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Andrew Gillum shifts campaign cash to a new nonprofit, blocking it from public view

A nonprofit makes it easier to spend directly on voter registration, the Democrat’s spokesman said.
Former Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum speaks to supporters during a gathering at the Florida Democratic Party state conference, Friday, June 7, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Published Jul. 11
Updated Jul. 11

Andrew Gillum has insisted that fundraising for his new voter registration project wasn’t affected by news that federal authorities are looking into his campaign for governor.

In fact, he said, he raised $250,000 in the days after the story first appeared in the Tampa Bay Times.

Whether that’s true is no longer public knowledge.

A new nonprofit created by Gillum is taking over his effort to register and re-engage 1 million Democratic voters by the 2020 election. Donations to his cause will now go to the nonprofit, Forward Florida Action, instead of his political committee, Forward Florida.

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Gillum moved $500,000 from the political committee to the nonprofit last month, according to campaign finance reports filed Wednesday.

What Gillum does with that money will largely be shielded from public view. Unlike his political committee, which is required to itemize every expenditure and report it to the state each month, the nonprofit does not have to disclose its spending.

Nor will the nonprofit have to account for where it gets its money. The organization’s annual tax documents will be public, but those include far less information and it will be more than a year before they’re made available.

Gillum told reporters in Orlando he had raised $800,000 in a few weeks including $250,000 after the Times reported that the FBI had subpoenaed records related to his 2018 campaign.

None of that showed up on his political committee’s most recent campaign finance report. Instead, Gillum’s political committee reported raising only $3,900 last month. It apparently went to the nonprofit.

Gillum announced the new nonprofit in an email to his supporters last month. The organization held a well-attended reception at the Democratic Party’s June summit in Orlando where Gillum was received like a rock star.

What’s the purpose of this organizational change? Gillum spokesman Joshua Karp said the nonprofit “is allowed to directly spend money on voter registration efforts” in ways his political committee could not.

"That fundraising is going very well, and we’re proceeding with vital investments in progressive infrastructure in this state,” Karp said. Gillum is not taking a salary with the nonprofit.

About $3.4 million remains in Gillum’s political committee. Forward Florida reported $95,000 in other expenditures in June, the largest being a $25,000 payment to powerhouse law firm Stearns Weaver Miller.

The firm, which also represented Gillum during the campaign, has received the same amount from the committee every month this year as legal inquires have swirled around the Democrat.

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Gillum was for years the subject of speculation about a FBI probe into corruption in Tallahassee city hall, including during his time as mayor, though he was never charged and always insisted he wasn’t the target. Earlier this year, the FBI issued new subpoenas that appeared to shift focus to Gillum’s 2018 campaign for governor.

The federal grand jury subpoena issued in March demanded information on the former Democratic candidate for governor, his campaign, his political committee, a wealthy donor, a charity he worked for and a former employer.

Gillum previously said he was aware of the subpoenas but did not know what they were looking into. He said that he had not been contacted by the FBI on this matter. Karp declined to comment on whether Gillum has since received a subpoena or spoken with authorities.

One of the people named in the subpoena, Gillum’s friend and political adviser Sharon Lettman-Hicks, is leading the joint effort by Gillum and the Florida Democratic Party to register more voters. The state party continues to pay Lettman-Hicks’ salary of $10,400 a month, according to the party’s campaign finance reports.

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