Columns

Careful Who You Blindly Trust: Florida's Sunshine Law and Political Opportunism

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: May 16, 2014 3:55 AM
I Beg to Differ

For a lawsuit claiming to lift the state into sunlight and fresh air, the "emergency petition" two notable Floridians filed Wednesday in the state Supreme Court sure smells fishier than a Japanese sushi market.

I never thought I would be arguing on the other side of the Sunshine Law -- legislation I've always believed represents Florida government at its best. But here I am, frankly, feeling the law that helped frame who I am is at this moment in very skillful, very manipulative hands, being used for political expediency, to embarrass and humiliate a governor the petitioners don't want to see re-elected.

This is my take on what's going on: 

Jim Apthorp, chief of staff to Reubin Askew, one of Florida's most popular governors, and Sandy D'Alemberte, the former American Bar Association president representing him, filed a petition with the state Supreme Court Wednesday claiming a year-old state law that allows elected officials to place their assets in a blind trust instead of reporting each investment publicly violates Florida's Constitution.

The lawsuit calls on the Supreme Court to strike down the law and to block any candidates from qualifying for the ballot unless they file a full disclosure of all their finances. Financial disclosures are usually submitted during June qualifying.

Allow me to enumerate the reasons you might want to hold your nose, too.

1. It came flying out of the blue like a German stutka in a blitzkrieg. For two men known for their love of transparency, this petition -- straight to the Supreme Court -- was some kind of sneak attack. D'Alemberte called First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen in her Tallahassee office on Monday, then showed up with his wife Patsy to talk it all over. 

"It just happened very quickly. All I did was arrange a press conference for Wednesday and write a very cursory press release that went out Tuesday. I didn't have a clue about the actual details of the conference," Petersen told me. The petition was filed the morning of the press conference, in the Florida Press Center, with Erin Jensen from the League of Women Voters attending in support.

Rick Scott, Sandy d'Alemberte, Jim Apthorp

Rick Scott, Sandy d'Alemberte, Jim Apthorp

So little known by so many -- certainly Sunshine State News wasn't alerted in advance -- yet somebody whispered in the ear of a number of mainstream media organizations, because during the press conference they were announced as on board and ready to write a supportive letter to the court.

A secret lawsuit with media collusion should come off like conspiracy-theory craziness, but this sounds eerily plausible.

2. What was the emergency, that this petition had to be filed two weeks before the candidates' qualifying period and six months before a brutal, probably very close gubernatorial race? It was to honor Reubin Askew, who wanted to do it himself, we're told. Yet, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, say no, Askew liked SB 2 and told them so.  Then, if this action wasn't about Rick Scott, how come Scott is the only candidate anywhere in state government whose investments are in a blind trust as the 2013 law allows? There is no one else. And there isn't likely to be anybody else.

3. Who are these people filing this lawsuit? They aren't Cinderella (Petersen excepted). It doesn't help the perception of this petition as a political set-up job that Apthorp and D'Alemberte are both Democrats with some record of activism. Apthorp donated to Democrat Alex Sink's campaign with eight separate checks; just last week D'Alemberte endorsed George Sheldon for attorney general. The fact that the left-leaners -- the League of Women Voters and mainstream newspapers -- jumped on board virtually overnight doesn't exactly scream bipartisan.

4. Alex Sink had all her assets in a blind trust in 2010, before the 2013 law was on the books to sanction it. She was violating the Constitution then. True, the media adored her. So did D'Alemberte and Apthorp by all accounts, but they adore the Sunshine Law, too. Don't you wonder just a little, what gives?

5. Nobody challenged the 2013 law when it was under discussion in the Legislature. Not D'Alemberte, not Apthorp, not Askew, certainly none of the members of the press who are submitting amicus briefs. In fact, Barbara Petersen told me SB 2 was not one of the bills the First Amendment Foundation challenged last year. "We liked the bill because we made sure constitutional officers receiving ethics training was a provision," she said.

6. Apthorpe and especially d'Alemberte made long speeches absolving Scott of wrongdoing. "He did everything he was supposed to do," each said in turn. "The governor has some very good lawyers, and they gave him some very bad advice," D'Alemberte said.

