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Alan Grayson calls Harry Reid “human cash register” in Tiger Bay appearance

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U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson blasted U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid on Friday, a week after Reid called on him to quit the race for U.S. Senate in Florida. A New York Times report about a Grayson hedge fund moved Reid to make his comment and to further say, “Grayson claims to be a progressive, but it seems like he has no moral compass.”

Grayson replied by saying that with Reid himself also under investigation he should hardly be preaching about a moral compass. In the investigation of former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff on corruption charges, the local county attorney said last fall that as part of that investigation, he is looking into accusations that payments were made to Reid to win his support in legalizing online poker.

“I mean for goodness sake, Harry Reid has been a human cash register for his entire career in Congress,” Grayson told a Tiger Bay Club event held in Tampa on Friday. “He’s everybody’s lobbyist’s best friend.”

Last year, two ethics complaints were filed against Grayson with the U.S. House of Representatives, charging among other things that he was using his own name and his position as a member of Congress to solicit investors to the hedge funds and therefore to enrich himself.

In his statement last week Reid said, “Alan Grayson used his status as a congressman to unethically promote his Cayman Islands hedge funds, and he should drop out of the Senate race immediately. His actions aren’t just disgraceful to the Democratic Party, they disgrace the halls of Congress.”

Grayson said the Nevada senator has it wrong: “I mean, Harry gets a lot of things wrong these days, but the fact is, I never made a penny, not a penny, from trading on my congressional experience. Never. Not even once.”

Reid is backing Grayson’s top rival in the race for the Democratic nomination for Senate,U.S. Rep Patrick Murphy of Jupiter.

“The only way that they think they can defeat me to pressure me, pressure me, pressure me, into dropping out,” Grayson said emphatically. “And you know what I say to them? The one-fingered salute.” But he didn’t make the gesture as most of the crowd laughed inside the Chester H. Ferguson Law Center in downtown Tampa.

Appearing with Grayson was attorney Pam Keith, another Democratic candidate in the contest. Murphy did not attend.

Although there was plenty of discussion about policy in the hour-long forum, there was an equal amount of attention paid to Grayson’s hedge fund. Included was his sometimes combative style in the halls of Congress, an attitude that’s made him beloved among progressives, and the bete noir of not only Republicans, but centrist Democrats who fear he’s not electable in a statewide election.

As Grayson constantly notes, he’s consistently led Murphy in the Senate contest polls for months. The most recent Florida Atlantic University survey taken last month shows Grayson up, 27 percent to 20 percent.

“I’m concerned that reporters are not looking at the votes people actually take on Wall Street issues, and instead just try to dig up dirt,” said Susan Smith, head of the Florida Democratic Progressive Caucus.

Before Grayson entered the race, the Progressive Caucus made it be known they weren’t backing the more centrist-leaning Murphy. Smith said the Democratic Party of Florida is trying to shove Murphy down the throats of all state Democrats, via pressure she said is coming from Washington.

“This is when we first decided to recruit somebody progressive to run, we knew this was going to happen, because the establishment wants to pick the candidates instead of allowing the voters to decide, and that’s what the whole presidential election is about now: It’s about the revolt against that top-down pressure,” she said.

Mike Fox with the Progressive Democrats of America, says he doesn’t care about negative media reports about Grayson (including a Bloomberg report published Friday that said that the congressman and his family recently cashed in on a long-held investment that derives its revenue almost entirely from Eritrea, a small East African country.)

“He has a history for standing up for the 99 percent,” Fox said. “He’s been a leader throughout this process, not just simply voting the right way, but advocating, and that’s what we need.”

But not every Democrat is with Grayson. Former Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee Chairwoman Elizabeth Belcher questioned the viability of his candidacy, specifically about his “financial baggage,” referring to a hedge fund in the Cayman islands, a hedge fund that Grayson has said he closed last fall.

“My goodness, why do I have to put up with these kinds of smears? Just because I’m running for U.S. Senate and want to do some good for people,” Grayson responded, before immediately boasting he’s the only member of Congress who has raised so much money from small donors. He said everyone else “is on the take.”

“Everyone else is going to their lobbyist, special interest, their millionaires, their billionaires, their multinational corporations, and they’re hitting them up for $10,000 contributions, to their campaigns directly, and then multimillion dollar contributions to their Super PAC. Welcome to America in 2016.”

Keith then defended Grayson, and exposed some of her own frustrations with the perception that the Florida Democratic Party from day one has backed Murphy for Senate.

“What I have a beef with hypocrisy, ” Keith said, mentioning how Grayson had his hedge funds for years before the Tampa Bay Times became the first media outlet to report on it this past May. “Going after Alan Grayson has nothing to do with his hedge funds, and everything to do with his challenging another candidate. And what I don’t like is when you are going to point to one person and say you should be excoriated, you should be censured by your colleagues.

“Everybody in this room is savvy. You know what the game of inside politics is dirty. You know what the party decides who they’re going to back and who they’re not going to back, and if you’re not playing the game they like, they will do everything they can to get you out of their way,”

Grayson only addressed Murphy once during the event, when he was asked why he had called his “fellow Democrat” a “lickspittle pillock.”

“What do you mean, fellow Democrat?” Grayson shot back. “Are you talking about the Patrick Murphy who was a lifelong Republican until he decided to run for office. Are you talking about the Patrick Murphy who donated $2,300 to Mitt Romney‘s campaign, that Patrick Murphy? OK, I just want to make sure.”

Keith also attacked Murphy for voting for a bill that would make it harder for Syrian refugees to come to America, as well as for being one of only seven Democrats to support the investigation into what happened in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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