By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Florida Power & Light was in the news a lot this summer for more than the usual stories about local outages and storm preparations.
Three of the state’s biggest newspapers – The Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel and the Florida Times-Union – detailed how the utility sought to advance its influence by surreptitiously channeling funds to political candidates while quietly acquiring control of a right-leaning Tallahassee news site – The Capitolist – it used to attack critics.
But the owners of longtime FP&L affiliate Asplundh Tree Experts Co., whose bright orange bucket trucks can often be seen clearing vegetation and trimming trees in neighborhoods throughout South Florida, have a special political agenda of their own this election season. They’re spending big to elect TV showman and heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz, who seeks to be the next U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.
So are some of their super wealthy neighbors in Palm Beach.
Willow Grove, PA-based Asplundh Tree Experts is one of the largest privately held companies in the U.S. According to Forbes, its 2021 revenues were $4.7 billion, mostly from federal and state government sources. The company gained notoriety in 2017 when it pleaded guilty in federal court in Philadelphia for a scheme to hire and retain a workforce of illegal immigrants. Asplundth paid $95 million to settle the government’s six-year investigation, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations.
OZ MARRIED INTO ASPLUNDH FAMILY
Oz, a Republican transplant from New Jersey running against Pennsylvania’s Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, married into the Asplundh family in 1985. His wife, Lisa Lemole Oz, is a granddaughter of Carl Hj. Asplundh, co-founder of the 94-year-old tree pruning company.
Today, Oz reports a net worth of between $100 million and in excess of $400 million on his financial disclosure records filed with the U.S. Senate. (Federal disclosure forms allow filers like Oz to obscure the exact value of their holdings by requiring only that they value assets and debts within broad ranges.)
He earned more than $2.5 million in salary as host, producer and consultant to The Dr. Oz Show, plus more than $7 million from his “share of income derived from ownership interest in Oz Media LLC through Oz Property Holdings,” according to his amended August filing.
Oz owns 10 properties in the U.S. and Turkey. His most valuable listed property, jointly owned with his wife, Lisa, is Louwana, a 1919 Palm Beach landmark oceanfront estate designed by famed architect Addison Mizner. News accounts say they bought it for $18 million in 2015. As recently as 2018 he called it “our house,” but today it is listed as a rental which generates income of $1 million to $5 million a year. He valued the property’s worth as between $5 million and $25 million.
The Asplundth family has “longtime ties to the island,” according to a 2018 story in the Palm Beach Times. Lisa Oz’s parents, Dr. Gerald Lemole Sr. and Emily Jane Asplundh Lemole, own several Palm Beach properties, while Carl Hj. Asplundh Jr. has invested millions in real estate deals.
AMERICAN LEADERSHIP SUPER PAC
Oz’s political action committee (Super PAC) is called American Leadership Action. His father-in-law, Dr. Gerald Lemole Sr., has so far kicked in $1.5 million. Dr. Michael Lemole of Lower Gwynedd, PA contributed $10,000 and Gwendolyn Asplundh of Huntingdon Valley, PA has given $50,000.
But big money from Palm Beach has also been flowing in. Nelson Peltz has contributed $800,000 so far. Peltz derives his wealth from Manhattan-based Trian Partners, a $6-billion investment firm with large holdings in companies like Procter & Gamble, Comcast and Wendy’s.
Eleven other individuals with Palm Beach addresses coughed up a total of $567,000 to American Leadership Action.
Then there’s the $146,000 in so-called dark money that’s come to Oz’s American Leadership Action from the similarly named American Leadership Policy, a Virginia nonprofit that its articles of incorporation indicate is intended to operate as a 501(c)(4) – a social welfare organization. The money is “dark” because the donor(s) isn’t disclosed and the source of the funds is unknown.
Intriguingly, the individual who incorporated Oz’s 501(c)(4) is Dan Backer. He’s the lawyer who brought the country the landmark Supreme Court’s 2014 McCutcheon decision that struck down aggregate contributions to candidates, parties and political committees and helped created our current system that some have likened to campaign money laundering. Backer represented plaintiff and Republican activist Shawn McCutcheon.
Here’s what you’ll find if you go to American Leadership Policy’s website: an ad attacking Fetterman for wanting “to release violent criminals onto PA streets.”
The first the IRS will know about American Leadership Policy is when it files its federal tax return, Form 990, for 2021. That won’t show much since it wasn’t created until late last year. The first information the public will get about it is when it files its Form 990 for 2022 – in November 2023.