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McCollum ‘cautiously optimistic’ after meeting with BP claims czar

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Bill McCollum said he is “cautiously optimistic” after an hour-and-a-half long meeting with BP claims czar Ken Feinberg in the Capitol this morning.

Claimants throughout the Gulf Coast have complained that little has changed since Feinberg, appointed by the White House and BP to dole out $20 billion the oil giant is putting into the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, took over BP’s much-maligned claims process more than three weeks ago.

McCollum has repeatedly criticized Feinberg’s system, still in development even after he has written more than $40 million in checks to Floridians for losses caused by BP’s April 20th Deepwater Horizon oil rig blast and ensuing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Feinberg’s paid an average of $7,195 in emergency payments to nearly 5,600 Floridians since taking over on Aug. 23.

One of the most contentious issues facing Florida thus far has been Feinberg’s emphasis on “proximity” to the oil spill in determining eligibility for claims and questions about whether perceptions about Florida’s beaches being oily (even when they were not) contributed to a drop in tourism that affected hotels, restaurants and state tax collections.


Sink calls Scott while McCollum withholds endorsement

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The gubernatorial nominees from the two main parties chatted last night after Democrat Alex Sink phoned Republican Rick Scott to offer her congratulations. Sink’s campaign described it as a “short conversation” in which she expressed hope they could focus on the issues.

Meanwhile, Scott still hasn’t heard from Bill McCollum, his primary rival who refused to say whether he would endorse Scott during their bruising campaign.

McCollum conceded the primary to Scott but has not endorsed the multi-millionaire who spent more than $50 million of his own money to defeat party establishment favorite McCollum.

McCollum’s campaign spokesman said he would endorse every other GOP candidate but failed to include Scott’s name in the list when asked.

“The attorney general is looking forward to being on the campaign trail for campaigns for our Republican slate, including Marco Rubio, Jeff Atwater, Adam Putnam and our new attorney general nominee and Dean Cannon and Mike Haridopolos and our entire legislative slate,” McCollum campaign spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said today.

When asked if McCollum would endorse Scott, Campbell said: “They have not yet spoken.”

When asked again, Campbell repeated her earlier remarks: “I think (Attorney) General McCollum will make comments this week, where he believes the Republican Party needs to focus on in November. I think you could take from that that he’ll make comments today or Thursday he will focus on electing Republican candidates including Marco Rubio and Mike Haridopolos and Jeff Atwater and the entire Republican legislative slate.”

McCollum became the state’s top GOP elected official when Gov. Charlie Crist abandoned the Republican Party to run as an independent in the U.S. Senate race against former House Speaker Marco Rubio.

Republican Party of Florida officials scrapped a unity party planned in Tampa today after the brutal primary season between Scott and McCollum.

UPDATE: Palm Beach County ballot mix-up

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: More of the same ballot mix-ups are being reported in Palm Beach County and in Broward County, according to the state Division of Elections. There have been fewer than 10 instances reported in each county.

Oops. After the millions of dollars spent by GOP gubernatorial opponents Rick Scott and Attorney General Bill McCollum, at least two votes that could have gone their way won’t.

Two Palm Beach County Republican voters received “No Party Affiliation” ballots but reported the mix-up only after they had cast their votes, meaning they did not vote in the heated GOP primary.

The poll workers who handed out the wrong ballots were re-assigned, elections supervisor Susan Bucher said.

“I don’t know how this could happen,” she said.

Turn-out throughout the state appears to be light despite predictions of record-breaking voter participation.

Sink joins McCollum in demand for revamp of BP claims czar process

Monday, August 23rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink wants oil disaster claims czar Ken Feinberg to revamp his process for paying individuals and business owners who say BP’s massive oil disaster caused them to lose revenues or suffer other damages.

Sink, who traveled frequently to the Panhandle to meet with Feinberg and business owners who’s claims languished in BP’s hands, and fellow Cabinet member Attorney General Bill McCollum both accuse Feinberg of creating a process that’s less friendly to oil spill victims than federal law.

Feinberg has “taken an extremely restrictive view as to who is eligible for recovery,” Sink, a Democrat who is the presumptive nominee for governor, wrote to Feinberg today, the kick-off of his Gulf Coast Claims Facility that will handle the claims.

“In my opinion, the GCCF rules must be rewritten in favor of those who were harmed by this catastrophe, as opposed to those who caused it,” Sink wrote.


Oil spill claims czar refutes McCollum criticism that new claims system worse than BP’s for victims

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Ken Feinberg, who’s’ taking over BP’s troubled claims system at midnight, rejects Attorney General Bill McCollum’s contention that the new claims czar’s expedited emergency payment system is worse than BP’s.

“No good deed goes unpunished,” Feinberg said today on a conference call with reporters when asked about McCollum’s critique.

Feinberg said he expects a flood of applications when the Gulf Coast Claims Facility goes online at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

The lawyer, hired by BP and President Barack Obama, received high marks for his handling of the compensation fund for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks but is under fire for vague guidelines about how he will dole out the $20 billion BP has pledged for Gulf Coast individuals and businesses who’ve lost money and jobs since the April 20th Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Feinberg has yet to reveal how much money he’s being paid to take over the claims system and won’t release internal documents detailing how BP’s adjusters have been retrained to handle claims.

