Sunburn for 2/24 – A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

***Sunburn is sponsored by Tucker/Hall – one of Florida’s leading public affairs and public relations firms.***

FIVE QUESTIONS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD

Which crisis facing the Rick Scott administration — the one enveloping Adam Hollingsworth or the one about the state’s unemployment system — will grow legs in this week before the Legislature goes into session

How well will Enterprise Florida’s trade mission to the Dominican Republican proceed now that Gov. Scott has bowed out of participating?

How frenzied will the fundraising for state lawmakers be over the next eight days? Once session is gaveled into business on March 4th, legislators cannot raise money. So look for a barrage of asks — be it via email or in person — this week from any legislator up for re-election.

What will the newest wrinkle be in the special elections in Congressional Districts 13 and 19?

What kind of reception will former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton receive on Wednesday when speaks at the University of Miami?

LAUNCHING TODAY – SECOND ANNUAL “WHO ARE THE 25 MOST POWERFUL POLITICIANS IN TAMPA BAY?”

After reading an article last year from Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel about the most powerful pols in Central Florida, I thought it would be interesting to determine who, in fact, are the 25 most powerful politicians in Tampa Bay.

So I asked several of the leading political consultants, activists, bloggers, operatives and local lobbyists to provide a list of who they consider the 25 most powerful pols in the region.

In addition to Michelle Todd and myself, the panel included: Brian Aungst, Director of Government and Public Affairs at Bright House Networks; Brian Aungst, Jr., an attorney with Macfarlane, Ferguson and McMullen; Laura Boehmer, a lobbyist with Southern Strategy Group; Matt Blair, a lobbyist with Corcoran & Johnston; Democratic activist Ella Coffee; Steve Cona, CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors, Gulf Coast of Florida; Justin Day, a lobbyist with the Advocacy Partners at the Cardenas Group; Tony DeSisto, co-founder of Citizinvestor; Barry Edwards, a Democratic political strategist; Cesar Fernandez, a Democratic political operative; Matt Florell, owner of St. Pete Polls; Carrie Henriquez, a Democratic political strategist; Nick Janovsky, political director for Alex Sink for Congress; Todd Jennings, an attorney at Galloway, Johnson, Tompkins, Burr & Smith; Benjamin Kirby, communications director for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Also on the panel: Republican activist Matt Lettelier; former City Council candidate David McKalip; GOP consultant Brock Mikosky; former Hillsborough Democratic Party chair Chris Mitchell; communications consultant Aakash Patel, Republican strategist Anthony Pedicini; Creative Loafing political reporter Mitch Perry; former congressional chief of staff Fred Piccolo; consumer advocate Sean Shaw; and lobbyist Alan Suskey of Capitol Insight.

For the purposes of this experiment, the Tampa Bay region is defined as Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco, but can also includes Hernando, Polk or Sarasota, if the politicians from those counties affect either Pinellas or Hillborough.

Being listed first on a panelist’s list earns the politican 25 points, being second earns him or her 24 points and so on to where being listed 25th earned a politician one point. The points will be added up and, voila!, the list will be created.

So, please keep checking on SaintPetersBlog.com this week as we count down the 25 most powerful politicians in Tampa Bay.

PROGRAMMING NOTE

Michelle, Ella and I are taking our annual vacation, again embarking on a Disney cruise of the Bahamas. Sunburn will be off the rest of this week.

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JEB! MANEUVERS via Mike Allen of POLITICO

John King, anchoring CNN’s new weekly 8:30 a.m. Sun. show, “Inside Politics”: “A lot of people think [Jeb’s] not serious [about 2016], that he just likes the spotlight … But … I spoke to several Republican fundraisers this past week, who got phone calls from Jeb Bush, … who hasn’t said he’s going to run, but is starting to ask some serious questions. So people think that at least he’s giving it a very serious look.”

Jonathan Martin to King: “It’s a wide-open race — I think as wide open on the GOP side for probably the last 40 years, maybe more than that.”

A top GOPer emails more about the Jeb calls: “He has reached out to several Calif. and Texas fundraiser types. [Jeb backers want] to keep him in the flow and to check Marco as he rebuilds.”

