1. Florida Politics

Sweet deals are business as usual in Florida government

Published May 25, 2013

It is an amazing place, that capital of ours.

A city where campaign donations are forever chaste, and conflicts of interest can never be found. If money trades hands and a favorable decision follows, it's not considered shady at all.

In Tallahassee, that is what is known as a coincidence.

We were reminded of this Candyland innocence again this week when a St. Petersburg company got $52 million worth of business from the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

Did Heritage Property and Casualty Corp. get a corporate care package because it had donated more than $140,000 to Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican Party of Florida?

Gosh, no.

It had to be Heritage's long and distinguished record of service (Nine months and counting!) and the president's intimate familiarity with insurance regulators (Numerous complaints and fines at two previous companies!) that made Heritage more desirable than any other outfit.

As for the campaign donations that began flowing into Tallahassee two months after Heritage opened its doors?

Total coincidence.

It's sort of like the random confluence of events on the final day of the state legislative session. Lawmakers cut funding for the publicly run Florida Virtual School at almost the same time they opened the doors and eased the vetting process for private, out-of-state online schools.

Presumably, one of those virtual private schools will be K12. This is the company that used teachers with improper certificates and falsified documents to cover it up, according to a 2012 study by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

Did lawmakers decide it was a good idea to rubber stamp these private schools because K12 donated nearly $50,000 to legislators and the Republican Party of Florida?

Heavens, no.

A mere coincidence.

In fact, it reminds me of how the state is disbursing Medicaid funds. It could have kept pouring money into nonprofit hospitals that serve as a safety net for the needy.

Instead, the new formula increased gains for for-profit hospitals at three times the rate of those nonprofits.

HCA, which once paid the largest Medicare fraud settlement in history, benefited more than any other for-profit. HCA's windfall was nearly double the total of all the state's nonprofits combined.

Now if you believe in cause-and-effect, you might assume HCA's $1.6 million in campaign donations had something to do with this.

Of course in Tallahassee, such decisions are considered completely unrelated.

Ditto for out-of-state charter school companies that donate freely to campaigns and just got $91 million worth of construction funds, despite charters failing at a much higher rate than public schools.

Or utility companies that deliver wheelbarrows of cash to the governor and the state Republican Party and get to collect hundreds of millions of dollars for nuclear plants they're not obligated to build.

Or Florida Blue donating more than $350,000 to Scott's political committee as well as the Republican and Democratic parties of Florida earlier this year, and seeing legislators decide to keep an insurance tax break intact instead of giving millions of Floridians a paltry $12 break on vehicle registration prices.

So, were these examples lumped together for a reason?

Nah, it's total coincidence.