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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

David Jolly and the NRCC fight over fundraising

Rep. David Jolly is in a fight with the NRCC, which has accused him of lying about fundraising practices. Jolly has returned the fire.

From Politico:

At issue is a "60 Minutes" piece that aired Sunday featuring Jolly and his proposed "STOP Act," long-shot legislation that would bar members of Congress from personally soliciting campaign donations. The newsmagazine used a hidden camera to show members of Congress making phone calls to solicit contributions, which is commonplace in both Republican and Democratic campaign headquarters in D.C.

In a letter from the House Republican campaign committee to "60 Minutes" — obtained by POLITICO — NRCC Executive Director Rob Simms charged that Jolly lied in the piece when the congressman claimed he was told at a meeting that he needed to raise $18,000 every day.

"Simply put, this meeting never happened," Simms writes. "It is a work of fiction. Had the reporter or producer of the story bothered to verify this claim, they would have been told as much."

Jolly's office shot back that the meeting did, in fact, happen — and threatened to release details on who issued the fundraising quota if the NRCC wants to go there. …

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Responding to congressional HIV questions, state points to website

Interim state Surgeon General Celeste Philip on Friday responded to a letter from 11 members of Congress demanding an explanation of how Florida changed its count of new HIV cases.

The members of Congress, which include Republicans and Democrats from across the state, wrote to Gov. Rick Scott earlier this week asking about why the Florida Department of Health revised the number of new infections reported in 2014 from 6,147 to 4,613.

That 25-percent change was much larger than adjustments made in recent years, a Tampa Bay Times analysis found. It was made as the state faced criticism for a spike in HIV cases, particularly in South Florida, which led the nation for new infections.

Philip directed the members of Congress to the HIV Data Center, a website launched Thursday that explains the basics of a process known as "de-duplication." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she wrote, comb through data reported from every state and try to identify possible duplicate cases, but the states are ultimately responsible for ensuring their case numbers are accurate.

She also said she is "happy to sit down and more closely explore the data with you at any time." …

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Rubio, Nelson say Zika death shows Congress must act on funding

Sen. Marco Rubio says the Zika death in Puerto Rico is a “wake-up” call for Congress and reiterated support for $1.9 billion in funding that some Republicans have resisted.

"This is another wake-up call that both parties in Congress better get it together to address the Zika virus that's impacting more people, more states, more unborn children and now taking lives,” Rubio said in a  tatement Friday evening. “This time it is an American who has lost their life to Zika, but many more lives are at risk, especially those of unborn children. My thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of Zika's first victim in Puerto Rico."

Sen. Bill Nelson also sounded alarms.

“Today, the CDC confirmed the first Zika-related death in the United States,” Nelson said. “The death of an American citizen should serve as a wake-up call to all those in Congress who continue to block our efforts to stop the spread of this virus. While this may be the first Zika-related death in our country, it won’t be the last if Congress does not start taking this virus seriously.”

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Eye on the storm: Florida's insurance commissioner wields big power

It is the most powerful job in state government most people can’t name.

Florida’s insurance commissioner has the unfettered ability to affect the cost of living in the state. From the property insurance policy of every homeowner, to the workers’ compensation plans of every employer, to millions of automobile, life insurance, medical malpractice and health care claims, the insurance commissioner has the final say on how much those rates will rise, and how much they fall — if at all.

The 262-person Office of Insurance Regulation touches nearly every aspect of life in Florida, from birth to death. It acts as the state’s financial sleuth, deciding if every one of those companies is financially sound enough to take on new customers, and when they are troubled enough to be shut down.

And with the stroke of a pen — and within the confines of the policies written by the Florida Legislature — the commissioner has the final say on which losses customers will pay — and which ones insurance companies must reimburse. …

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Here are the most vulnerable seats in Florida's congressional delegation

For the fourth straight election cycle, the Buzz is publishing periodic rankings of the most vulnerable seats in Florida's U.S. House delegation, which includes 17 Republicans and 10 Democrats. This is our first attempt to compile rankings since June 2015 -- and a lot has happened since then.

Thanks to newly redrawn district lines, an open U.S. Senate seat that attracted U.S. House members from both parties, a smattering of retirements, and some primary challenges to incumbents, nearly half of Florida's seats in the U.S. House - 13 out of 27 - are in some type of flux this year.

Despite the delegation's current volatility, though, only a few seats are actually at risk for a party switch in November -- the criteria we use for inclusion this list. Here are the seats we're keeping an eye on, in descending order by how vulnerable the incumbent party is to losing the seat on Election Day. …

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Marco Rubio warming up to Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidates, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, left, and businessman DonaldTrump argue while answering a question during the Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the University of Houston Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016.

