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AG-elect Bondi taps bipartisan AG primary losers for transition team

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Attorney General-elect Pam Bondi enlisted two losing attorney general primary candidates to her transition team, which will be chaired by former St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker,her predecessor Attorney General Bill McCollum and former House Speaker Larry Cretul.

Bondi tapped former state Sen. Dave Aronberg, a Greenacres Democrat who lost his AG bid in the primary to former state Sen. Dan Gelber who lost to Bondi, to serve on her pill mills and prescription drug team.

And Bondi recruited former state Rep. Holly Benson, her one-time opponent in the GOP primary, as one of her Medicaid fraud advisers. Benson formerly served as secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

The former Tampa prosecutor also asked her transition team members to sign an ethics pledge that includes a one-year ban on lobbying her office.

Bondi’s full list of transition team appointees follows.


Bondi scooping up DC cash from Tim Kaine loser

Monday, October 25th, 2010 by Dara Kam

With barely more than a week until Election Day, GOP attorney general candidate Pam Bondi took time out from campaigning in the Sunshine State for quick trip to Washington DC to rake in some dough for ad time.

Bondi flew into DC briefly for a fundraiser hosted by former Virginia attorney general Jerry Kilgore, Bondi spokeswoman Sandi Copes said in an e-mail.

Bondi surely hopes she fares better than Kilgore did in his last election.

The Republican resigned as Virginia’s attorney general in 2005 to run for governor of the then-red state.

But Kilgore lost to Democrat Tim Kaine, now the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

The Gelber camp blasted Bondi, who’s never run for office before, for the fundraising trip, setting off a typical finger-pointing volley in the contentious race to succeed Attorney General Bill McCollum.

AG wars: Bondi camp calls Gelber a liar

Friday, October 8th, 2010 by Dara Kam

GOP attorney general candidate Pam Bondi’s campaign consultant called out her Democrat opponent Dan Gelber for “a distortion of the truth” in his new television ad.

In the ad, Gelber accuses Bondi of promising to “side with corporate interests” if she is elected.

“Dan Gelber’s first television ad is a disappointing distortion of the truth and in keeping with a career politician’s ‘win at all costs’ attitude. He talks about corruption but has no problem corrupting the truth. He made an allegation that wasn’t true and offered no evidence, because there is none,” Bondi campaign consultant Brett Doster said in a statement.

The ad refers to remarks Bondi’s made on the campaign trail pledging to side with the Florida Chamber of Commerce in fighting the union-backed card check issue and statements she’s made saying that “the last thing we need is an Eliott Spitzer-type” AG.

Gelber interpreted that to mean she won’t go after white-collar criminals as Spitzer, known as the “Sheriff of Wall Street,” did before he went down in flames after being caught with prostitutes.


Gelber hammers Bondi over big business ties in first TV ad

Friday, October 8th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Dan Gelber slammed his GOP attorney general opponent Pam Bondi in his first campaign ad, accusing the former Tampa prosecutor of being too close to her business backers to go after corruption.

Bondi, who has never run for office before, won the endorsement of the state’s two biggest (and influential) business groups – the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida – in the three-way GOP primary and in the general race.

Gelber, a state senator and former federal prosecutor, has made going after public corruption one of his top priorities in the campaign.

“While she protects insiders, I’ll take them on,”

Bondi highlights differences with Dem opponent Gelber in ‘Night and Day’ ad

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010 by Dara Kam

GOP attorney general candidate Pam Bondi and her Democrat opponent Dan Gelber both spent years as prosecutors, but they’re as different as night and day, the name of her new television ad.

Bondi, a political newcomer who spent two decades as a Tampa prosecutor, contrasts her positions on taxes and federal health care reforms in the new ad, running in select markets.

Bondi’s ad was created by GOP consultant Adam Goodman’s company, The Victory Group, and debuted in the West Palm Beach media market.

Attorney general debate scrubbed, Bondi won’t appear

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Organizers canceled an Oct. 5 debate at the University of Florida between attorney general candidates Dan Gelber and Pam Bondi because Bondi won’t appear.