MARCO RUBIO’S FALL FROM GRACE via Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine

Everything Rubio touches has turned to shit. The cumulative humiliations have transformed the former party savior into a figure himself in need of saving. How did it all go so badly? The Rubio Plan had sounded clever in the abstract. The premise, as Krauthammer had explicitly laid out, was that the party could jettison a single-issue position [on immigration] while holding fast to its cherished anti-government bromides. (“No reinvention when none is needed,” urged Krauthammer. “Do conservatism but do it better.”) Krauthammer may have been right that Republican elites would more willingly, or even eagerly, toss aside their fear of illegal immigration than revise their cherished anti-­tax, anti-spending dogma. But broadening the party’s economic message has turned out to be easier.

Republicans have delivered a series of well-received speeches advocating new proposals for health care, tax reform, and the like, softening the harsh plutocratic message they projected with Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney. None of this has prevented them from continuing to wage a campaign to immiserate the poor by cutting food stamps, ending unemployment benefits, and denying Medicaid to the uninsured. When you don’t need to grapple with specifics or difficult trade-offs, writing speeches with uplifting themes is extremely easy.

Passing immigration reform, on the other hand, is hard. It requires writing bills. Conservatives liked the sound of Rubio’s immigration plan, but it could not survive legislative contact with the enemy. Compromising on immigration means handing a legislative accomplishment to Obama, a taboo that dwarfs any ideological commitments. And so Rubio was cast in a role nobody could play. The party elders who thought they were enlisting him as the Republican savior were instead making him its martyr.

***SUNBURN is sponsored in part by Floridian Partners, LLC, a statewide Public and Government Affairs firm with offices in Tallahassee, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. Ther firm’s success is measured by its clients’ success. Outreach and Public Advocacy; Strategic Issue and Campaign Development; Grassroots and Grasstops Coalition Building – Floridian Partners is a one-stop firm for clients needing assistance at all levels of government in Florida.***

CHARLIE CRIST’S CHARM OFFENSIVE VERSUS RICK SCOTT’S MEGA MILLIONS via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

The Charlie Crist charm offensive vexes Gov. Rick Scott.

Month after month, poll after poll has shown Florida voters generally favor Crist and don’t really like Scott. The governor currently trails the Democrat by about 5 or so percentage points.

To change that, Scott wants to spend upward of $100 million, much of it on an ad campaign to persuade voters that they’re wrong on two counts: about him and about his rival.

That’s a tough sell.

Right now, to the degree Crist and Scott resemble ad products, the former governor is a more-trusted political brand than the current one. Though financially outgunned, Crist does a better job promoting himself, seeking out the news. Scott runs the other way.

THE PUBLICITY OF CRIST’S BOOK TOUR? Try $693K, according to the campaign’s media tracking firm.

ADAM HOLLINGSWORTH HAS TIES TO SCOTT-BACKED RAIL PROJECT via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press

Gov. Scott’s push to spend more than $200 million in state money on improvements to Orlando’s airport will wind up helping the company that once employed his current chief-of-staff.

Scott on Monday publicly endorsed the project which will help create a train depot at the airport. One of the rail lines that would use the depot is All Aboard Florida, which plans to build a line connecting Orlando and South Florida.

Before becoming Scott’s chief-of-staff Adam Hollingsworth worked for a company owned by the same company developing the rail line. Text messages show that while working for Parallel Infrastructure Hollingsworth discussed the project with a top aide in the Scott administration.

A spokeswoman for Scott said Hollingsworth has not discussed the Orlando airport project with the governor.

RICK SCOTT IS NO JEB BUSH via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

As a Florida governor, Rick Scott will never be confused with Jeb Bush.

Both men are Republicans, but the similarities largely end there. As Scott begins his fourth year as chief executive, his agenda in the Legislature is again modest, anchored by a couple of tightly focused, feel-good priorities: cutting fees and taxes by $500 million and increasing public school spending by $542 million.

The proof of Scott’s play-it-safe approach is that Republican lawmakers, for all their love of spirited combat with the governor, quickly blessed both requests. It would be foolish not to in an election year, and besides, those Republican lawmakers also want Scott, their standard-bearer on the November ballot, to get re-elected.

