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Elections Officials want more Hacking Info from Feds

May 31st, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Following a meeting with U-S Senator Marco Rubio, who has called elections supervisors “overconfident”, Florida election officials say they have security in place to prevent foreign actors from tampering with this years election. And as Mike Vasilinda tells us, they are asking the federal Government to share what it knows. 

In 2016, suspected Russians hackers got into into a Tallahassee company. It provides support to the majority of the states Elections Supervisors. At least five suspicious emails were intercepted before they were opened in county supervisors offices.


Mark Early was one of the Supervisors meeting with US Senator Marco Rubio 

“We don’t think we want a repeat of 2016 where there was information out there that could have been helpful to us, but we can’t get our hands on that data to make good decisions on how to handle any threats we may not know about, so we are doing our best” says the 32 year veteran elections official.

Supervisor told Rubio they were prepared

Q:”Are supervisors overconfident?” We asked Ron Labasky, who represents the Florida State Association of Elections Supervisors.

 

“Absolutely not” he responded. We are confident we are doing everything absolutely possible to insure we are secure.”

The dilemma for Elections Supervisors they don’t know what they don’t know and the Federal Government isn’t sharing what they know.

 

In a statement Rubio said he would push federal officials to share more about Russian sponsored attacks in 2016.”

On a second front, the state has applied from 19 million in Federal funds for increased security. It initially said it would not request the money for this election. Supervisor Early says it could go for backup servers and more.

“Better training…and some things I don’t want to get into.”

The main message from Supervisors: Voting machines are not on line so nobody can mess with your vote…but what no one is promising is that someone won’t play havoc with on line voter databases.

Once the state receives the nineteen million in Federal dollars, a special committee of the legislature will have to approve spending it, and then supervisors will have to submit detailed plans on how they will use it.

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FDC Loosens Grip on Visitation Cuts, Families Still Not Satisfied

May 31st, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Outraged families of inmates and prison reform advocates hammered the State Department of Corrections over proposed cuts to prison visitation hours in a public hearing Thursday morning.
The department say the cuts are the result of staff shortages and its inability to keep contraband from entering prisons.
Former inmate Kyle Williford says families are being blamed, when more often the problem is prison staff.
“It’s physically impossible for that much dope to come through the visitation part,” said Williford.
The department wanted to cut visitation from six hours every week, to just two hours every other weekend.
But following public protest, FDC now says it will allow 6 hours for visitation every other weekend.
“If you take the visits away I will be devastated,” said Cody Calhoun, a young boy who’s father is behind bars.
“Having those visitations those moments, that’s what keeps us pushing forward,” said another family member, Cynthia Cooper.
Emotions boiled over at times as families begged the department to reconsider the impacts of cutting visitation.
“I have done nothing wrong, but be a mother,” said Jodi Chambers. “Let me be a mother to my son and let these people… Look at them! Every one of them wants what I want!”
Chambers’ son is in prison.
“And the visitations for me are allowing me to continue to be his parent. To continue to help him through this current path that he is on,” said Chambers.
With the summer approaching many at the hearing suggested riots may break out in the prisons.
A combination of hot temperatures and hotter emotions from prisoners unable to see their loved ones.
The Department of Corrections is also facing criticism for cutting substance abuse and transitional programs by more than 40%.

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Handling of Sexual Harassment Claim at OFR Under Scrutiny

May 30th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

A top financial regulator for the state of Florida is under fire tonight for allegedly not taking strong enough action against an employee accused of sexual harassment. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, a report of the incident was leaked to reporters as the State’s Chief Financial Officer is pushing to fire the states banking regulator.

On May 3rd, Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis wrote the States top financial regulator Drew Breakspear, telling him he he no longer has confidence in his ability to lead. Now a leaked report raises questions of the handling of a sex harassment allegation in his office.

According to the report, Last June after a night of drinking following a training conference in south Florida, a woman employee complained a co worker grabber her breast.

The male co worker denied intentionally touching the woman, saying he was drunk, and lost his balance trying to pick up a beer bottle that fell on the floor.

