"Florida's political process is systemically corrupt"?
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum's office should appeal a Leon County circuit judge's dismissal last week of the most serious criminal charges against former House Speaker Ray Sansom and others. If what Rep. Sansom is accused of doing isn't criminal, then Florida's political process is systemically corrupt." "Not a crime? It should be".
The Daytona Beach News Journal editorial board:
Former House Speaker Ray Sansom caught a break last week when a Tallahassee judge dismissed most of the criminal charges filed against him by a grand jury earlier this year. But he's not out of hot water -- he still faces an official House inquiry, headed by one of the state's former top prosecutors. While that investigation is ongoing, legislative leaders should ask themselves how this scandal occurred -- and what they can do to prevent future ignominy. ..."Sansom case lesson".
The best possible outcome of this case has little to do with whether Sansom serves jail time (which seems unlikely at this point) or whether he is ousted from the House. Rather, it turns on the determination of legislative leaders to strip away the secrecy that clouds each year's budget negotiations, encouraging self-interested deals and clandestine horse-
trading. Floridians should be able to trust their elected representatives to be honest, open and fair when allocating the billions of dollars that pour into state coffers each year. That's not the case now -- as the Sansom case proves.
"The judicial system works"?
Mark Lane: "'The judicial system works,' a characteristically upbeat Gov. Charlie Crist told reporters last week."
"We have a good system of justice," he concluded."Charges gone, smell remains".
This reflection on the general excellence of Florida courts came because a Leon County circuit judge threw out official misconduct charges against former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom and others.
Usually when criminal charges are dismissed by judges, we hear officials grousing about activist judges letting criminals walk the streets because of legal technicalities. But this was different. And to be sure, the technicalities involved were, well, technical.
"GOP fundraising scandal"
"FBI recordings reveal a turning point in a two-year corruption investigation that resulted in the indictment of a Broward eye doctor at the center of a GOP fundraising scandal." "Alan Mendelsohn case: Checks, lies and audiotape".
Like rats off a ship: "After state Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, was quoted describing Mendelsohn as a 'friend,' one of her GOP state Senate primary rivals pounced last week." "Politicians edge away from links to key donor". See also "Local pols seek their distance from indicted eye doc/moneyman".
That's our Bill
"On June 23, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum pulled in a bundle of campaign checks from a single address in Pittsburgh. In all, $28,000 in checks from that address made their way to McCollum's campaign for governor."
Many donors listed their occupations as homemaker, investor or student. They can be traced to people connected with Federated Investors, which last year was awarded a lucrative contract with the Florida State Board of Administration — a board that McCollum helps oversee. More:
In 19 months since getting that contract, how much has Federated made in fees? More than $3 million.
• With personal contributions limited to $500, bundled contributions from relatives of employees at a firm is a tried-and-true method."Investment firms pay to play with state retirement funds".
The day before and the day after McCollum got his $28,000 in 56 bundled checks from Pittsburgh, Gov. Charlie Crist's campaign for U.S. Senate received a mini-bundle: six Pittsburgh donations totaling $14,400. The donations tied to Federated Investors arrived 16 months after Crist, McCollum and the third SBA trustee, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, approved a big contract with the SBA.
• Investment firms and contractors donate through intermediaries, a double win: Unlike personal contributions, there are no caps, plus it's harder to trace the source of the money.
Federated executives are among the six-figure givers to a Florida political party, as is an executive from Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., the giant private equity firm. Companies that donate through political fundraising arms include Bank of America.
All three companies have lucrative contracts with the SBA.
• The campaigns of legislative leaders with influence over public investments get bundles of contributions from Wall Street, too.
Executives of Kelso & Co., a New York private equity firm, rained 100 campaign checks on a dozen key members of the Florida Legislature, including those who help write laws concerning the SBA. Kelso donated most of the money three months after the SBA gave the company a contract to manage $100 million in pension funds.
The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board: "State and local officials need to give Washington the confidence to invest in rail in Florida. They must create a funding base that makes rail systems possible. They must craft fair deals with private companies that do more than shift liabilities onto taxpayers. The stimulus money could be a game-changer in how Florida recovers from its growth-fueled economy." "Leadership lacking on high-speed rail". See also The Sun-Sentinel editorial board's "Florida's high speed rail hopes hinge on Tri-Rail's success".
