit alleges Menin and the board voted in favor of a $15 million renovation in 2011 to redo the Shelborne’s common areas, from the hotel hallways to the lobby to the pool deck without obtaining approval from at least 75 percent of the unit owners as required by state law.

Yet the non-Galbut owners still got a bill for the $15 million through a series of special assessments between 2011 and 2012.

“Keith Menin knows the Menin Alterations are unlawful,” the lawsuit states. “But he caused or allowed the partnership to make them anyway.”

The lawsuit also claims that Joan Brent, the other Galbut cousin who served on the condo association’s board from November 2011 and June 2013, knew the Menin Hotels renovation was unlawful.

Barely a year later, Galbut and his alleged surrogates signed an agreement with Wyndham Hotel Management allowing them to market 125 rooms and the common areas of the hotel under the Wyndham brand, the lawsuit states. The non-Galbut owned-rooms were not part of the deal.

Despite just finishing the $15 million update to the building, the condo board initiated another renovation project in the summer of 2014 in order to meet Wyndham standards, the lawsuit states. This time, the non-Galbut owners were assessed a combined $28.7 million, according to the complaint.

Again, the condo board did not obtain consent from 75 percent of the owners, the lawsuit alleges. It also says Galbut, Brent, Menin and their allies on the board devised a plan to lie to the non-Galbut owners about the extent of the renovations – saying only that they were replacing the Shelborne’s windows and making repairs required by the City of Miami Beach.

In the ensuing months, the lawsuit say, the non-Galbut owners learned that the scope of the work was much bigger than they were told and that the developer and his cohorts barred them from entering the hotel, preventing them from seeing what was actually happening in the building.

“While the property was closed, the conspirators caused or allowed the structure to be completely gutted,” the lawsuit states. “By closing the property, the unit owners were simultaneously deprived of the use and income generated by their residential units.

Many Shelborne owners “forced to sell”

Predictably, many members could not afford this wave of special assessments with or without the building being closed so they were forced to sell their units.”

The lawsuit also notes that Shelborne Property Associates obtained a $125 million loan around the same time the deal with Wyndham was signed. The proceeds were used to buy rooms from non-Galbut owners who wanted out, the lawsuit alleges. Court and property records confirm that Galbut-owned shell companies purchased 120 units at the Shelborne since 2012, the complaint alleges.

“There were not $125 million worth of units for sale when Shelborne Property Associates obtained this financing,” the lawsuit alleges. “But SPA knew that the association was about to levy tens of millions of dollars of additional special assessments against its members, and close the condominium property for over a year.”

The purchases gave Galbut controlled entities 75 percent ownership of the Shelborne, and the board the necessary majority to approve the Wyndham renovation after the construction had already begun.

A non-Galbut owner who identified himself as “Jackie” said Galbut and his accomplices are squeezing them out because they don’t want to pay them fair market value for their rooms. “They saw that Miami Beach real estate in general was skyrocketing, especially beachfront hotels,” Jackie said. “Rooms have been going for $700,000 to $800,000 a room. That was the case with Raleigh Hotel, the SLS South Beach and the Shore Club.”

According to a review of some of the Shelborne units purchased by Galbut-related entities in the last four years shows rooms have sold for an average between $150,000 and $250,000. Rosengarten countered that non-Galbut owners who sold rooms to his client got good deals.

“Property records evidence that the overwhelming majority of transfers occurred in sales whereby the owners received vastly greater prices for the units they sold compared to what they paid for them,” Rosengarten said. “In other words, the condo owners were not victims but were beneficiaries of the increasing valuation which resulted from maintaining and improving the building.”

Adding insult to injury, construction workers entered their units without their consent and destroyed their rooms, the non-Galbut owners allege. “When we finally gained access to our units, we found our rooms completely wrecked,” said the New Yorker who owns two rooms. “They demolished my kitchen, my bathroom and my living room. They never repaired the damages.”

The owner said city inspectors flagged his units for 20 life safety violations and told him he couldn’t use the rooms until he fixed it. He spent close to $25,000 per room after paying nearly $40,000 in special assessments, he said.

Another owner, a retiree who lives in Atlanta, said she had to dip into her 401K to finance her repairs. She had plans to live out her retirement in her Shelborne unit.

“In anticipation of losing my unit, I tried to buy a house,” she said. “But I was denied a mortgage when the bank saw I was shelling out these huge sums of money and that my income had dropped to $50,000 a year. All because of the Galbuts.”

Study: New members of Congress rely on special interest money once in Washington

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org 

U.S. Reps. Gwen Graham and Carlos Curbelo

U.S. Reps. Gwen Graham and Carlos Curbelo

Nearly five-dozen newly elected members of Congress collectively raised $17.3 million in special interest money during their first year in office – increasing their reliance on contributions from single-issue political action committees, according to a new government watchdog report.

The fundraising analysis by Washington, D.C.-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) found, too, that the 58 new members’ reliance special interest campaign contributions was especially true for those in “a vulnerable seat or serve on committees of particular interest to major industries.”

The $17.3 million in special interest PAC contributions was 16 percent higher than those members collectively raised as first-time federal candidates during the two-year election cycle for 2014, the report said.

The CREW report identifies Florida U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Gwen Graham as among the top money haulers.

“We think it is important for the public to know where their money is coming from and how much money is coming in,” said CREW spokesman Jordan Libowitz. In the case of Curbelo and Graham, “the floodgates certainly opened,” Libowitz added.

Curbelo’s press secretary Brittany Martinez did not return two phone calls and an email requesting comment. Graham declined to respond to the report via her spokesman, Matt Harringer.

CREW’s analysis found that Curbelo received $497,338 in 2015, representing a 228 percent increase in donations from special interests groups compared to the $151,550 he raised between 2013 and 2014 for his first congressional race. The report said Graham’s $582,147 in special interest contributions was the second-highest amount raised by a member of the freshman class in 2015. Compared to the 2014 election cycle, Graham’s contributions from special interests groups increased 42 percent after she went to Washington.

Libowitz said the campaign data CREW analyzed shows that new members who were considered vulnerable, including Curbelo and Graham, constituted nearly half of the freshmen members who received more special interest money in 2015 than they did as first-time federal candidates. The report also noted that Curbelo, a Republican, and Graham, a Democrat, were also put into programs by their parties meant to help vulnerable candidates with fundraising and organizational support.

In 2014, Curbelo beat incumbent Joe Garcia in a tight race despite being outspent by his Democratic rival, who at the time was being dragged down by election-fraud scandals involving a former campaign manager. However, a new map for Curbelo’s congressional district approved in December 2015 now favors Democrats even more than when Garcia held the South Florida seat. In the general election, Curbelo will likely face off against Garcia again or Annette Taddeo, a Colombian-American businesswoman who was Charlie Crist’s running mate in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

Last month, Graham, the daughter of former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, announced she was dropping her re-election bid now that her North Florida district is solidly Republican. She strongly hinted at a possible 2018 gubernatorial run.

“The money seems to flow most to representatives that are viewed to have tougher races to win re-election,” Libowitz said. “If special interests are targeting the most vulnerable in Congress, the public deserves to know what they are getting for supporting these members.”

CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement that many of the freshmen members ran on a platform that they would curtail the influence of special interest groups. “But the truth is, as soon as they got into office, they were more than happy to be taking massive campaign contributions from special interests,” Bookbinder said. “What we found is a clear illustration of the special interest influence that is out of control in Washington right now.”

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.”

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.


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.


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

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