The Agency eventually decided the sexual harassment claim could not be proven. The male employee was counseled. 

The man in question still works at the agency, that building right there. The woman has quit and left the state.

 

Early Wednesday CFO Patronis texted following our request for an interview, saying he would see if he could find the time in his schedule. He didn’t. Drew Breakspear declined to be interviewed.

His fate will be decided when the Governor and Cabinet meet on June 13th.

The initial recommendation in the case was to ban Financial Services employees from drinking while traveling on state business. The agency decided the recommendation was unenforceable and likely not legal. 

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Alberto Cost the Panhandle an Estimated $600 to $700 Million in Tourism Dollars

May 30th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Subtropical Storm Alberto didn’t cause as much physical damage as state officials had expected but…
“The timing couldn’t have been worse,” said James Miller with the Florida Retail Federation.
That’s because it made landfall during Memorial Day weekend, which is the second busiest weekend for tourism in the Panhandle.
“So it’ll be very hard to recoup some of the losses,” said Richard Turner, Vice President of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis’ family owns Captain Anderson’s Restaurant in Panama City.
“We did 40% of what we should have done,” said Patronis.
Other businesses in the panhandle reported similar losses.
“Losing out on that much economic activity can really crush a business,” said Miller.
Early estimates put the total loss of economic activity caused by Alberto between $600 and $700 million.
To help make up the lost profits Governor Rick Scott is calling on Visit Florida to ramp up marketing efforts for the panhandle.
The Florida Retail Federation says business owners still need to do their part to bring in customers.
“It’s just a matter of increasing marketing, having discounts and doing whatever you can locally to get people in there,” said Miller.
Some businesses may have an opportunity make up some of their lost revenue starting Friday, with the weeklong Hurricane Preparedness sales tax holiday.
“This is the way the state gives you incentive to go out there and harden your home and prepare for the storm,” said Patronis.
Overall business advocates are optimistic Visit Florida will be successful at attracting more tourists.
“Visit Florida will definitely do their part nationally and globally to get people there,” said Miller. “So hopefully together those two things will work out and help those small businesses survive.”
Miller points to Visit Florida’s efforts in 2017, which resulted in a record 116.5 million visitors despite Hurricane Irma’s devastation.
Visit Florida received $76 million from the state this year.
Governor Rick Scott says part of that money is intended to let people know the state is open for business following storms.

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John Morgan calls on State to Drop Medical Marijuana Appeal

May 29th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Smoking medical marijuana remains on hold in Florida following a ruling late Friday that declared the state ban on smoking medical pot unconstitutional. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the smoking case was immediately appealed.

Circuit Judge Karen Geivers says the Florida Legislature. had no authority to prohibit the smoking of medical marijuana because it is allowed in the state Constitution.

The only thing the state Constitution says about smoking medical marijuana is that it can’t be done in public.

Lawyer Jon Mills argued that means it can be smoked in private.  

“We submit that that is enough to declare the statute unconstitutional” Mills told the court.

The judge dismissed health concerns raised by a state expert.

 

Karen Brodeen is the Sr. Asst. Attorney General who pushed the state’s case.

“In fact the FDA  has not approved any medicine to be delivered through a smoking form” she told the Court.

Instead, the judge also gave great weight two two patients. HIV patient Lisa Dodson

And ALS survivor Cathy Jordan.  They testified smoking was far more effective than vaping or using oils.

 

“It was about 50% less effective and you had to ingest quite a bit more” testified Dobson.

 

“It just makes my life a lot more, um, bearable” said Jordan.

Two hours after the ruling, the state appealed, effective staying the order until the court rules.

But Attorney John Morgan is calling on the Governor to drop the appeal. At the trial, Morgan dismissed the states heath concerns.

 

“She is a terminally ill ALS patient  (Jordan). The last thing she is worried about is the effect of smoke on her lungs.”

And unless the appeal is dropped, Smoking medical marijuana remains off limits until an appeals court makes a decision.