As an entrepreneur, Scott was a risk-taker, gambling his $125,000 savings on two struggling Texas hospitals and becoming rich enough to finance a successful run for governor in his adopted state.

Bush, by contrast, relished spending his abundant political capital as he barnstormed the state in pursuit of big, often controversial ideas in two terms from 1999 to 2007.

Backed by a Legislature controlled by Republicans eager to exercise their newfound muscle, Bush created the nation’s first statewide tuition voucher program, a public school grading system based on student performance (now under attack), eliminated some civil service protections for state workers, expanded outsourcing in government and restructured the governance of Florida universities.

Scott similarly has the wind at his back in the Capitol, with a Legislature dominated by fellow Republicans, but his vision is more limited.

His legislative agenda can almost literally fit on a bumper sticker. Scott himself pared it down to just 11 words in his big announcement on Jan. 29 when he proposed a $74.2 billion budget: “Tax and fee cuts, eliminate government waste and pay down debt.”

MEANWHILEBILLIONAIRE ENVIRO SPENDING $100M TO TAKE DOWN SCOTT CONDEMNS CITIZENS UNITED via the Sunshine State News

Billionaire Tom Steyer — who inked headlines in recent days for his pledge to raise and spend $100 million in the upcoming election – condemns the mechanism that allows him to do it.

“There have been some legal decisions, some court decisions, which I absolutely disagree with, like Citizens United, which have led to this explosion of money,” Steyer told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd.

Reacting to whether or not he believes he should not be allowed to influence elections with his Herculean war chest, Steyer continued, “I believe there should be a different system … but right now what we are doing is accepting American democracy rules.”

In fact, Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action is embracing those rules. It is one of the largest outside spending groups, a liberal machine akin to the Koch political network.

News of Steyer’s election blueprint rippled through Florida last week, when The New York Times reported that Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to spend a similar amount on his own re-election, is one of NextGen’s chief targets.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS:  Gov. Scott will be available to the media following a meeting with President Obama. Corner of 13th St. NW and G St.  NW. Washington, DC. 12:30 p.m.

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CONSULTANT BLAMED FOR BUNGLED JOBLESS WEBSITE WON ANOTHER CONTRACT AFTER OFFICIAL INTERVENED via Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times

The vendor blamed for the website that locked thousands of Floridians out of their unemployment benefits was awarded a $31.6 million contract by another state agency, despite being significantly underbid.

Suzanne Vitale, who was then the Department of Children and Family’s deputy secretary, awarded Deloitte Consulting a contract to modernize the state’s system for tracking Medicaid eligibility, even though it sought about $6 million more than a bid by a rival firm, Accenture.

A negotiating team of DCF staffers with computer and software expertise voted 7-0 to award the contract to Accenture on Jan. 31, 2013. After negotiations with Accenture stalled, the panel voted to reconsider Deloitte. Yet on March 5, 2013, the panel still voted for Accenture, this time by a vote of 4-3.

Three days later, Vitale chose Deloitte instead.

It was the latest coup for one of the world’s largest government contracting firms, which since 2007 has won $283.4 million in state contracts. It wields one of the most powerful lobbying corps in Tallahassee.

Deloitte, which already worked with DCF, was more familiar with the agency’s IBM mainframe system, she wrote in the two-page memo. Deloitte promised 87 staffers for the job compared to Accenture’s 36. Further, she wrote, Deloitte’s track record proved it was an “established player in this field nationwide.”

By then, Deloitte also was having trouble with CONNECT, the unemployment benefits website it was getting more than $40 million to design and build for another agency under Gov. Rick Scott — the Department of Economic Opportunity.

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AND SO BEGINS THE ONSLAUGHT OF STORIES PREVIEWING THE 2014 LEGISLATIVE SESSION…

LEGISLATIVE SESSION TO BE A MIX OF PRIORITIES via Brendan Farrington of the Associated Press

Tax cuts, stiffer sex offender laws, expanding school vouchers and, as always, the state budget will be among the issues Florida legislators will consider over their annual 60-day session that begins shortly.

But so will legalizing half-gallon beer growlers, raising the speed limit to 75 mph in some areas and finally making it legal for unmarried men and women to have sex in the homes they share.

