TALLAHASSEE — Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis in late May sent a stern letter to 100,000 business owners licensed to do business with the state.
He wanted to know: Were they owned or controlled by the Communist Party of China? If so, they were “requested” to respond within 30 days in order to “avoid necessary follow up by the Department.” Even if they weren’t, they were “requested” to respond, too.
More than a month later, just 17,000 businesses had responded, even though the letter bore the the state seal. And Patronis’ office can’t yet say how many, if any, of the responses were from companies that were majority-owned or controlled by the Communist Party of China.
Patronis said the letter writing campaign, at a cost of $56,000, was intended to recoup losses the state has suffered as a result of the coronavirus, which originated in China. In April, he sent a demand letter to Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai, accusing the Community Party of “incompetent and fraudulent actions” in response to COVID-19 and threatening to go after state vendors owned or controlled by the country.
“This is to help the Legislature, governor and maybe the attorney general for restitution,” Patronis recently told former Trump White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Newsmax.
But it doesn’t appear his effort has much teeth. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Ashley Moody, who is responsible for suing on behalf of Floridians, said her office had not been contacted by Patronis’ office about the letters.
And a Patronis spokesman acknowledged that responding to the letters was voluntary, not mandatory.
“When it comes to taxpayer money, the CFO believes that more transparency is better than less transparency and encourages vendors to respond,” spokesman Devin Galetta wrote in an email. “The provided information will be used to construct legislative priorities for the next regular session and other additional activities to hold China accountable.”
The spokesman said the money for the letters came available after Patronis’ office suspended instituted cost-saving measures for his office, including stopping employee travel, which saved $250,000.
Patronis’ effort is part of a larger one by Republicans across the country to go after China for costs related to COVID-19. In April, the National Republican Senatorial Committee sent a 57-page memo telling Republicans to “attack China.”
Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines
Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
“Don’t defend Trump, other than the China Travel Ban — attack China,” the memo stated, according to Politico.
Republicans’ effort to get China to pay for COVID-19 costs has been futile — so far. That’s because states mostly can’t sue other countries, thanks to federal law granting other nations immunity. Moody, like other Republican attorneys general, wants to change that. Last month, she sent a letter to Congress asking that they change the law to allow states to go after China.
“Attorney General Moody has been clear — China must be held accountable for their role in the COVID-19 pandemic,” spokeswoman Lauren Cassedy said in a statement.
• • •
Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage
HOW CORONAVIRUS IS SPREADING IN FLORIDA: Find the latest numbers for your county, city or zip code.
SO YOU WANT TO LEAVE YOUR HOUSE? Read these 10 tips first
UNEMPLOYMENT Q&A: We answer your questions about Florida unemployment benefits
GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information.
HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.