Not convincing. Absolution was impossible and they had to know it. The damage was done. The only voters who could hear them at the press conference were reporters. For the voters who really count, Rick Scott wrongdoing will be planted in a corner of their minds -- otherwise, why would one of the state's most respected lawyers and the chief of staff of a wonderful, popular governor have to fight for investment transparency before the highest court in the state? Great PR campaign.

7. The timing -- as I said -- it's the deadest of dead giveaways that this whole thing is a crock. Just close enough to the election to have a cutting effect among Independents. Even Petersen who favors the court action told me, "I agree the timing is unfortunate." 

8. This stinks of dragging the courts into politics -- a package wrapped with a bow, not to protect the Florida Sunshine Law, which rightfully could have been a project in, say, mid-November, but to give Charlie Crist and the donor-brethren who put him where he is a wink and a nod.

Crist’s campaign is knee deep in lawyers. In the Supreme Court, consider their home court advantage: Many of the same law firms dumping big money into Crist’s political committee gave big to the Supreme Court justices' elections in 2012, too. Now, the second shoe drops ... cash register justice, Charlie-style -- from Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein packing the local courts right up to the Supremes.

Petersen told me Thursday that the secretary of state has until Monday to respond. And Scott, meanwhile, is not argumentative. Through a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner from his campaign manager Melissa Sellers, he claims he's prepared to do whatever the laws tells him to do.

How can I say what I say and love the Sunshine Law, you ask? Easy. As a member of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors board in 1991, I helped to get an expansion of the state open-government laws. But this ill-timed petition is something that looks, feels and tastes about as unsavory as anything I've seen in recent years. Sure, I want to see the Florida Sunshine Law defended, but using it in election-year shenanigans? Pretty lousy.



Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. 


Comments (11)

a thorn never falls far from a Bush
10:18AM MAY 18TH 2014
Sunshine State News, LLC originally incorporated November 21, 2009 by Justin Sayfie – Fort Lauderdale, Florida – original manager along with one Lane Wright.

Bush Donor Profile

Justin J. Sayfie
Occupation: Lobbyist
Employer: Poole McKinley & Blosser
Home: Miami, FL

Lobbyist Justin Sayfie was a political assistant in the early 1990s to a Miami developer named Jeb Bush. From 1995 to 1998, Sayfie represented other land owners seeking development permits through the Miami office of corporate law and lobby firm Greenberg Traurig (see Jack Abramoff and James Miller). Governor Jeb Bush hired Sayfie back in 1999 as a speechwriter and media director and later appointed him deputy policy director. Sayfie, who edits a Florida political newsletter called the Sayfie Review, left that Bush administration in 2001 to lobby for Poole McKinley and Blosser. The firm claims three Bush Pioneers (see James Blosser and Van Poole). Sayfie reported 11 Florida lobby clients in 2003, including Accenture, the Seminole Tribe, several local governments and hospitals and JM Family Enterpriese. James Moran, the billionaire owner of JM, which sells, finances and insures vehicles (see Paul Anderson), was convicted of tax cheating in the 1980s and the company did not pay Florida corporate income taxes for most of the 1990s. JM subsidiary Southeast Toyota, the world’s largest independent Toyota distributor, shook down local and state governments for $15 million in corporate welfare in 1999 after threatening to move to Georgia. Another Sayfie client, AutoNation, is part of the H. Wayne Huizenga empire (including Blockbuster Video, National and Alamo car rentals and sports teams), which created conflicts for Sayfie’s firm when it hired Huizenga’s top lobbyist, Pioneer James Blosser. Blosser had led Huizenga’s efforts to tap tax dollars for new Dolphins, Marlins and Panthers stadiums before new Marlins owner John Henry hired Poole McKinley & Blosser to help publicly fund a $400 million new stadium. The firm resigned when Henry decided to fund it with a rental-car tax—which would bite into Huizenga’s empire. All apparently was forgiven, with the firm lobbying for Huizenga’s AutoNation in 2003. Sayfie told the St. Petersburg Times in 2003 that Florida Pioneers face stiff competition. “It takes a lot of phone calls, and it takes a lot of time to go through your Rolodex and to reach people who haven’t been reached out to before,” he said.
Tiredofyourtricks
7:51AM MAY 18TH 2014
Pardon if I have a hard time believing that you believe in Sunshine - or even know what it is. A political hack masquerading as a journalist for a faux news organization doing the work of her puppet masters. If you believe in Sunshine - prove it by revealing who pays the bills.
Freeman
10:11AM MAY 17TH 2014
Nancy you would argue anything the GOP paid you to
that's a fact
3:17PM MAY 17TH 2014
But, there is exception to every rule. She called out Mel Sembler. But, I think she was trying to connect Sembler to CharLIE Crist back in his old Republican days when he was connected to Brent Sembler at the hips.