GOP hopeful Bondi, a former prosecutor from Tampa who’s never run for office before, has a “scheduling conflict” preventing her from participating in the debate hosted by Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association, her campaign spokeswoman Sandi Copes said. Copes could not immediately say what Bondi had to do that trumped the debate.

State senator Gelber, a former federal prosecutor who also served as House Democratic Leader, earned a reputation as one of the legislature’s top arguers during feisty floor debates.

UPDATE: Two GOP attorney general candidates’ websites attacked, Bondi’s untouched

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Hackers didn’t limit their targets to candidates last night. Online thugs also penetrated the conservative Florida Family Policy Council website’s firewall, according to director John Stemberger. Hackers got into the organization’s page where voter guides were located and replaced the council’s donor banners with “bizarre images,” Stemberger said.

GOP attorney general hopeful Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp’s campaign website was attacked by hackers who got into the candidate’s calendar and e-mail, his campaign spokesman David Bishop said.

Online culprits also attacked Holly Benson’s website yesterday but were unable to breach the site‘s security, her web master said.

“We had suspicious behavior with our online calendar and email. Appointments would be canceled. Someone even called to send regrets for an event we accepted earlier in the day,” Bishop said.

The two are in a race too close to call against opponent Pam Bondi, whose website apparently remains unscathed.

UPDATE: Benson attorney general website attacked

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Apologies to Sean Doughtie, Holly Benson’s web master, who corrected our use of the term “hacked” to describe an attack on the attorney general candidate’s website.

The site was not hacked, which means the culprits did not gain access to the server, Doughtie, owner of Taproot Creative, clarified.

What happened was in the geek world called a “brute force attack,” Doughtie explained, designed to either shut the website down or hack into it. Neither happened, Doughtie said.

“They basically just jammed up the server so the server slowed down a crawl,” he said.

The attack came from Tallahassee, a source close to Benson’s campaign said, and Doughtie’s busy trying to identify who was behind the dirty deed.

GOP attorney general candidate Holly Benson’s website crashed last night after being hacked, her campaign said.

The attack on the eve before today’s primary election did not result in any security breach, according to her website consultant.

“Yesterday, was the victim of a brute force attack where one or more individuals attempted to overload the server with the purpose of taking it offline. We quickly identified the issue, narrowed the source of the attack, and were able to restore access with little downtime. At no time was the security of the website breached, and no information was compromised. We are conducting an ongoing investigation with regard to the source and the intent of the attack on the website,” Sean Doughtie, Benson’s new media campaign consultant, said.

Last-ditch conservative robo-call pitch: Gingrich for Benson in attorney general race

Monday, August 23rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Holly Benson’s tapped conservative icon Newt Gingrich for a robo-call last-ditch pitch before Tuesday’s primary election.

holly-newtBenson, a former state representative from Pensacola who’s served as secretary of both the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Agency for Health Care Administration under Gov. Charlie Crist, is in a tight three-way GOP primary for attorney general against Pam Bondi and Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp.

Gingrich hails Benson as “a proven conservative you can trust,” a swipe at Bondi, who’s never run for office before and released robo-calls from Sarah “Mama Grizzly” Palin today.

Gingrich says Benson is the best candidate to fight President Barack Obama’s health care plan.

The calls started yesterday and will continue today.

Last-minute Palin robo-calls for Bondi in GOP attorney general primary

Monday, August 23rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

bondi-palinThe day before Tuesday’s primary election, political newcomer Pam Bondi brought out the big guns: a robo-call recorded by conservative darling Sarah Palin.

The “Mama Grizzly” calls Bondi “a real prosecutor and a true conservative” who is “sharp, selfless and ready to stand for you” in the call released today.

Bondi was a Democrat for 16 years before switching to the GOP a decade ago.

Listen to Palin tout “my friend Pam Bondi.”

Maybe Bondi, who’s in a race too close to call against Holly Benson and Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, can help Palin as well.

Palin’s endorsees, mainly tea party favorites or political outsider’s like Bondi, have not fared well in primaries throughout the country thus far.