Hundreds of bills have already filed for the session beginning March 4 – some mundane, some making a political point, some dealing with major policy changes and some that could affect Floridians’ everyday lives. And most will never make it to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk when lawmakers go home the first weekend in May.

The House and Senate leaders say, though, they will not be taking a step back and coasting during an election year, when many contentious issues are often left for another time.

“We really wanted to continue to push the envelope this year and not waste a session,” House Speaker Will Weatherford said.

Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz have laid out a five-point work plan for the session dealing with education; making the state more military friendly; making broad-based tax cuts; protecting children, the elderly and other vulnerable Floridians; and addressing government pension costs and ethics.

“The thought was we wanted it to be bigger and broader and hopefully bolder than the agenda we had last year,” said Weatherford.

But one issue that seems to be debated every year at the Capitol – gambling – won’t be high on the priority list of either lawmaker.

“We’re both very skeptical about gambling,” said Gaetz.

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SENATE PRESIDENT PREDICTS SESSION TO HAVE A QUICK START … via James Call of the Florida Current

The first day of a legislative session is usually filled with pomp and ceremony. The participants greet each other like long lost best friends amid so many floral arrangements that in some years the chambers have looked more like the setting of a florists’ convention than a place for making law

Senate President Gaetz and House Speaker Weatherford had a different idea last year, passing an ethics bill on the first day. Gaetz said they intend to do it again with this year protection of Floridians, veterans and residency requirements the focus of the first day of the 2014 legislative session.

Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed out a legislative package of bills aimed at cracking down on sexual predators. The measures include SB 522, which requires notification of the county sheriff when a sexual offender is released from the Civil Commitment Center; SB 524, which require colleges and universities to notify students when a sexual predator is on campus; SB 526, which increases sentences for adult-on-minor sex offenses; and SB 528 to increase registration requirements for sex offenders.

The bills are ready for a floor vote on March 4, the session’s first day.

Also waiting to be scheduled for a floor vote is SB 248. The measure clarifies regulations governing Assisted Living Facilities. It provides more authority to the Agency for Health Care Administration to revoke licenses; states that that Medicaid managed care plans are required to provide mental health services to residents; and sets fines for a variety of violations including the doubling of fines in some instances.

Gaetz said he expects a measure overhauling the Department of Children and Families child protection services will also be ready early in the session.

… OPPOSES NURSE PRACTITIONER BILL

Gaetz has also announced his opposition to a controversial House bill that could expand the power of nurse practitioners.

A House committee approved the bill (PCB SCHCWI 14-01) this week, which allows advanced registered nurse practitioners to provide treatment without supervision by a physician.

Although nurse practitioners support expanded power, physician groups have lobbied hard against the bill. Gaetz came out strongly against the proposal during an interview on Friday.

“I’m against it,” Gaetz said. “I think if you want to be a doctor, go to medical school.”

… SUPPORTS LATVALA/PETERS HOMELESS LEGISLATION

Gaetz also said more attention needs to be paid to a proposal to fund homeless services filed by Sen. Jack Latvala.

The Clearwater Republican joined Rep. Kathleen Peters to file matching proposals SB 1090 and HB 979 earlier this week.

Each proposal centers, in part, on “challenge grants,” funds matched by either local governments or private organizations as a way to provide housing services for the homeless.

Latvala said that there is a need for dedicated funding for programs like drug treatment and job training, which help individuals escape homelessness, instead of simply funding beds in homeless shelters.

ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS SAY ALEC IS BEHIND FLORIDA BILLS via Bruce Ritchie via the Florida Current

National climate and energy groups say Florida legislation dealing with hydraulic fracturing and federal pollution rules are being proposed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.

The groups said utilities and polluting industries are using the council, known as ALEC, and its model legislation to advance the agenda of deregulation of energy and air pollution.

HB 71 would require companies engaging in oil and natural gas hydraulic fracturing in Florida to disclose on a registry the chemicals that are used. HB 157 would provide for an exemption under state public records law for designated “trade secrets” involving the fracking disclosure.

On Thursday, Senate President Don Gaetz said during an interview that he has received information from ALEC but the group has no influence over him.