"Democrats looking for a front-runner in the first debate of the Florida attorney general's race saw two polished politicians take light digs at each other Sunday while seeking a unified front against the Republican Party."
Two state senators little known outside of South Florida, Dan Gelber of Miami Beach and Dave Aronberg of Greenacres, are competing to be the state's top lawyer and a member of the Florida Cabinet."Democratic rivals for Florida attorney general face off". See also "AG candidates debate over credentials" and "Attorney General hopefuls debate".
Most of the Democratic Party's hopes of curbing GOP control of state government in 2010 center on its leading candidate for governor, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink. But Democrats also see an opening in the attorney general race. Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, the only major Republican contender so far, has a low profile in the state and faced questions about his taxpayer-funded travel and security.
Charlie's "symbolism as much as substance"
"Crist says he doesn't think much about his legacy. To hear his critics talk, perhaps it's just as well."
As the first Florida governor to forgo a re-election bid, Crist has little more than a year left in his term. Already, the Republican's tenure appears destined to be marked by incomplete grades on issues such as property insurance, health coverage for the uninsured, climate change and the economy."University of Florida historian David Colburn, who has written extensively on Florida's governors, said Crist has a unique rapport with Floridians 'unlike any I recall in the post-World War II era.' But on two key issues -- property insurance and the need to revitalize the economy -- it's a very different story, he added."
"His effort to reform the insurance industry has been a disaster,'' Colburn said. "He has done nothing to examine the economic crisis before us, what the state should do to avoid another crisis, and how the state can emerge from this crisis stronger.''There's more:
On spending, Crist claims credit for reducing Florida's budget, but he had no choice. The collapse of the real-estate market caused massive tax-collection shortfalls, which forced the budget to shrink by $7 billion. State employees have not had a pay raise in three years."Key issues dog Gov. Charlie Crist's legacy".
On the environment, Crist gushed over climate change in 2007, but the issue is unpopular with many conservative Republicans and has receded from view. Instead, Crist says offshore oil drilling is ``worth looking at'' with sufficient environmental safeguards.
The Cover Florida health initiative is vintage Crist: It's symbolism as much as substance. It was launched with lots of fanfare but no money to market it. The governor used weekly news conferences to urge reporters to "get the word out,'' and the result is that many people don't know it exists. ...
A gifted politician, Crist rakes in campaign money from special interests, yet maintains a humble, common-man image. His approval rating remains high, but his bid for the U.S. Senate suddenly looks competitive with Republican rival Marco Rubio raising $1 million in the past three months and drawing raves from conservative commentators.
"Florida is heading for a cliff"
"Florida is heading for a cliff when it comes to Medicaid spending. The federal government has been very generous in upping its support for Medicaid, the health care program for the poor and disabled, in Florida during the economic recession. But the problem is that the extra funding is scheduled to dry up in December 2010, leaving Florida perhaps more than $1 billion short and facing the prospect of having to cut back critical medical services for some of the state's poorest and sickest residents." "Deep Medicaid Cuts Feared as Help Ends".
"Mortifying but not surprising"
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "A new U.S. Justice Department study puts two federal prisons in Florida among the three worst in the nation for allegations of sexual abuse behind prison walls. That's mortifying but not surprising. Sexual abuse has been a problem for years in federal, state and local lockups in Florida." "Stop rapes behind bars".
Entrepreneurs in action
The Miami Herald editorial board:
Scarlet Duarte and Rechart Garcia face prison terms of five to 20 years for submitting almost $52 million in false claims for HIV infusion treatments that -- even if they had been used on AIDS patients -- are medically questionable at best."Crack down on Medicare, Medicaid fraud".
The convictions last week of the clinic operators on various charges of conspiracy, healthcare fraud and money laundering involving six clinics in Miami-Dade and Collier counties illustrate the problems with the current system, which still lacks sufficient front-end mechanisms to prevent and detect fraud.
Orlando gay-pride parade
"On an afternoon when the gay community in Orlando was the size of a small city, it was possible to believe that someday, in any American city, gay couples might walk down the street without fear of taunts and violence." "50,000 show up for gay-pride parade".
Sales taxes on Internet purchases
The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "If the latest gloomy financial forecast out of Tallahassee isn't enough to prompt state lawmakers to finally take steps to start collecting sales taxes on Internet purchases, it's likely nothing will." "Getting online taxes in state hands".