On Friday, the State Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from Tampa strip club owner Joe Redner in his case to juice marijuana to prevent a reoccurrence of lung cancer. The same judge gave Redner the okay. His case is also pending before the First District Court of Appeal.

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DOC Cuts Putting Hundreds of Offenders Back in Prison and Hundreds of Jobs At Risk

May 29th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Florida legislators failed to intervene last Friday and budget cuts for transitional and addiction services at the state Department of Corrections are now able to move forward.
Earlier this month House Speaker Richard Corcoran assured the Legislature would act to address the problem.
“It’s got to be fixed and it will be fixed,” said Corcoran.
When asked how the Speaker simply replied, “More Money.”
But with no new funds the State Department of Corrections can now move forward, cutting $29 million from substance abuse services and transitional programs for inmates and probationers.
Overall, funding for the programs is being cut by more than 40%.
The cuts will cost hundreds of jobs and take inmates out of work release and substance abuse treatment programs and put them back behind bars.
“They will be pulling those at least 500 inmates back to a reception center to make a determination of what they’re going to do with those offenders at this point,” said Mark Fontaine, President of the Florida Drug and Alcohol Abuse Association.
Corrections says it hopes the cuts will only be temporary, but providers say the cuts, (which will be in place for at least the next year) will cripple the progress made over the past 15 years.
“If you’re going to have treatment you need to have treatment and you need to keep it in place,” said Sheila Randolph, CEO of the Unlimited Path of Central Florida.
The department says it plans to give inmates who were in the programs priority for other programs offered by the prison system to minimize the number who have to return to an institution.
But not all inmates will be able to qualify for the alternate programs.
“Those offenders will have to be at eligible work release status in order to qualify for those beds. If not, they’ll go back to an institution,” said Fontaine.
Fontaine says he knows of at least one program in Jacksonville with more than 100 offenders that are all but guaranteed to have to return to prison.
Providers say they believe the Governor could solve the problem by declaring a state of emergency and using the state’s rainy day funds to fill the funding gap. The Governor’s Office says allocating funds is up to the Legislature.

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Florida Teachers Planning Election Day Push

May 25th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Teachers from at least four states, from Arizona to West Virginia, went on strike this spring. 50 years ago, in 1968, Florida teachers were the first to walk out, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, it’s not likely to ever happen again.

In 1966, Claude Kirk became the state’s first Republican Governor since reconstruction. He was elected on a promise to make Florida schools the best in the nation.

“Governor Kirk proposed to cut one hundred fifty million dollars from the state budget for public education” read an announcer in a 1968 report.

The proposed cuts came as growth was skyrocketing, crowing schools.

“There were classes in the hall room” recalls one former teacher.

 

Florida Education Assn. President JoAnn McCall says in the spring of 1968 at least 30 thousand teacher walked out.

“Teachers in mass, thirty thousand signed their resignation letters and said, I quit. I’m not working here anymore. I’m out” says the FEA president.

The strike lasted three weeks. 

“The teaching profession will never be the same again” said the strikes eader, claiming victory.

In 1974, lawmakers gave teachers collective bargaining rights, a state pension, an a prohibition against any future strikes. 

“But the biggest kicker for everybody is that their retirement would be revoked” says McCall.

Schools this coming year will see an average increase of just forty seven cents per student come fall,

This past week, an effort by a small number of lawmakers to get the entire legislature back in town to deal with school funding failed.

So instead of striking, like other states, teachers here are suing and taking their case to voters.

“Forty-seven cents is not enough to maintain or do anything in your schools” says McCall.

 

And candidates who promise and don’t deliver, like Kirk in 1968, might remember he was a one term Governor.

The teachers are also in court, challenging school funding levels, legislation giving charters more tax dollars, and when a new education bill takes effect in July, they promise another suit to stop giveaways to for profit schools. 