Aliya Haq, climate program special projects director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said HB 703 represents ALEC and the coal industry’s “dirty agenda” against greenhouse gas reduction rules expected soon from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

HB 703 introduced by Rep. Jimmy Patronis and covering a variety of environmental issues, requires the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to consider the cost of implementing any greenhouse gas reductions when developing a plan to meet federal regulations.

Patronis said he will ask that the greenhouse gas language be amended out of HB 703 when it receives its first committee hearing. He said he had no contact with ALEC about the language and said it had been suggested by a lobbyist, whom he could not recall.

SIX REPUBLICAN SENATORS DEFY GOP LEADERSHIP via Matt Dixon of the Florida Times-Union

The Republicans hold a 26-14 lead in the Florida Senate, which simple math will tell you means they should be able to muscle out any legislation they deem important.

Politics, though, isn’t always by the numbers.

In recent years, a bloc of six Republican senators has acted as a thorn in the side of the Senate’s GOP leadership, helping kill key bills. They include legislation to overhaul state pensions, education reform bills and a measure to privatize prisons in South Florida, among others.

If an early vote on this year’s watered-down pension reform measure is any indication, that choppy dynamic in the Senate will remain.

During a committee hearing on that proposal, state Sen. Latvala, the St. Petersburg Republican often viewed as the ringleader of the group, was the lone GOP member to vote against the bill. Pension reform is a top priority for leaders in both chambers, but the vote sends a clear signal it will be no easy lift.

BILL FILED TO HONOR JAMEIS WINSTON

Sen. Bill Montford filed SR 1200  honoring Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston from Florida State University. Reps. Marti Coley and Alan Williams filed similar measure (HR 9003) last month.

The Senate measure “recognizes the outstanding performance of Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston during the 2013 football season and congratulates him on his election as the 2013 recipient of the Heisman Memorial Trophy.”

In addition to winning the Heisman, Winston also led FSU Seminoles to an undefeated season as the national football championship.

FLORIDA RETIREMENT SYSTEM IN FLUX via Jeff Burley of the Tallahassee Democrat

When newly hired state-agency workers and teachers sign up for their retirement plans starting July 2015, the benefits-rich pension plan may no longer be an option for them.

Instead, they may have to choose between a 401(k)-like investment plan, which the state currently offers, and a new cash-balance plan, which mixes elements of an investment plan with those of a traditional pension. Experts say such plans generally do not offer benefits as generous as Florida’s pension plan, though proponents dispute that.

A bill moving through the Senate (SB 1114) would create a cash-balance plan in Florida and close the pension to all public workers except for special-risk employees including law enforcement and firefighters. As the bill is written, it would apply only to new hires entering the Florida Retirement System after July 1, 2015. Current employees would not be affected.

The bill, which came out of the Senate Community Affairs Committee chaired by Rep. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, is part of a renewed push to overhaul FRS this legislative session. Simpson also is supporting legislation (SB 1110) in which the state would match up to 2 percent or a maximum of $1,200 toward employee deferred-compensation accounts, a proposal designed to beef up retirement accounts.

Senate President Gaetz, House Speaker Weatherford, and others are hoping to free the state from the prospect of having to put $500 million a year into the retirement system to close a $21.6-billion unfunded liability. Last year, attempts to overhaul FRS easily passed the House but died in the Senate by a margin of only two votes.

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DANIA CASINO & JAI ALAI OPENS via Enrique Flor of the Miami Herald

With a clip of scissors by the popular diva from Buenos Aires Susana Giménez, the Argentinian group headed by millionaire businessman Cristóbal López inaugurated the remodeled Dania Casino & Jai Alai in Dania Beach.

López, considered the “Casinos Czar” in Argentina, was joyful during the Thursday night inauguration, the first time that his group has expanded its operations outside of his country.

With an investment of $85 million, the group Ondiss Corp. remodeled the facilities of the recreational complex located at 305 East Dania Beach Blvd. Ondiss Corp. is controlled by a network of companies created first in Argentina and later in Great Britain and Spain, according to public documents.

López heads a diversified conglomerate in Argentina that encompasses casinos, transportation, oil, construction and finance companies. With other investors from that country he put together the group that last year took control of 75 percent of Dania Entertainment Center.