Pool photo by Gary Coronado | Houston Chronicle via AP

Republican presidential candidates, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, left, and businessman DonaldTrump argue while answering a question during the Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the University of Houston Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016.

Note: We've revised the "let's not divide the party" section of this blog to provide more context and to correct an implication that Rubio was directly making that point.

Marco Rubio appears to be warming up to Donald Trump, saying Friday his “performance has improved significantly." Rubio has also continued to withold an endorsement of Ted Cruz, even though he previously praised him as the conservative in the race.

Last Sunday on Univision, Rubio said it appeared Trump will lock down the nomination.

"If he keeps winning delegates like he did the other night in New York, I think he's going to reach that number," Rubio said on Al Punto Florida. "But let's see. There are still other states to go."

RELATED COVERAGE: Two Trumps: With the nomination within his grasp, Donald Trump tries a more somber side

Rubio, who continues to hold onto more than 100 delegates, has said he disagreed with Trump about the delegate system being "rigged." But Rubio did echo the argument that if Trump is close to 1,237 delegates, he should get the nod. …

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U.S. Education Secretary John King, Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam to speak at FAMU graduation

U.S. Secretary of Education John King and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will deliver the commencement addresses at Florida A&M University on Saturday.

King will speak at the 9 a.m. ceremony, while Putnam is scheduled to speak at the 2 p.m. ceremony. More than 1,200 students are graduating from FAMU this spring.

The ceremonies will be held at the Al Lawson Jr. Multi-Purpose Center on FAMU's campus in Tallahassee and be broadcast live online.

King was appointed by President Barack Obama last year to be the nation's top education official.

Putnam, a Republican and former U.S. congressman, was first elected in 2010 as state agriculture commissioner. He is widely believed to be planning a run for governor in 2018.

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Ron DeSantis super PAC's big donors: backers of Koch brothers, Karl Rove

A super PAC supporting Republican Ron DeSantis for the U.S. Senate is stockpiling cash -- and much of it is coming from the major donors to national conservative groups.

Of the $1.2 million raised by Fighting for Florida Fund since last August, more than $1 million has come from just three donors:

* $350,000 from John Childs, chairman of private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates.

* $200,000 from Robert Mercer, a financial consultant.

* $500,000 from Spring Bay Capital, a private equity and venture capital firm in Ponte Vedra Beach, DeSantis' hometown.


Childs is a prolific donor to major conservative super PACs. Since 2010, he has given more than $8 million to groups like Karl Rove's American Crossroads, Koch brothers-backed Freedom Partners Action Fund and Club for Growth, a conservative group that has endorsed DeSantis.

Mercer, who lives in New York, is a major contributor to Club for Growth, American Crossroads and to Keep the Promise, which supports Ted Cruz for president. In total, he's given more than $29 million to conservative super PACs.

Spring Bay has contributed only to Fighting for Florida Fund. …

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Meet Hillary Clinton's new Florida campaign director

Simone Ward

[via Twitter]

Simone Ward

Simone Ward, former national political director of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, will be the Hillary Clinton campaign's new Florida State Director, overseeing efforts to deliver the state's 27 electoral votes to the former first lady. She is a well-regarded veteran of Democratic campaigns, having worked worked previously as campaign manager for Natalie Tennant's Senate campaign in West Virginia and everal positions at the Democratic National Committee, including Director of African American Outreach and then National Constituency Director. She was campaign manager for Sen. Barbara Mikulski in Maryland in 2010, and before that worked for Planned Parenthood and EMILY's List.

Her selection is something of a departure from Barack Obama's Florida campaign hires in that Ward has little experience in Florida that we know of. Obama in 2008 hired Steve Schale as his Florida campaign director and in 2012 hired Ashley Walker.

The Clinton campaign has held off an announcing general election campaign hires while focusing on the primary, but the primary is no longer in doubt after Clinton's recent wins.




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Marco Rubio to speak at Hialeah business charter school's inaugural commencement

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is scheduled to give the commencement address next month at the inaugural graduation ceremony for a Hialeah charter school run by the Latin Builders Association.

The Latin Builders Association Construction and Business Management Academy Charter High School -- also known as LBA Academy -- touts itself as the first business charter high school in the U.S.

Rubio is a former director of the LBA. He previously praised the school during a national summit two years ago as an example of the opportunities charter schools and other "school choice" programs can provide. The school, which opened in 2012, educates its students in the construction trades and teaches them how to become future business leaders.

The former GOP presidential candidate will deliver his remarks at 9:30 a.m. May 23 at the academy's graduation ceremony, to be held on FIU's Modesto Maidique Campus in Miami.

Other elected officials and Miami-Dade County Public School officials also are expected in attendance.