Aronberg, Gelber a state apart in last-minute push for attorney general

Saturday, August 21st, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Democratic candidates for attorney general spent the day in opposite parts of the state waving signs and knocking on doors in a last-ditch effort to win votes in Tuesday’s primary election.

State Sen. Dave Aronberg is spending the day in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. His opponent, Dan Gelber, is stumping in North Florida with stops in Tallahassee and Pensacola.

Gelber topped all of the attorney general candidates – including the three Republicans in a tight primary – in campaign contributions. He edged out opponent Aronberg, who led the raise in fundraising until this month, by just $11,000.

Like the Republican primary, the Aronberg and Gelber race is too close to call.

“With 43 percent undecided this is anyone’s game right now,” Aronberg said while going door-to-door in South Florida.

Bondi talks about her FOXNews pals, Sarah Palin and those controversial card check comments

Thursday, August 19th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Pam Bondi nailed down about $50,000 at a last-minute fundraiser in Jacksonville this evening hosted by business biggies Steve Halverson, president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and Ericka Alba, head of Associated Industries of Florida. Both business groups are backing Bondi in the primary.

Bondi, in a tight GOP primary for attorney general against Holly Benson and Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, made her last in-person pitch for campaign funds before the midnight deadline tonight after which candidates are barred from collecting cash until after the primary election on Tuesday.

The event took place at Halverson’s posh home overlooking the St. John’s River, a far cry from the tiny store front in downtown Lake City where she shook hands with about a dozen locals eager to meet the political neophyte in person.

At both events on Bondi’s four-day sweep of the state before Tuesday, Bondi spoke about comments she made during a radio call-in program this weekend that fired up Kottkamp’s campaign.

“With the unions, I am totally against the secret ballot. We cannot have the secret ballot. Everything has to be public. The votes have to be public. We have to have transparency to make sure that everything is on the up and up. We have to protect our businesses in this economy more than ever,” she said on Tico Perez’ WDBO radio show this weekend.

What she said meant she supports the union-backed card check included in the Employee Free Choice Act that would allow unions to organize if 50 percent of workers check a card in public. Under existing law, workers can vote for or against unionization in federally supervised, private-ballot elections.

“By forcing workers to sign a card in public–instead of vote in private–Card Check opens the door to intimidation and coercion,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the Employee Free Choice Act, says on its website.

Kottkamp’s camp immediately jumped on Bondi, who since said she misunderstood the question and repeatedly insisted she opposes the unions’ card check program.

Here Bondi talks about her FOXNews pals Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren and her endorsement from conservative darling Sarah Palin before clarifying her position on card check.

Halverson, who said Bondi collected about $50,000 in donations at his soiree, also backed up Bondi on where she stands on the issue that he said is ‘virtually a litmus test” for candidates.

“Obviously, card check is virtually a litmus test. I can absolutely assure you that what Pam said – that’s she’s been opposed to card check from the very beginning. If anybody heard that or heard comments from her desperate opponent to the contrary, rest assured that isn’t the case,” Halverson said.

Gelber attorney general campaign bus tour, Dem-style

Thursday, August 19th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Democratic state senator and attorney general hopeful Dan Gelber is kicking off a down-to-the wire bus tour beginning tomorrow in Miami.

Gelber, in a primary against Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres that’s too close to call, will make stops in Delray Beach and Boca Raton tomorrow afternoon with PBC tax collector Anne Gannon, who formerly served alongside Gelber in the state House.

Meanwhile, AG wannabe Pam Bondi launched the Republican version of the attorney general primary bus tour today. She’s visiting GOP strongholds like The Villages after a last-minute fundraiser tonight in Jacksonville hosted by Steve Halverson, chair of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and Ericka Alba, chairwoman of Associated Industries of Florida.

The fundraising deadline for the Tuesday’s primary election is midnight tonight, causing candidates like Bondi and Gelber to frantically dial for dollars and send e-mails seeking contributions.

Gelber didn’t have to launch a bus tour to get on Bondi’s radar screen, however.

At several speeches today, Bondi repeatedly referred to Gelber as the Democratic nominee who she’ll be facing off against in November.