Dania Beach Mayor Walter Duke said the most important thing in the reopening of the Dania Casino & Jai Alai is the employment impact on the community.

DISNEY PARK PRICES TO JUMP AGAIN SUNDAY via Desiree Stennett of the Orlando Sentinel

Starting Sunday, Disney’s Magic Kingdom guests will have to fork over a few extra dollars for single-day park admission.

The tickets will cost $99 for adults and children 10 and up.

This $4 price hike keeps Magic Kingdom the most expensive Disney park.

A one-day ticket for Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios will go from $90 to $94.

This is the second price hike in less than a year.

Universal Orlando also raised its prices last summer. A one-day, one-park ticket is $92.

SOUTH FLORIDA’S NEW GAY HIGH SEASON via Johnny Diaz of the South Florida SunSenitnel

Within South Florida’s tourism boom, the LGBT community has carved a new season. It’s all part of a giant rainbow welcome mat, with high-profile activities extending well into the spring and summer months, when many snowbirds have packed up for home.

“There is definitely an unofficial gay season in South Florida,” said Mark Haines, founder and CEO of the popular gay events listing website, jumponmarkslist.com.

Haines, who has been running “Mark’s List” for 10 years, said he’s noticed the difference this year: He’s been swamped trying to accommodate requests for event listings happening in the next few months, particularly March through June.

While Ian Smith, organizer of Miami Beach Bruthaz, a gay black party weekend, said he plans his event for July to avoid the springtime gridlock.

What began in 2006 as a group gathering of 50 friends to raise awareness about coming out and HIV in the black community has grown into an annual event that draws about 600 gays and lesbians for club parties, movie and museum nights.

South Florida has done a good job of self-promotion. Strong marketing campaigns aimed at gay vacationers can be traced back to 1996, when the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau took out an ad in The Advocate magazine touting the city’s hotels, restaurants and beaches for gay travelers.

The marketing has since evolved. The bureau has a “Beach-on-Wheels” display — with sand and models tossing beach balls — that stops at major U.S. cities promoting greater Fort Lauderdale. The tourism bureau has also folded its LGBT message into its more mainstream “Hello Sunny” marketing in other cities.

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CD 13 SPECIAL ELECTION

CD 13 CANDIDATES FACING OFF MORE IN TV ADS THAN IN PERSON via Curtis Kruger of the Tampa Bay Times

Their campaigns blast each other with negative ads, but Pinellas County’s Democratic and Republican congressional candidates seemed reluctant this week to do something more basic:

Show up together at candidate forums.

The Jolly campaign canceled appearances this week at two forums it previously committed to — in one case bowing out on the day of the event, according to organizers.

The Sink campaign has already declined to attend either of those events, and has turned down several other invitations for debates or forums.

Meanwhile, Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby agreed to both of this week’s forums, and said voters ought to have the chance to see the candidates in person, together.

All three candidates have agreed to three debates — one was earlier this month and two are scheduled for next week — which is more than in many campaigns. And the candidates individually have scheduled multiple events in which they talk firsthand to voters.

Sink declined, but Jolly and Overby agreed to attend an 11 a.m. forum Sunday at the Centre of Palm Harbor, 1500 16th St., sponsored by the Palm Harbor Area Senior Council. It’s outside of the congressional district, but open to anyone.

GOP LEAD IN ABSENTEE BALLOTS TOO SLIM TO COMFORT JOLLY via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

At week’s end, Pinellas residents had cast nearly 72,000 absentee ballot votes ahead of the March 11 special election. … Of those, 42 percent came from Republicans and 40 percent from Democrats, so you might think this is good news for Republican nominee David Jolly.

Wrong. Democrats and Republicans alike have predicted Republicans would have a significant turnout advantage in Congressional District 13, probably by at least 7 percentage points. That Republicans have only a 2-point advantage has to be troubling for Jolly.

Consider that in 2012, Republicans turned in nearly 6 percent more absentee ballot votes than Democrats in the district. That was a presidential year where the Barack Obama machine had a huge get-out-the-Democratic-vote effort.

