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Federal investigators circling Ray Sansom

Federal authorities are closing in on their investigation of former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom, requiring the House to provide by Thursday records related to his travel and that of several aides.

A former Sansom staffer has also been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury in Pensacola on June 21.

The FBI and IRS have long been looking at aspects of Sansom's political life, which crashed just as he was taking the reins as speaker in 2008. Sansom had taken an unadvertised $110,000 job at a Panhandle college, exposing questions about millions of dollars he inserted into the budget for the school. He faced state charges for a $6 million appropriation that a developer friend wanted to use for his private jet business. The case was dropped midtrial in March, with the prosecutor saying he could not proceed due to a judge limiting key witness testimony. Sansom insisted he did nothing wrong.

As part of the investigation, records showed that Sansom used a Republican Party of Florida-issued American Express card for more than $170,000 in expenses, including taking his family to Europe as part of a trade mission with Gov. Charlie Crist. A state Republican Party audit concluded that not all of Sansom's charges were for party business, raising possible tax questions.

3 justices in the crosshairs

Using a decision that kept a vote on health care reform off the 2010 ballot as a rallying point, a conservative group is launching a campaign to unseat three Florida Supreme Court justices.

Jesse Phillips, a founder of the group Citizen2Citizen, has started the "Restore Justice 2012" campaign.

For now, the group has its sights on Supreme Court Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis. The three are up for a merit retention vote in 2012. They were part of a 5-2 majority of justices that ruled a proposed constitutional amendment crafted by state lawmakers to target federal health care reform was too vague and struck it from the 2010 ballot.

Phillips describes the ruling as inappropriate "judicial activism."

"When a super-majority of our elected representatives vote to ask citizens a ballot question, the citizens should be asked that question," Phillips said. "They shouldn't only be asked questions the court likes."

Mayanne Downs, president of the Florida Bar Association, said the judges should be evaluated on much more than one decision, and questioned the use of "judicial activism."

"As so often is the case in political matters, it has become a buzzword. It has become a phrase that describes a ruling they don't like," she said. "Judges are supposed to follow the law. They're not supposed to make up law, and they don't. They follow the law. Where the law is unclear, they clarify it. That has to be done."

Legislators this spring approved the constitutional amendment for the 2012 ballot, this time without the language the court found problematic. If 60 percent of voters approve the measure, it will prohibit laws similar to the "individual mandate," a key component of federal health care reform that requires people to buy insurance.

Putnam endorses Haridopolos

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Haridopolos had already won the endorsement of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and was so pleased with House Speaker Dean Cannon's endorsement that he announced it twice. Now Haridopolos is touting support of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. "Commissioner Putnam told me that he was endorsing me for U.S. Senate because 'Mike is a true leader who has proven he will take on the tough issues that face our nation and is the conservative who can win this race.' "

Times staff writers Janet Zink and Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.

Federal investigators circling Ray Sansom 06/15/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 10:18am]

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