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Lawsuit Seeks to Show Taking Florida Off the Table For Offshore Drilling Was a Publicity Stunt

May 25th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A new lawsuit is hoping to uncover the intent behind a deal made between Governor Rick Scott and the US Department of Interior back in January.
Earlier this year the President announced he would lift a moratorium on oil drilling in 14 states.
The decision continues to be a political hot potato.
Which is why many raised their eyebrows when Governor Rick Scott made a surprise announcement just a few days later that Florida would be removed from consideration.
U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke emphasized Scott’s role in the decision.
When we asked Zinke at the announcement what changed his mind on Florida he replied simply, “The Governor.”
Environmentalists like Jack Rudloe who heads the Gulf Specimens Marine Laboratories in Panacea took the announcement with a grain of salt.
“I said, this is too good to be true,” said Rudloe.
The announcement caused controversy between other states like California and Alabama who felt if Florida were given special treatment, they should too.
We now know the move was premature and Florida was in fact not officially taken off the table.
“It is too good to be true,” said Rudloe.
A new lawsuit by Washington based group American Oversight is requesting emails and other documents to try and prove the whole event was a political stunt to boost Scott’s chances in his race for U.S. Senate.
Rudloe says he would be surprised if it were anything but.
“They don’t care that the sand dollars have all disappeared from the coast,” said Rudloe. “I mean maybe they even do care on some level, but money first. Dollar, dollar, dollar.”
There is still ongoing debate over whether Florida will be removed from drilling consideration.
Political experts say regardless of the ultimate decision, Scott can still say he’s against offshore drilling.
In statement the Governor’s office said, “The Governor has been very clear on this issue. He is confident Secretary Zinke and the Department of Interior will honor their commitment that Florida is off the table for offshore drilling.”

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Nursing Homes Say They’re Ready for the 2018 Hurricane Season

May 24th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Following the death of 14 residents at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills after it lost power during hurricane Irma, the state suspended the facility’s license. Now it’s trying to get it back.
Attorneys brought an expert witness on heat stroke to testify before an administrative judge to help prove staff acted reasonably when responding to the emergency.
“So if we’re going to assess did they ask reasonably then I think it’s fair to say lets hear from an expert what would be some of the reasonable things you would expect people to do,” Jeffery Smith, an attorney representing Hollywood Hills asked.
“I am not aware of any national standards for this population when it comes to prevention recognition and treatment of heat stroke,” said expert witness Dr. Douglas Casa.
Hoping to prevent a future disaster, new laws require permanent generators be installed in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Nursing homes say the new generator law along with additional training and disaster preparedness have put homes in a better position to protect residents this hurricane season.
“Our facilities have been doing disaster drills, working their emergency preparedness plans, training their staff,” said Kristen Knapp with the Florida Healthcare Association. “Making sure they have everything they need to be ready for hurricane season.”
Facilities say every storm is different and brings new challenges, but what’s important is learning from the mistakes of the past and improving upon them.
“We’re all watching to see what this year’s hurricane season is going to bring, but there were a lot of lessons learned and our priority is always keeping our residents safe,” said Knapp.
AHCA says it will be releasing detailed information on how many nursing homes and ALFs have come into compliance with the new generator rule soon.
Facilities have until June 1st to do so.
If you want to see whether a facility you or a loved one is living in is in compliance with the new state laws, you can check here.

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Reported Rapes Increasing

May 23rd, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Every major crime index fell in Florida last year, with the exception of one: forcible rape. As Mike Vasilinda tells us victims advocates are applauding the increasing number of reports.

Victims advocate Meg Baldwin says rape is the most underreported crime in Florida and the nation.

 

“If you take the reported number and multiply it by five, with the understanding that there is a twenty percent reporting rate, then you are probably reaching the right number for what the real incidence of sexual assault is.”

The most pressing reason victims don’t report is the fear of not being believed.

“And you said she was raped? Yeah.”

This interview was recorded during a rape investigation conducted by FSU Police.

 

“She was afraid to like call the police because she didn’t want anyone to be mad at her” said a friend of the victim.

Because rape is so under reported, when reports go up, as they have the last five years in a row in Florida, advocates know they are doing their job.