“Looks like it’s going to be Dan Gelber in the general,” Bondi told supporters at the Florida Chamber of Commerce this morning. “The more we hear about Dan Gelber, the more we learn, the last thing we need is an Eliot Spitzer attorney general.”

Gelber’s sweep across the state includes stops in Tallahassee, Pensacola, the Tampa Bay area, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Gelber’s opponent, Sen. Dave Aronberg, is conducting his own RV tour this weekend in South Florida. He’ll make stops in Delray Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Coconut Grove on Saturday.

Newt Gingrich backs Holly Benson for attorney general

Thursday, August 19th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich endorsed Holly Benson in a tight three-way GOP primary for attorney general today.

“The next Attorney General of Florida will have to take the lead on the lawsuit challenging Obamacare,” said Gingrich said in a press release issued by Benson’s campaign. “In my opinion, there is no one more qualified to do this than Holly Benson. So today, I am proud to endorse Holly’s candidacy for Florida Attorney General.”

Benson, a former state House member who also served as secretary of both the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Agency for Health Care Administration, received the endorsement of conservative biggie Gingrich the day after primary opponent Pam Bondi nailed down the support of Tea Party idol Sarah Palin.

“It is a true honor to have the former Speaker’s support of my campaign,” Benson said in a statement. “Newt has been at the cutting edge of conservative policies, leading not only a conservative banner but also leading our party to victory after decades of being the minority in Congress. He is a true conservative icon, and I am proud to have his endorsement.”

The GOP opponents are battling to prove their conservative stripes with their endorsements. Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp has the support of Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, considered the matriarch of the modern conservative movement and conservative activist John Stemberger, head of the Florida Family Policy Council.

Palin endorses Bondi for attorney general

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Political newbie Pam Bondi scooped her GOP rivals for attorney general with an endorsement today from conservative icon Sarah Palin.

Palin, who was Sen. John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 presidential election, backed Bondi along with a handful of other female GOP candidates throughout the country today.

“We desperately need these conservative leaders who won’t kowtow to the Obama administration’s big government overreach into our states, small businesses, families, and individual lives,” Palin wrote on her Facebook page about Bondi and Iowa attorney general candidate Brenna Findley.

Palin ‘s endorsement this late in the primary game could translate into some last-minute campaign cash for Bondi, a former prosecutor who’s kicking off a state-wide, four-day bus tour beginning tomorrow in Tallahassee.

The endorsement is a snub of Bondi’s opponent Holly Benson, a former Florida House member who also served under Gov. Charlie Crist as secretary of both the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Benson recently launched a television ad in which she calls both Bondi and the third GOP AG candidate Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp liberals.

Gelber strikes back at Aronberg in attorney general race TV ad

Friday, August 6th, 2010 by Dara Kam

State Sen. Dan Gelber gets defensive in his first television ad in the race against fellow senator Dave Aronberg in the Democratic attorney general primary.

With absentee voting already underway, Gelber, a Miami Beach lawyer and former federal prosecutor, highlights his years in the courtroom and accuses Aronberg of “political games” and “dishonest attacks” in a series of mailers in which Aronberg accuses Gelber of a potential conflict of interest. Aronberg’s made a big issue out of Gelber’s former law firm going to work for BP to defend the oil giant in any Florida lawsuits.

Aronberg calls Gelber request for attorney general debates ‘political stunt’ but says yes…if

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010 by Dara Kam

State Sen. Dave Aronberg agreed to his colleague Sen. Dan Gelber’s request for debates before the primary election…sort of.

Aronberg and Gelber are in a heated Democratic primary for attorney general, and Aronberg’s taken off the gloves and attacked his opponent for Gelber’s former law firm’s representation of BP.

Gelber says he resigned from Akerman Senterfitt, the state’s largest law firm that recently was retained by BP, days before Aronberg demanded it.

Gelber then sent Aronberg a letter asking for 11 debates before the Aug. 24 primary.

Aronberg responded today calling a request for that many debates – nearly three a week – a “political stunt” and dragging BP into the debate arena.

