The work history of a leading Republican congressional candidate has become a point of contention in her race after she was anonymously accused of once lobbying for a liberal dark money group.
A mass text message sent out to District 13 voters last week suggests that Amanda Makki, the top GOP contender to take on U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist in November, lobbied on behalf of the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a major underwriter of Democratic causes and candidates. It’s a charge that Makki denies.
In a tweet on Saturday, Makki called the text messaging “More FAKE NEWS” and a “smear campaign with LIES.” Without evidence, she accused Crist, D-St. Petersburg, of lobbing the attack. Crist’s campaign denied any involvement.
The text messages included links to Makki’s lobbying profile on opensecrets.org, which is run by the Center for Responsive Politics and tracks political money and influence, and an article by Politico. OpenSecrets shows Makki lobbied on behalf of Sixteen Thirty in 2018. The Politico story explained how the Sixteen Thirty Fund spent $140 million to help Democrats and left-leaning ballot initiatives in the midterm election that year — including $2.65 million to back Amendment 4, which Florida voters passed and restores voting rights to some felons.
Makki’s campaign issued a full-throated denial of her involvement with those efforts. “Amanda Makki never did any work for the Sixteen Thirty Fund,” her spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said in an email Tuesday.
However, a federal lobbying disclosure for Makki’s former employer, Pittsburgh-based K&L Gates, listed her as a lobbyist for Sixteen Thirty during the second quarter of 2018. Bascom said that was an “error” that “was corrected back in May.”
“She was a partner at one of the largest law firms in the country with thousands of lawyers and tens of thousands of clients,” Bascom wrote.
A third quarter 2018 disclosure amendment that K&L Gates filed in May 2019 said Makki “is no longer expected to act as a lobbyist” for Sixteen Thirty. Asked to explain how that form proves Makki never lobbied for Sixteen Thirty, Bascom wrote: “What you are looking at is a law firm filing that was filed in error and has been corrected.”
Neither K&L Gates nor the Sixteen Thirty Fund responded to multiple phone calls and emails for comment.
Makki previously worked as a Capitol Hill staffer for Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, then took a job with pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk. She became a healthcare lobbyist in K&L Gates’ Washington office in 2017, but also did work on behalf of the bus and cigar industries, Liberty Media Corporation (which owns the Atlanta Braves, Sirius XM and Formula One) and First Church of Christ, Scientist, according to the lobbying database. She continued to work for K&L Gates into 2019.
The latest text message is not the first time Makki’s background has been scrutinized during this campaign. Veteran and candidate George Buck previously lobbed attacks at Makki over her background, including in a television ad in which Buck calls her a “swamper” and said she worked for a senator who voted against Justice Brett Kavanaugh (Murkowski voted present on his confirmation vote).
Buck also said his campaign sent out a peer-to-peer text message earlier this month that echoed the television ad. Makki on Facebook erroneously attributed that text message to Crist.
Buck denied sending out the latest hit on Makki. James Blair, a spokesman for fellow veteran Anna Paulina Luna, declined to say if the text message came from her campaign because they “don’t discuss campaign strategy publicly.”
Makki is a strong contender in the race, according to a recent survey of District 13 Republican voters by St. Pete Polls, with nearly 29 percent favoring her. Buck, who lost to Crist in 2018, was in second, with nearly 21 percent. Luna, who has support from influential names in President Donald Trump’s orbit, including U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, came in third with nearly 13 percent. Retired lawyer Sheila Griffin and business owner Sharon Newby finished far behind.
Makki has the backing of House Republican leaders, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and has raised the most money, hauling in more than $1 million. Buck is second with nearly $900,000, while Luna is third with almost $800,000. Neither Griffin or Newby have cracked six digits.
District 13 includes all of St. Petersburg and much of Pinellas County. The primary election is Aug. 18.