“When we see it go down, we’re concerned whether we are doing the right kind of outreach to encourage victims to come forward for help. When we see it go up, that can be an indication that the community is doing a good job” says Baldwin.

 

Adding confidence for victims is that FDLE is caught up on a backlog of eight-six hundred rape kits, and is now testing rape kits as they come in.

Fewer than 2 thousand old rape  kits remain to be tested. FDLE reports it is testing 99.9 percent of new kits within the 4 months allowed by law and many much quicker. 

9-1-1 operators are also receiving better training and police are being taught to be more sensitive.

Seven thousand, nine hundred and thirty four (7934) rapes were reported in Florida in 2017. Using the guideline that only one in five was reported, just under forty thousand people were raped last year.

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Students Sue for Better Access to Early Voting

May 23rd, 2018 by Jake Stofan
In 2014, Florida expanded the number of places people could vote early, but the Secretary of State decided the new law didn’t apply to locations on college campuses.
“It’s quite frankly, simply a partisan effort to ensure that they don’t vote,” said former Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho.
Now, the League of Women Voters backed by six university students, are challenging the decision, arguing it limits students’ ability to vote.
Students we spoke with at Florida State University agreed allowing early voting on campus could help students.
“Obviously everybody’s schedules are crazy so if they have like the opportunity to go earlier then yeah,” said FSU student Ashley Thomas.
“For students that do live on campus or don’t have any transportation to get around Tallahassee it would be easier,” said FSU student Tamera Howie.
Plaintiffs say with the wave of youthful political involvement following the Parkland shooting, the state should do everything possible to make sure students have the opportunity to have their voice heard.
“I would think our Secretary of State would be wanting to encourage young people to get engaged in the process,” said Patti Brigham, President of the League of Women Voters of Florida.
Elections experts say since young people have a lower voter turnout, more needs to be done to encourage them to become engaged.
“It’s fair,” said Sancho. “You do this for other populations groups, why not do it for students?”
The Governor’s Office responded to the suit calling it an election year gimmick, noting University buildings can be used as polling places on Election Day.
Elections experts say the decision of where early voting should be offered should be in the hands of local supervisors.

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Adoption Anxiety

May 22nd, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Accused Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz was adopted at birth. New studies suggest adoptees face a higher risk of mental illness and suicide, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, efforts at the state Capitol to help adopted children find their birth parents, which could reduce some anxiety, have gone nowhere. 

 

For the second year in a row, state lawmakers failed to give a full hearing to legislation that would allow adoptees access to their original birth certificates. Sponsor Richard Stark was adopted.

“Statistics are higher for mental illness and, um, things like suicide among people who are adoptees” says Stark.

 

“I searched for thirty years” says adoptee Dr.Mark Pamer.

Not knowing their birth parents leaves many adopted children feeling lonely, restless and with a sense of not belonging.

“You have all these questions but you have no answers, and it nags at you, It nags at you” Pamer told us.

 

Adopted as a child, Pamer has made researching the impact of adoption his lifelong past time.

“In my own case, there was always a drive to know who I was from at a biological level..” 

 

Pamer didn’t speak specifically about accused Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz. Cruz was adopted at birth.  

“You see an over representation of adoptees in the mental health systems, which all occur when the person finds out they were adopted, because at some psychological level, the rug is pulled out from under you as to who yo are in a biologic level.” 

Many adopted kids don’t want to find their birth parents, but those that do say it does provide closure.”

Lee Peterson’s son found her 49 years after he was adopted.

We’re developing a relationship. We’re had a lot of building blocks, We’ve had a lot of up and downs” says the birth mother.

Sponsor Stark plans to reintroduce the birth certificate legislation this fall.

Stark is one of two Florida lawmakers adopted at birth. He is term limited out of the state House after this November. The other, Orlando Rep. Jason Brodeur, is running for the State Senate. 