Then it was disclosed about Rick Scott having that mucho fund raiser at Mel Sembler's home in April.

Hillary like the rest of them is owned property, but she is right about one thing only :what difference, at the point, does it make?"

Every last one of them owe their souls to the company store!
corruption in the sunshine
9:04AM MAY 17TH 2014
Some of these "official criminals" are so brazen they operate their criminal empires right out in the open knowing they have the support of the elitists who will cover all their actions- they don't use blind trusts - they depend on blind citizens and residents not to understand what they are doing. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't-

THE SENATOR CHARLIE DEAN MACHINE- A spin off of the Bense -Bush factions - Former Citrus County Sheriff and now Senator Charlie Dean and the ACMS, Inc.

Visit Marion County’s agreement with Senator Dean’s company ACMS, Inc. Dated Dec. 20, 2011 along with its second addendum to the agreement for the $20 million payable to ACMS, Inc. Just one of the many central Florida Counties strong armed by David Dee on behalf of Charlie Dean. Some counties even hired on David Dee to represent them knowing he represented the Senator Charlie Dean machine!

Then realize this agreement was solidified even before State Senator Charlie Dean, Sr. and his son Charlie, Jr. had received final approval from the Florida DEP – but not to worry since Senator Dean is the come to for man for DEP and his friend Inspector Roy Dickey of DEP will make sure everything his honky dory for Uncle Charlie. If anything happens to go astray Charlie Dean will call for back up from Thomas Harvey Greene, Jr., better known as Tommy Greene, a native Madison, Fl with newspapers scattered across north Florida and most importantly the Grand Exalted scion of the Madison Florida Masonic lodge.

With friends like Tommie Greene and former speaker - Allan G. Bense - The James Madison Institute, a businessman from Panama City, Florida. He is a partner in several companies including land fills - Bay County Florida Site of Aztec-Big Wheel landfill. Check the real story behind the death of Assistant US Attorney Michael Runyon and others.

Permit irregularities, federal convictions, Political connections, and FDEP senior Management—the troubling history of - The Big Wheel C & D Disposal Facility

Over the past two weeks Florida PEER has disclosed several significant problems associated with the Big Wheel Construction and Debris Landfill that is adjacent to Bay County’s Steelfield Landfill. These problems include groundwater contamination that is documented in the files of the Florida, Department of Environmental Protection (“FDEP”). These problems are, in turn, discussed in Florida PEER’s White Paper entitled Bay County’s Steelfield Landfill Meets FDEP Enforcement. On May 24, 2004, Florida PEER released a subsequent White Paper entitled FDEP Ignores Asbestos and other Violations at Construction & Debris Site Adjacent to Bay County’s Steelfield Landfill. The latter White Paper detailed FDEP’s receipt of complaints involving the illegal dumping of materials, including asbestos and oil at the Facility. Moreover, FDEP personnel documented the existence of friable asbestos at the site but the agency has yet to take formal enforcement as a result of the asbestos findings. There were repeated problems associated with worker training at the Facility as well. Despite all of these issues, the FDEP has failed to take any formal enforcement (beyond the issuance of a Warning Letter) against the Permittee of the Facility.