“The next Attorney General will probably spend the better part of this decade involved in litigation of the state versus BP, Halliburton and other parties who might share liability for this disaster. Therefore, as we work together to agree on our debate schedule, I want to insist that at least one of the debates be held there so the citizens of that region can hear our plans for fighting for them as their Attorney General,” Aronberg wrote in a letter to Gelber.

Aronberg also agreed to a debate outside of South Florida, home to both Democrats, in Tampa Bay or Orlando.

Correction: Gelber gets Buddy McKay backing, Aronberg gets sheriffs

Thursday, December 17th, 2009 by Dara Kam

State Sen. Dan Gelber and attorney general candidate nailed down another big-name Democratic endorsement, this time from Buddy McKay, who served as lieutenant governor under the late Gov. Lawton Chiles and briefly served as governor after Chiles’ death.

Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat and former House member, is trying to trade up for the Cabinet post just a year after he won election to the Senate.

He and colleague Dave Aronberg, a Democratic senator from Greenacres, are in a battle-of-the-endorsements.

Post On Politics had erroneously reported that the sheriffs were split on the candidates.

They are not.

Aronberg has the support of 10 Democratic sheriffs, including Palm Beach County’s own law enforcement rock star Ric Bradshaw.

Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, former state education commissioner Betty Castor and former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis have all thrown their support behind Gelber.

Republicans have lined up Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp and Holly Benson, a former House member who also served as secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, in a GOP primary race that’s been virtually silent compared to the Aronberg/Gelber contest.

They’re all vying to replace Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican who is running for governor in a primary against another senator – Paula Dockery.

Gelber’s latest political aspiration has opened up the door for yet another former senator, Gwen Margolis, to return to the chamber.

Margolis, a former Senate President, left office before being termed out to make room for Gelber. If she wins, it would be the Miami Beach-area Democrat’s second return trip to the Senate. After serving in the state House, she switched to the Senate from 1981-1992 before making a losing bid for Congress. Margolis was reelected to the Senate in 2002.

Holly Benson leaving AHCA, expected to announce AG run next month

Thursday, October 15th, 2009 by Dara Kam

secbensonAgency for Health Care Administration Secretary Holly Benson resigned from her post this morning, the day after meeting with Gov. Charlie Crist who appointed her to the post in Feb. 2008.

“I had a meeting with the Governor the other day to talk about some opportunities that lie ahead, and I regret that because of those opportunities I will no longer be able to serve as your Secretary,” Benson wrote in an e-mail to AHCA workers this morning.

Benson, a former state representative from the Panhandle, is expected to jump into the attorney general’s race next month, according to sources close to the Pensacola Republican. That could elevate interest in a GOP primary against Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, who’s already announced his candidacy to replace Bill McCollum. Democratic state Sens. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres and Dan Gelber of Miami Beach are already engaged in a heated battle for the state’s top law enforcement chief.

Crist tapped Benson, a bond lawyer, to head AHCA in 2008. Before that, she left her Pensacola House seat to head DBPR, again at Crist’s bidding.

In the House, Benson was the force behind a model Medicaid reform project that has had mixed results. (more…)

Gelber pushes constitutional amendment to stop secret budget deals

Thursday, September 10th, 2009 by Dara Kam

State Sen. Dan Gelber is pushing a constitutional amendment aimed at cracking down on the kind of secret budget deals that got former House Speaker Ray Sansom in trouble.

Gelber, who is running against Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres in a Democratic primary for state attorney general, and Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, want lawmakers to put the constitutional amendment on next year’s November ballot.

The amendment would require that appropriations bills be written in plain language and that all budget conference meetings between two or more lawmakers be conducted in a publicly noticed meeting.

The state budget is usually crafted in a much different manner, going through a series of conference committees until the Senate President and the House Speaker ultimately resolve their differences behind closed doors.

In Sansom’s case, he was the House budget chairman when he slipped in a $6 million item to build an airport at a college where he later became a high-paid executive on the day he was annointed Speaker.

Sansom, Okaloosa County developer Jay Odom and former Northwest Florida State College President Bob Richburg have been indicted on official misconduct charges regarding the airport.

Sansom and Richburg each face an additional perjury charge for allegedly lying to a Leon County grand jury. They are scheduled to stand trial at the end of this month. (more…)

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