News from Tallahassee for 10/30/14

Lobbyists, Bearing Gifts, Pursue Attorneys General posted on 10/29/14

by ERIC LIPTON | NY Times

lady justiceWhen the executives who distribute 5-Hour Energy, the popular caffeinated drinks, learned that attorneys general in more than 30 states were investigating allegations of deceptive advertising — a serious financial threat to the company — they moved quickly to shut the investigations down, one state at a time.

But success did not come in court or at a negotiating table.

Instead, it came at the opulent Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel in California, with its panoramic ocean views, where more than a dozen state attorneys general had gathered last year for cocktails, dinners and fund-raisers organized by the Democratic Attorneys General Association. A lawyer for 5-Hour Energy roamed the event, setting her sights on Attorney General Chris Koster of Missouri, whose office was one of those investigating the company.

“My client just received notification that Missouri is on this,” the lawyer, Lori Kalani, told him.

Ms. Kalani’s firm, Dickstein Shapiro, had courted the attorney general at dinners and conferences and with thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. Mr. Koster told Ms. Kalani that he was unaware of the investigation, and he reached for his phone and called his office. By the end of the weekend, he had ordered his staff to pull out of the inquiry, a clear victory for 5-Hour Energy.

The quick reversal, confirmed by Mr. Koster and Ms. Kalani, was part of a pattern of successful lobbying of Mr. Koster by the law firm on behalf of clients like Pfizer and AT&T — and evidence of a largely hidden dynamic at work in state attorneys general offices across the country.

Attorneys general are now the object of aggressive pursuit by lobbyists and lawyers who use campaign contributions, personal appeals at lavish corporate-sponsored conferences and other means to push them to drop investigations, change policies, negotiate favorable settlements or pressure federal regulators, an investigation by The New York Times has found.

A robust industry of lobbyists and lawyers has blossomed as attorneys general have joined to conduct multistate investigations and pushed into areas as diverse as securities fraud and Internet crimes.

But unlike the lobbying rules covering other elected officials, there are few revolving-door restrictions or disclosure requirements governing state attorneys general, who serve as “the people’s lawyers” by protecting consumers and individual citizens.

A result is that the routine lobbying and deal-making occur largely out of view. But the extent of the cause and effect is laid bare in The Times’s review of more than 6,000 emails obtained through open records laws in more than two dozen states, interviews with dozens of participants in cases and attendance at several conferences where corporate representatives had easy access to attorneys general.

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Fla. Supreme Court to decide fate of new districts posted on 10/24/14

by AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida's highest court is going to fast-track a challenge to the state's current congressional map.

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday decided by a 5-2 margin to hear a case brought by a coalition of groups who contend that the current map for Congress is illegal.

The high court will hold arguments on the case in March.

A Florida judge approved a new congressional map in August. The new map alters seven of the state's existing 27 districts, but the changes will not take effect until after this year's elections.

Voters in 2010 passed an amendment that says legislators cannot draw up districts to favor incumbents or a political party. A circuit judge in July ruled that two districts were invalid so legislators changed them during a special session.

Gov. Scott won’t show for deposition but will attend fundraiser instead posted on 10/24/14

by Mary Ellen Klas | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE Gov. Rick Scott is planning not to appear Friday for a deposition in a lawsuit he filed in California to block the release of information about Google email accounts used by him and his executive staff.

Attorney Steven R. Andrews was prepared to put the governor under oath in Tallahassee, but Scott’s communications director, Frank Collins, said Thursday “there is not going to be a deposition tomorrow.” Scott’s lawyers asked the judge to quash the deposition but, as of late Thursday, they hadn’t received an answer.

Scott is instead expected to attend a Friday fundraiser at the Biltmore in Coral Gables, featuring former Gov. Jeb Bush, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Lieutenant Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera.

However, if the governor is a no-show for a deposition in a case he initiated, it may not be without consequences.

According to California’s rules of civil procedure, the governor must submit to the deposition Friday unless he has received the court’s permission to change the date, said Walter Clark, a trial lawyer who practices in Southern California.

If Scott fails to submit to the deposition, the judge could hold him in contempt and make him pay damages, according to California law.

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Gov. Rick Scott releases 2013 tax returns; questions remain posted on 10/17/14

by Mary Ellen Klas | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE— Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday released his 2013 tax returns “in the interest of full transparency” with just weeks to go before the election.

Scott, a multimillionaire who files his annual return jointly with his wife Ann, reported that he and his wife had an adjusted gross income of $8.2 million and paid $2 million in taxes. They filed their returns Wednesday, the final day allowed by the IRS for taxpayers who sought the six-month extension.

The release of Scott’s tax return, however, left unresolved many questions that have emerged about the accuracy and completeness of his financial disclosures since he filed his 2013 state financial disclosure reports as required to run for re-election.

The governor reported a net worth of $132.7 million, and put many of his assets in a blind trust managed by his longtime investment advisor, Alan Bazaar. The goal of the blind trust, the governor said, was to shield him from any conflict of interest when the companies in which he holds stock do business with the state.

Excluded from his reported assets, however, are investments held by his wife, or held by his family’s Scott Family Partnership Trust. The Herald/Times reported last week that documents filed with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission show that Scott has a history of dividing his assets into those and other multiple trust accounts and he remains the “beneficial owner” on some of the stock.

According to the reports filed with the state, Scott may only be disclosing the assets held in his newly formed personal blind trust, not the assets for which he is the beneficiary, raising questions about the completeness of his reports.

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TaxWatch: Small Budget Surplus Could Hurt Campaign Spending Promises posted on 10/16/14

by Lynn Hatter | WFSU

A state government spending watch group says just because Florida has a budget surplus doesn’t mean there won’t be budget cuts. That means it could become very difficult for either gubernatorial candidate to get his state spending priorities funded during the upcoming year.

Florida has a project budget surplus of $336 million. Those are the dollars left over after the state meets all its current spending obligations in the next fiscal year and tucks away about a billion dollars in reserves. Popular campaign promises from gubernatorial and legislative candidates include boosting dollars for education and Florida Tax Watch’s Kurt Wenner says, that’s doable: to an extent.

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