The Buzz: Morgan & Morgan law firm a heavy donor to Charlie Crist's campaign

Published April 24 2016
Updated April 24 2016

The Morgan & Morgan personal injury law firm, as millions of Florida TV watchers know, is FOR THE PEOPLE. And glancing through the most recent fundraising report filed by Democratic congressional candidate Charlie Crist of St. Pete, it's clear Morgan & Morgan also remains very much FOR CHARLIE CRIST. More than 60 percent of the donations — and half of the $271,000 Crist raised in the first three months of 2016 — came from Morgan & Morgan lawyers.

"Charlie is a member of our firm and he is deeply loved and admired. I think it is just a reflection of what all the lawyers think of him as a person and friend," said John Morgan, leader of the firm where Crist works more as a rainmaker than a practicing lawyer.

Morgan supported Crist's unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2014, but said in an email that the extent of his involvement in Crist's congressional campaign was sending an email on Crist's behalf to members of the firm. "Only thing I am bankrolling is (medical marijuana) and my children's inheritance. (:"

He also explained why his sons have been appearing in Morgan & Morgan's TV commercials much more frequently than he has: "I am passing the torch. Old, fat and gray doesn't sell as well as young and handsome."

Crist is running for Congressional District 13, a heavily Democratic district now represented by Republican U.S. Senate candidate David Jolly. He faces a primary challenge from first-time candidate Eric Lynn. Crist has raised more money, but as of March 31, Lynn had $547,999 available to spend in the primary and Crist had $450,974.

The little-known Lynn will need every penny to compete against universally known Crist.

Jolly on '60 Minutes'

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jolly is scheduled to appear today on 60 Minutes, talking about a campaign finance proposal he calls the "Stop Act."

The legislation would make it illegal for federal elected officials to personally ask for campaign cash.

"When one side of the aisle tells incoming freshmen to spend at least 20 hours a week raising money and the other gives you instructions on how to secure donations over the phone, it tells the world that Congress today has made fundraising more important than actually getting things done," Rep. Jolly said.

His rivals for the Senate Republican nomination dismiss the Stop Act as a gimmick and excuse for the Pinellas Republican's weak fundraising, but Jolly's political team sees a case of good policy also being great politics.

"The 60 Minutes profile of David Jolly's fight to stop members of Congress from shaking down the public for money will turn what was a GOP field of relative unknowns into a crusade led by one," said Jolly media consultant Adam Goodman of Tampa.

The shows airs at 7 p.m. today.

Jolly is running to replace Sen. Marco Rubio against four fellow Republicans: U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach; Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami; Orlando defense contractor Todd Wilcox; and Bradenton home builder Carlos Beruff. The primary is Aug. 30.

It's the third time in as many weeks that a Florida politician has been featured on 60 Minutes, and — surprise, surprise — each in a positive light. Last week, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater appeared to talk about a new Florida law requiring life insurance companies to do more to track down beneficiaries. The week before that, former Sen. Bob Graham spoke about his efforts to press the Obama administration to declassify records concerning Saudi Arabia's connections to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Graham is scheduled to appear on NBC's Meet the Press today, as well.

Sembler vs. marijuana

With Jeb Bush out of the race, Mel Sembler has another 2016 focus: defeating Florida's medical marijuana ballot initiative.

Sembler tells the Buzz that he and his wife, Betty, plan to raise at least $10 million, exceeding their successful 2014 effort that took in $7.5 million.

A presidential election will get Democrats, and young voters in general, to the polls, which favors the pro-marijuana side. Polling shows the measure clearing the needed 60 percent threshold.

Sembler said the growing financial boon that is pot is another hurdle. "It's always a challenge, particularly when there's a major profit on the other side and there's no profit on our side.

"We're trying to save lives and people's brains," the Drug Free America founder said. "It's not a medicine."

Sembler has also been asked by the governors in Arizona and Massachusetts to help defeat efforts in those states.

Alex Leary and Michael Auslen contributed to this week's Buzz.

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