Jolly allies think 2010 is a more comparable year. If so, Republicans should be even more worried by the early vote. In 2010 (the district lines were slightly but not significantly different), Republicans accounted for 46.4 percent of the nearly 112,000 absentee votes cast and Democrats 35.4 percent.

SMITH’S LOSERS OF THE WEEK IN FLA. POLITICS: Jolly and Sink – “Enough already with the pandering, fear-mongering TV ads from you and your allies trying to mislead Pinellas voters about each others’ plans for Social Security and Medicare. Stop treating the voters as stupid, and try giving honest, plausible answers for how you see keeping these programs solvent and secure.”

TAMPA TRIB PROFILES: David Jolly here; Lucas Overby here; Alex Sink here.

MEANWHILE … FEC COMPLAINT TARGETS LIZBETH BENACQUISTO FOR CAMPAIGN AD SPENDING via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of NaplesNews.com

A Southwest Florida man has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against congressional candidate and state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto.

The complaint — filed Feb. 18 by Nicholas Maietta, a Collier County resident — contends Benacquisto violated federal election laws with a campaign advertisement that aired on local television stations earlier this year.

The advertisement was for Benacquisto’s state Senate re-election campaign, but it raised eyebrows since she didn’t have an opponent when the ad first rolled out. Earlier this month, Benacquisto announced she was running for Congress.

The complaint contends Benacquisto began running the advertisements to boost name recognition before she filed to run for office, violating federal law by using money raised for a state race to bolster a future congressional run.

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“BREWS WITH BRANDES” TONIGHT Full blog post here

State Senator Brandes is asking friends and supporters to join him tonight for a “Brews with Brandes” mixer in St. Petersburg’s Edge District.

The party — billed as a “relaxing evening” with the Senator — will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Green Bench Brewing Company, 1133 Baum Avenue, St. Petersburg. The reception will feature food and a special discount on a number of craft beers.

Green Bench is the newest brewery in the city’s booming Edge District, running between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street to 16th Street, along Central Avenue and First Avenues north and south.

RSVPs are recommended by emailing Edward@electjeffbrandes.com.

JOE NEGRON AT BROWARD DAYS

Broward Days will hold a reception featuring Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Riverside Hotel, 620 East Las Olas Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale.

LEE COUNTY GOP CHAIR CRITICIZED via Betty Parker of the News-Press

Lee County’s Republican Executive Committee Chairman Terry Miller’s work as a political consultant has drawn some buzz from some GOP candidates and supporters for months; this week former state Rep. Trudi Williams, a Republican, wrote a letter to state Republican Chair Lenny Curry regarding what she calls a conflict of interest.

Williams asks how a party chair can be neutral in contested primaries when his clients are running, and says it has a chilling effect on recruiting good candidates, who may be concerned about fair treatment if they run against the chairman’s clients.

Miller’s clients include state Reps. Matt Caldwell and Ray Rodrigues, and County Commissioner Brian Hamman. All three run this fall; two have contested primaries.

Williams’ letter says that while there may be no rule against chairs working for candidates, she thinks it calls judgment and fair play into question, and asks that Curry remove Miller as chairman.

MARK PAFFORD RAISING COIN

Incoming House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford has a fundraiser tonight at Tree’s Wings and Ribs, 603 Royal Palm Beach Blvd., Royal Palm Beach. The event begins at 5:30 p.m.

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CLEARWATER DIRECT-MAIL FIRM TARGETED IN FBI PROBE OVER CONNECTICUT HOUSE MAILERS Full blog post here

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into a Florida direct-mail company to determine if Connecticut House Republicans were under pressure to use its services for campaign mailings.

FBI agents subpoenaed two direct mail companies, one in Florida and another in Ohio to review contracts and correspondence with state House GOP, reports the Morning Journal News out of Lisbon, Ohio.

State caucus members and the House Republican Campaign Committee and the New Friends PAC had used the firms — Clearwater-based Direct Mail Systems Inc. and Ohio-based King Strategic Communications. The FBI stepped in when Connecticut Republican State Rep. Dan Carter switched from the Ohio to the Florida firms.

Carter told investigators the move was because the Ohio company raised its prices.