In this White Paper Florida PEER discusses the permit issued by the FDEP and then the background of the company that owns the Facility. In addition, Florida PEER is now able to confirm that two individuals, prominent Bay County attorney, William White Paper: Bay County Attorney and Colleague Linked to Big Wheel Landfill Harrison, and Bay County businessman Randall McElheney were directors of the company that owns the site on which the Facility is operated. Harrison was a member of President Bush’s 2001 transition team and was also on Governor Bush’s 1999 transition team. He is also a registered lobbyist of the St. Joe Company. McElheney is a local businessman who was the Republican Party’s Bay County representative in the November 2000 election recount. The two men’s involvement with the company spanned the time when the Facility was coming under what was increasing FDEP scrutiny for failing to abide by Florida’s environmental laws.

But, with the help of (the elite) all their problem just went away!

Now Senator Charlie Dean continues to “move forward” with “strong arming” and securing contracts from other counties to dump their waste in his Sumter County landfill. Recently he acquired a contract from Lake County, with the help of Commissioner Jimmy Conner LCBCC Vice Chairman [Former School Board Chairman who strong armed the school board into the Brown & Brown Ins. Contacts (over priced by one million bucks!) at the Lake County School Board] who has since been elevated to Chairman of the LCBCC was the point man for the David Dee Charlie Dean ACMS. Inc. contract and in fact signed the contract because the sitting chairman refused to do so!

The garbage scheme as you can see is very large and the pressure to get involved is very high. For instance Lake County was forced to abandon renewal of a 25 year agreement with a local incinerator company when even the former Lake County manager Darren Gray was just certain it would be renewed. Well it didn’t happen – Charlie Dean took the reins and the millions that goes along with them.
Esquire
9:31PM MAY 21ST 2014
There appears to be more strong arming in Sen. Deans home county if Citrus. His business partner is a County Commissioner who has openly tried to lure the largest hauler to ACMS. The county seat of Inverness has entered into an agreement with ACMS to dispose of their waste in Sunter County, thus leaving Citrus County with a budgetary shortfall. They have also approached the City of Crystal River. Deans partner contunuosly berates and harasses county staff regarding their landfill operation. Unfortunately, under pressure, Citrus County has hired a consultant to look at "options". It all seams very underhanded. Our County administrator and Asst. Administrator have just resigned. Many of us think the pressure applied by Dean and Commissioner Adams, both internally and externally are to blame. Who should the citizens turn to?
Frank
9:38AM MAY 16TH 2014
Gee . . . the lady doth protest too much, methinks . . . . what is there to possibly hide . . . and to be afraid of in public disclosure . . . . . . except some truth . . .

Pathetic . . . .
hummm
10:09AM MAY 16TH 2014
Frank............... we finally agree on something.....................

There is proof positive that Rick Scott was a partner with George W. Bush and Tom Hicks in the Texas Rangers.........

Both Scott and HIcks was on GW's pay to play money man list!

There is proof positive that Rick Scott and Richard Rainwater bought into South Florida Hospitals beginning in 1987 under several different entities which were rolled into Columbia/ HCA. Likewise Rainwater was on GW's pay to play list!

The same hospitals that had been owned by Miguel Recarey for whom Jeb Bush made calls to HHS to get the Medicare percentages increased! the same Miguel Recarey who paid Jeb $75 thousand for a real estate lease that never happened!

The same hospitals which Miguel Recarey started with loans from Tampa native and mob boss Santo Trafficante, Jr. - the mobster Castro run out of Cuba in 1959. Jeb appointed Raoul Cantero III to the Fl Supreme Ct in 2002 - he resigned in 2008 and now he's representing the legislature in the redistricting suit. Now Coral Gables Bush man Carlos Lopez-Cantera is Lieutenant Governor of Florida.

Everyone knows Jeb Bush was the daddy of Common Core! Everyone knows that Rick Scott supports it hook, line and sinker - but he had to change the name a little bit to get away from the stigma! What's a little sunshine going to hurt with everyone in the USA coming awake and realizing that all these goons are eating from the same trough?

This needs to happen - even if it was done to help Charlie Crist - in essence it will be helping the people of Florida to get to these connections of these partners in crime who have and continue to steall us blind.
RepublicanConscience
8:05AM MAY 16TH 2014
Let's face it, Rick Scott is very rich and who financed his own campaign, surely he will have holdings of all sorts that can be political fodder. The fact that a couple of first class dirt bags think that is a means to undermine the best Governor Florida has ever had, really sucks.

