Does Florida's GOP have a divided caucus over casinos?
Florida's three Cabinet officers announced their opposition to the destination resort casino bill Thursday as Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam appeared at a news conference in the Cabinet meeting room with the Disney-backed No Casinos.
Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater told the News Service of Florida later that he also doesn't like the bill to bring three $2 billion so-called "destination resorts" to South Florida.
The other member of the executive branch who leads the Cabinet, Gov. Rick Scott has been silent. Unlike almost every governor since Reubin Askew before him (with the exception of Charlie Crist,) Scott has not denounced expanded gambling, is open to destination resorts, doesn't want the state budget to be dependent on gambling but will await a final bill.
Senate President Mike Haridopolos has said he wants the bill to get a Senate vote and House Speaker Dean Cannon has said he is skeptical but has not openly opposed it.
Meanwhile, as this issue lingers on, the casino giants and parimutuels have flooded the Republican Party of Florida with campaign cash -- more than $500,000 in the third quarter alone. Disney and others have contributed heavily as well, financing No Casinos and its television ads, in an aggressive attempt to kill the bill. Disney wrote a check to the RPOF for $115,000 in the third quarter. And, according to the lobbying reports for the third quarter, the lobbying firms that made the most money were those also representing gambling clients.
On the other side, working on behalf of the bill are not only bill sponsors Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale and Rep. Erik Fresen of Miami but big political names. Hired by Genting alone is former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz Balart, Miami School Board Member Carlos Curbelo, former Tampa state Rep. Trey Traviesa, former Jacksonville senator and state Education Commissioner Jim Horne, and one of the RPOF's biggest fundraisers, Brian Ballard.
Another sign of what money can do: the two business lobbying groups, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida are lined up on opposite sides of the issue, each representing the interests of their most prominent members -- Disney in the case of the chamber and Genting's lead lobbyist, the Foley Lardner law firm, in the case of AIF.
Chamber president Mark Wilson said he was proud to stand next to the "courageous" leaders, Bondi and Putnam, on Thursday. When asked if that means that Scott, Haridopolos and Cannon are not courageous, Wilson disagreed with the question.
Even conservative GOP political consultants are divided on the issue. Check out this Twitter exchange between Albert Martinez, @albertmartinez, and David Johnson, @DJGroup, yesterday:
Martinez: @PamBondi deserves a lot of praise for going against her party and the special interests in Tallahassee to oppose expanded gambling. 10:10am, Dec 08 from Web
Johnson: Going against "her party?" That will be news to many.
Martinez: Correct me if I am wrong, but has the GOP leadership in either chamber come out against? Any of the other cabinet? The Governor?
Johnson: First, I dont know if any of those you mention have come out in favor, which is required to be "going against her party"