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Amendment 4 Could Save the State $385 Million a Year According to New Report

May 22nd, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A new report found the State of Florida is losing hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of potential jobs every year because of its restrictive policy for restoring felons’ rights.
Voters will decide this November whether felons should be automatically allowed to vote after they’ve paid their debt to society.
“It does good things for families, reuniting those families together and enabling them to get back on their feet to become productive citizens, paying taxes and contributing back to society,” said Dominic M. Calabro, President of Florida TaxWatch.
A new report by the Washington Economics Group suggests voting yes on Amendment 4 could save tax payers money.
The report suggests Florida’s economy has lost $385 million and 3,500 potential jobs every year since Governor Rick Scott implemented a 5 year waiting period for felons to apply for clemency in 2011.
“It highlights that there are other implications to the civil rights restoration scenarios in Florida, again being arguably the most restrictive state in the nation,” said Human Rights Attorney, Mark Schlakman.
The Governor’s Office responded to the report saying, “The concept that Florida’s economy is not booming and that clemency guidelines have reduced tax revenue or economic growth is absolutely false.”
The Governor’s Office points to 1.5 million new jobs and a a 47-year low in the state’s crime rate as a counter to the reports findings.
Economic watch dogs point to budget shortfalls in state agencies including the department of corrections as examples of how the additional revenue could be used.
“It could go into treating mental health and drug abuse instead of taking folks who need that treatment and locking them up,” said Karen Woodall with the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy.
The state is currently appealing a ruling by a federal judge, which found the state’s clemency process unconstitutional.

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Scott Silent on Whether He Will Fix DOC Funding

May 22nd, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Contractors who provide transitional and addiction services to inmates and parolees will have their budget cut by $24.9 million Friday, unless the Legislature or Governor decides to act.
The cuts are expected to result in hundreds of lost jobs and the complete cancelation of many programs designed to help prisoners rejoin society and reduce the chance they’ll commit another crime in the future.
The Department of Corrections announced the cuts at the start of the month because of budget shortfalls in other healthcare areas.
When asked if Governor Rick Scott intended to fill the gap by taking out of the state’s rainy day funds Scott instead put the blame on the Legislature.
“We have, in my budget, I’ve asked for in the last eight budgets, I think it’s almost $400 million more than what the legislature has funded,” said Governor Scott. “The process is, I can propose a budget and the Legislature decides what they’re going to put into it. The Department of Corrections is working hard, recidivism rate is down, the crime rate is down, but I’m disappointed the legislature didn’t fund all of it.”
The cuts come as the state faces an opioid crisis, which claims the lives of 16 Floridians each day.

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State Lawmakers Got More Than $1 Million From Opioid Manufactures in the Last 20 Years

May 21st, 2018 by Jake Stofan
An investigation conducted by the Miami Harold found Florida lawmakers accepted more than $1 million from 9 opioid manufacturers and distributors over the past two decades.
The discovery comes a week after Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed suit against those same companies for their role perpetuating the opioid crisis.
“They were on notice as to what they were doing, yet continued to do it and market their products, in my opinion no different than a street level drug dealer,” said Bondi.
The investigation found Bondi herself has received $1,500 from companies listed in the suit.
Ben Wilcox with Integrity Florida says while the individual donations were relatively small, that doesn’t mean their influence wasn’t felt.
“Florida has been slow among the other states in this country to address the opioid crisis and I think that can be directly attributed to the companies buying access and influence through campaign contributions,” said Wilcox.
Nine of every ten dollars contributed went to Republicans.
Government watch dogs say that’s to be expected since the GOP is in power.
Representative Jason Brodeur, Chairman of House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee received the most at $15,250.
“They’re not giving this money in the interest of good government,” said Wilcox. “They’re giving this money in the interest of government being good to them.”
Representative Brodeur denies the donations ever influenced his vote, noting they amount to less than 1% of the total contributions to his campaigns.
Governor Rick Scott, who has received $6,000 from companies named in the suit also held $300,000 in Johnson and Johnson stock.
Scott awarded the company $4.9 million in incentives in 2015.
Donations from Johnson and Johnson make up nearly half of the contributions to lawmakers.

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