Sunday, May 20, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Scott, Putnam, Weatherford should explain Texas trips

When prominent Florida politicians repeatedly gather in Texas for secret hunting weekends as guests of a special interest, the public has an interest in who attended, who paid and who said what. Yet Gov. Rick Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, House Speaker Will Weatherford and other legislative leaders are refusing to provide basic details about their so-called fundraising trips to a legendary Texas ranch leased by Florida sugar interests. The outrage is that these trips appear to be legal and that these politicians are more interested in privately courting a big political donor than in publicly explaining themselves to the voters who elected them.

To keep repeated rendezvous private, U.S. Sugar and elected officials have exploited intentional blind spots in the state's gift ban and campaign finance laws. State law doesn't ban officials from accepting meals, travel or coverage of other expenses when they are raising money for a political party. And campaign finance records submitted by the Republican Party of Florida can be opaque about exactly how such money was spent.

Tampa Bay Times' reporters Michael Van Sickler and Craig Pittman found that since late 2011, U.S. Sugar has donated more than $95,000 in in-kind contributions to the Republican Party of Florida for at least 20 weekend trips. The destination was undisclosed. But the contributions came within days of more than a dozen Florida politicians registering for Texas hunting licenses. U.S. Sugar has built a private lodge on thousands of acres it leases from King Ranch in southeast Texas. Beyond Scott and Putnam, those who have benefited from the private retreat include past, present or anticipated future House Speakers Dean Cannon of Winter Park, Weatherford of Wesley Chapel, Steve Crisafulli of Merritt Island and Richard Corcoran of Trinity; legislative budget leaders and other prominent members.

Just what happens at King Ranch when Tallahassee's elite decamps there? Apparently not much fundraising. Key Republican Party officials said they weren't even aware of the weekend junkets. Campaign finance records show no pattern of party contributions commensurate with hunting trip dates, but there are expenditures for travel, a taxidermist and lunch at a local Texas diner.

Putnam won't say much about his trips there other than to confirm there haven't been "more than a handful" and that he hunted deer and hogs. Never mind he is the state's chief agriculture regulator, overseeing various operations not just of U.S. Sugar but also King Ranch, which has significant Florida holdings, including major citrus operations.

Scott, who won the Republican primary four years ago in part by blasting his opponent, Attorney General Bill McCollum, for accepting Big Sugar donations, is now reaping the same largesse for his re-election bid. And within a month of his trip to King Ranch in February 2013, he tapped a King Ranch Florida employee to serve on the South Florida Water Management board — the most powerful entity in South Florida when it comes to the nexus of agriculture and water use, including the cleanup of the Everglades. No wonder nobody wants to talk about trips to Texas.

Elected leaders hiding behind political party fundraising to avoid discussing their extended interactions with special interests at a private retreat a thousand miles away? Floridians have every reason to suspect they have something to hide. Time for Scott, Putnam, Weatherford and the rest to explain just what that is.

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Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the state’s 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

A state investigation raises even more concern about medical errors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the venerable St. Petersburg institution’s lack of candor to the community. Regulators have determined the hospital broke Florida law by ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

St. Petersburg’s 3-year-old recycling program has reached an undesirable tipping point, with operating costs exceeding the income from selling the recyclable materials. The shift is driven by falling commodity prices and new policies in China that cu...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Housing Secretary Ben Carson has a surefire way to reduce the waiting lists for public housing: Charge more to people who already live there. Hitting a family living in poverty with rent increases of $100 or more a month would force more people onto ...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Voters should decide whether legal sports betting comes to Florida

Editorial: Voters should decide whether legal sports betting comes to Florida

It’s a safe bet Florida will get caught up in the frenzy to legalize wagering on sports following the U.S. Supreme Court opinion this week that lifted a federal ban. Struggling horse and dog tracks would love a new line of business, and state l...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/16/18