In addition to documents related to direct-mail companies, federal authorities asked for all correspondence — text messages, emails, letters and memos — exchanged between House Republican staff and the caucus chief of staff, former state GOP chair George D. Gallo, who resigned Thursday when news of the investigation broke.

Authorities are also asking for documents and correspondence regarding The Vinco Group, a consulting firm with ties to Gallo.

Veteran Connecticut State Rep. Arthur O’Neill told the AP he had not talked with the FBI, but he used Direct Mail Systems for his most recent re-election campaign.

“I don’t believe anybody who has been asked any questions did anything wrong,” O’Neill added, and that he has not seen any evidence of any wrongdoing by Gallo.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE FEDERAL LOBBYISTS GONE? via Lee Fang of The Nation

On paper, the lobbying industry is quickly disappearing. In January, records indicated that for a third straight year, overall spending on lobbying decreased. Lobbyists themselves continue to deregister. In 2013, the number of registered lobbyists dipped to 12,281, the lowest number on file since 2002.

But experts say that lobbying isn’t dying; instead, it’s simply going underground. The problem, says American University professor James Thurber, who has studied congressional lobbying for more than thirty years, is that “most of what is going on in Washington is not covered” by the lobbyist-registration system. Thurber, who is currently advising the American Bar Association’s lobbying-reform task force, adds that his research suggests the true number of working lobbyists is closer to 100,000.

A loophole-ridden law, poor enforcement, the development of increasingly sophisticated strategies that enlist third-party validators and create faux-grassroots campaigns, along with an Obama administration executive order that gave many in the profession a disincentive to register—all of these forces have combined to produce a near-total collapse of the system that was designed to keep tabs on federal lobbying.

While the official figure puts the annual spending on lobbying at $3.2 billion in 2013, Thurber estimates that the industry brings in more than $9 billion a year. Other experts have made similar estimates, but no one is sure how large the industry has become. Lee Drutman, a lobbying expert at the Sunlight Foundation, says that at least twice as much is spent on lobbying as is officially reported.

Trade association documents, bankruptcy filings and reports from political consulting firms reviewed by The Nation show that many of America’s largest corporations have spent much more on lobbying than they’ve officially disclosed. In some cases, the quarterly registration system, used by the public and journalists, shows only one-tenth of the amount that firms spend to win favorable treatment by the federal government.

This explosion in spending on lobbying activities may not be visible in the lobbyist-registration system, but it is evident in Washington. The growth of the influence industry has created a new generation of millionaires while reshaping the region in its wake. The District of Columbia skyline, once dominated by monuments, is now dotted with cranes building some $5.5 billion in new development. The 14th Street and H Street corridors, formerly gritty sections of the city, are lined with more than forty new bars and restaurants. Census figures show that four of the five wealthiest counties in the country are now DC suburbs. In one of those counties—Fairfax—high-end carmakers Tesla and Aston Martin have opened new operations to keep up with demand.

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CONTEXT FLORIDA: PENNSYLVANIA PIPELINE, SOUTHERN BAPTISTS, NEW FOCUS ON POT AND LORAX & THE FDOT

On Context Florida: With departure of Florida State University President Eric Barron, and the leaving of former State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan, both to Pennsylvania, Ed Moore wonders if there is an educational pipeline between Florida and the Keystone State. A survey of the Southern Baptist Convention found that most Florida Baptists affirm “inerrancy,” which says that the Bible is without error and to be taken literally, writes Cary McMullenGary Stein says it’s time that we shift the medical and judicial focus regarding marijuana. Dr. Seuss’ Lorax would have a thing or two to say about the way the Florida Department of Transportation clear-cut a stand of live oaks in the expansion of Interstate 10 late last year, says Shannon Nickinson.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

TWEET, TWEET: @GbennettPost: Milestone alert: I’ve reached 4,000 print bylines in 21 yrs at @pbpost. I have measured out my life with nut grafs…

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CONGRATULATIONS to Sean Shaw on his marriage to Tami Trimming.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to our great friend Amanda Taylor. Celebrating today is lobbyist Matt Farrar, Susan K. Goldstein, and Rep. Carl Zimmermann,

SPOTTED: Congressional staffer Joel Brown dressed as Spiderman at Bill Young III’s birthday party.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.