I truly believe that Obama's NSA is behind this. Obama's Bureaucratic Army is hard at work destroying enemies using unconstitutional regulations that were never put into law, personal information gleaned from unconstitutional snooping methods, the use IRS Gestapo unconstitutionally targeting enemies, using the Patriot Act to harass enemies using non-authorized searches, etc. then these two dickheads have the nerve to run to the court?

Nancy, the fish stinks from the head.

What exactly is their standing in this court case? It is a fishing expedition because they have nothing to offer the public, and Rick Scott's reelection is eminent.
dad gum
8:50AM MAY 16TH 2014
"RepublicanConscience" If you are not jeb Bush you sure were trained by him and Karl Rove. When everything goes to heck blame the demwits!

Obama and his IRS Gestapo is not going to do one thing to hurt Rick Scott. Rick Scott is a Bush friend - Obama is a Bush friend.

Rick Scott the Dallas, Tx Bush family oil lawyer:


Mr. Richard L. 'Rick' Scott
Bar Card Number:17909700
Texas License Date:11/06/1978
Work Address:700 N Adams St
Tallahassee, FL 32303-6131
Work Phone Number:850-488-4661
Primary Practice Location: FORT WORTH , Texas
Current Member Status: Inactive
Firm: Governor Rick Scott
LAW SCHOOL - Southern Methodist University---
Former Law Firm – Johnson & Swanson – Dallas, TX

Richard (Rick) Lynn Scott was a partner with Johnson & Swanson (established in 1970) Rick Scott’s Dallas, Tx clients list included Tom Hicks and Scott became partner’s with Hicks and George W. Bush in the Texas Rangers. Another Scott client was Richard Rainwater who along with Rick Scott and with the help of Jeb Bush was able to pick up the pieces of the South Florida HMO organizations of Miguel Recarey (International Medical Centers) and Recarey’s already organized Medicare Fraud establishment.

Jeb Bush and his Common Core and Obama with his Race to the top and George W's - No child Left Behind law equals they are all in the same sack together.

Ruben Askew much like Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon only become an ICON after he left office and more especially after he died. Truth be known he was a worthless bible thumping POS who had an excuse for every move he made. Seems some people what to credit him with this sudden political move and others don't. Like Hillary says "what difference at this point, does it make?"

You support a weak law called "sunshine" created like so many more for lip service only - then you support a method whereby someone like Rick Scott who along with his well connected friends stole millions in Medicare Funds from we the taxpayers and then you support a law that allows a criminal like Rick Scott and Jeb Bush and so many others whether you admit it or not to skirt the sunshine laws!

And then when a couple of "old style democrats" from before the days the communist party over took the democrats come along an file this emergency lawsuit you think its come kind of conspiracy.

Well maybe it is - people of all leanings have been conspiring for years now trying to out smart the Bush machine and all their education takeover schemes of charter schools and such.

Maybe these two guys just got sick and tired of the state of Florida being sick and tired of this massive culture of corruption that has destroyed it.

And if Rick Scott has to open his finances to the public like every political officer in the land should be forced to do then so be it!

If he is forced to so do you can bet he will do like his predecessor (and former Jeb Bush partner) in the former largest Medicare Fraud scheme in the USA Miguel Recarey done, he will flee the county before he lets the people see he partners with Jeb Bush and God only knows who else in this criminal empire!
Mark
6:22AM MAY 16TH 2014
I agree and also believe in Florida's Sunshine law BUT, the difficulty I have with this law is the very lack of enforcement. Of course, the biggest problem with violating the Sunshine law is that there aren't any teeth in the process, such as jail time or heavier fines instead of the simple slap on the wrists most violators receive! MOST Florida State's Attorneys seem to prefer wearing their government issued blinders and concentrate their efforts in other areas. It is quite humerous to watch the
legislators avoid, at almost any costs, having to even discuss this set of laws designed to simply keep ALL politicians on a level playing field and not allow behind the back politics to thrive. Of course, the legislators made sure when enacting this law that they were exempt of its conditions. It's a shame that our state's alleged leaders refuse to recognize the lack of trust so many citizens have of them yet continue to ignore citizen's concerns. I've been told it's all politics. I agree!

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