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Neal Dunn plays up outsider status in first TV ad

Neal Dunn, a Republican running in an increasingly contentious primary for a North Florida congressional seat, is making a move on TV. His campaign announced this TV ad that plays up an outsider argument candidates across the country are trying to make.

“If we want to change Washington by sending another politician there, it won’t change a thing,” Dunn says.

Dunn is competing with Mary Thomas for the 2nd Congressional District now held by Democrat Gwen Graham, who will not seek re-election after the seat became even more friendly to Republicans.

Thomas has the tacit backing of Gov. Rick Scott.

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Bill Clinton touts Hillary at closed Tallahassee fundraiser

Former President Bill Clinton, shown during a 2014 event in Hollywood, Fla.

Scott Keeler/Tampa Bay Times

Former President Bill Clinton, shown during a 2014 event in Hollywood, Fla.

It looks like Bill Clinton brought in a good chunk of cash for his wife's presidential campaign Friday morning in North Florida.

About 200 people showed up for a Hillary Clinton fundraiser at the Tallahassee home of Florida Democratic Party chair Allison Tant and trial lawyer Barry Richard, where the former president spoke. At $500 a person -- or $2,700, the legal maximum, for a photo -- that adds up quickly.

The campaign did not allow reporters in to the event, and attendees were instructed not to record it.

But in a 30-minute outdoor speech, the former president reportedly touted the would-be president's experience, know-how and vision for the future, pivoting toward a general election where Clinton is likely to face Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner.

Among those in attendance were Tant (of course) and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who spoke before Clinton. State Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, whose district is to the south of Tant's home was there, as was Loranne Ausley, who's running for the House in another Tallahassee district. …

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David Jolly struggles to gain support for 'Stop Act'

After widespread media attention, Rep. David Jolly’s bill to restrict congressional fundraising gained more support this week.

The problem is Jolly, running for U.S. Senate, only picked up two more co-sponsors, giving the Stop Act eight endorsers.

“Republicans, Democrats and Independents can all agree on one thing - the public did not elect Members of Congress to go to Washington and spend their time raising money for their re-election,” Jolly said in a news release heralding the backing of Reps. Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania and Alan Grayson of Florida. “They are not paying members $174,000 a year to spend, in some cases 20 or 30 hours a week, on the phone dialing for dollars.”

Said Grayson, “money is the original sin of politics and government.”

The other sponsors are Reps. Sean Duffy, Walter Jones, John Mica, Rick Nolan, Rich Nugent and Reid Ribble.

The bill would prohibit members of Congress from directly soliciting campaign contributions.

It does not have a Senate sponsor.

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Third time is charm as Gov. Rick Scott, CFO Jeff Atwater choose insurance regulator

David Altmaier, left, is congratulated by CFO Jeff Atwater Friday after being named state insurance commissioner.

Tom Urban - The News Service of Florida

David Altmaier, left, is congratulated by CFO Jeff Atwater Friday after being named state insurance commissioner.

Breaking an awkward political deadlock, Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater agreed Friday to promote deputy insurance commissioner David Altmaier to succeed his boss, Kevin McCarty as the state's powerful insurance regulator at the helm of the Office of Insurance Regulation.

The choice was a surprise on a number of fronts. Altmaier, 34, has a degree in mathematics from Western Kentucky, was the last candidate interviewed in public, and is a former Republican who was a registered Democrat from 2011 until March 29, when he re-registered with no party affiliation.

With the start of the 2016 hurricane season a month away, the leadership of the insurance department in the nation's third-largest state will soon move into the hands of Altmaier, who has worked for OIR for five years and has two years experience as an insurance agent.

"This guy is impressive," Atwater told reporters after the vote. "He is going to perform very well." …

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Tom Lee could set off a Florida Senate scramble

From William March on state Sen. Tom Lee mulling whether to run for reelection or for the Hillsborough County Commission:

...If Lee doesn't seek re-election, time is short for a potential replacement to mount a Senate campaign. Monday starts a new monthly campaign finance reporting period — a good time to open a campaign — and the qualifying period is rapidly approaching, starting at noon on June 20. Some expect Lee's decision by Monday or soon after.

State Reps. Danny Burgess of San Antonio, Neil Combee of Polk City, Shawn Harrison of Tampa, Dan Raulerson of Plant City and Ross Spano of Dover all live in Senate District 20, where Lee is currently filed. All have said they may be interested in replacing him.

In addition, former Plant City Mayor Randy Larson, who also sits on the Tampa Sports Authority board, said he plans to run for the Senate seat if Lee vacates it.

"We're all waiting with great anticipation" for Lee's decision, said Spano. He said the House members have discussed the situation among themselves, but there's no plan as to which one should run for the seat....

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