Some Panhandle business owners waited for months without getting any payment from the oil giant for their losses and those who did receive checks had no idea how the amount was derived or what time period it covered.

Feinberg is using “proximity,” or how close claimants are in relation to where oil washed up on the beach, as one factor in deciding who gets paid. That’s more onerous than federal law, McCollum complained in a letter on Friday.

Feinberg says his system gives claimants a free review of how they would fare in court.

“It’s truly a free preview. Nobody is obligated to come into this program and accept the award unless they voluntarily reach a conclusion that it’s in their interest,” Feinberg said.

Sink seeks clarification from Feinberg on BP claimants’ promise not to sue

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010 by Dara Kam

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink wants Ken Feinberg, appointed by President Barack Obama to administer the BP oil spill claims process, to clarify whether individuals and businesses seeking payment from the oil giant must promise not to sue BP in the future.

Sink’s letter comes on the heels of a scathing analysis of Feinberg’s claims process – revamped nine times since he started the take-over late last month – by a Florida legal dream team tapped by Gov. Charlie Crist and Attorney General Bill McCollum.

One of the legal eagles’ chief worries is Feinberg’s requirement that anyone seeking a lump-sum settlement from BP waive their right to sue – long before the full impact from the devastating oil leak are known.

“With millions of gallons of oil discharged in the Gulf of Mexico, the people who live and work along the Gulf Coast cannot know with any certainty today what the full extent of their damages may be in the future. In order to ensure that the claims process is fair, the payment of any Floridian’s claim, including a final claim, should not be conditioned on the waiver of the claimant’s rights under state or federal law,” Sink, a Democrat running for governor, wrote to Feinberg today.

Former attorneys general Jim Smith and Bob Butterworth sent a letter to Crist and McCollum this week outlining their concerns with Feinberg’s process, chief among them his aim to give BP “total peace” regarding payouts.

“While the current BP claims process has been fraught with delays and has failed to adequately compensate the many victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, we are concerned that the process that is about to replace it has the potential to harm the citizens of the Gulf Region as profoundly and deeply as the spill itself,” Smith and Butterworth wrote.

I found skimmers, McCollum tells Obama official. Now get ‘em here.

Friday, June 25th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Bill McCollum stepped up his demands for more skimming vessels to be sent to Florida to combat black waves of oil as thick as two inches deep washing up on Panhandle beaches.

McCollum, a Republican running for governor, sent U.S. Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano a letter today again seeking more skimming boats for the Sunshine State.

McCollum’s staff located at least four skimming vessels operated by a Jacksonville-based company that helped in the Exxon-Valdez oil disaster and included information about Crowley Maritime in his letter to Napolitano.

There are 28 skimming vessels in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida’s shores but thousands more are available from other countries offering services that President Barack Obama’s administration has thus far refused to accept.

“I don’t get it. There’s some real disconnect. It’s either incompetence or somebody’s decided we don’t need them,” McCollum said in an interview. “Why should we leave a single American flag vessel available? Why aren’t we calling them? I don’t know for the life of me.”

McCollum wants $2.5 billion from BP just in case

Thursday, June 10th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Bill McCollum is asking BP to put $2.5 billion into an interest-earning escrow account to cover the state’s losses from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

McCollum’s requests is the latest in Florida candidates’ string of demands for cash from the oil giant.

A month ago, state Sen. Dave Aronberg, a Greenacres Democrat running to replace McCollum, asked BP to put at least $1 billion into escrow to cover possible damages.

McCollum and the other Florida Cabinet members were less than pleased with some of British Petroleum Vice President Robert Fryar’s Tuesday appearance before the panel.

Fryar told McCollum he did not know if BP has earmarks any funds to pay claims to Florida government, citizens or businesses resulting from the April 20 disaster.

University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith recently estimated the impact of the oil disaster on the state’s economy could range from $2.2 billion to nearly $11 billion.

McCollum’s wants BP to put $2.5 billion into a savings account and acknowledge that may not be enough.

Paula Dockery drops out of GOP primary for governor

Monday, May 24th, 2010 by Dara Kam

State Sen. Paula Dockery is out of the GOP primary for governor, her campaign announced this morning.

Dockery was a long-shot against Attorney General Bill McCollum, now in a primary battle against Naples multimillionaire Rick Scott.

Dockery said she’s quitting the race because of money.

“It is with mixed feelings that I end my campaign to be your next governor. People who know me know I’m a tenacious fighter unafraid of long odds, especially when the stakes are so high. But I’m also a realist and understand the costs of effectively competing statewide. At this point in the election cycle, I see no financial path to victory. And so today, with both resignation that the resources are not there and appreciation for the journey we shared, I am ending my campaign to be governor of the great state of Florida,” the Lakeland Republican said in a statement.

Scott, a former health-care executive, is expected to spend up to $5 million of his own money on TV ads, and recently launched his second ad before McCollum aired his first.

Crist asks BP for $35 million for ad campaign to combat lies about Fla beaches

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist wants BP to give the state nearly $35 million for an ad campaign to lure tourists scared off by the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico back to the Sunshine State.

Crist asked BP to fork over $34.75 million – $10 million more than BP pledged to the state to offset initial clean-up and preparation costs – for a “marketing campaign to counter the negative, widespread and false information potential visitors to Florida are receiving about the oil spill’s impact on Florida’s beaches and waters,” the governor’s office said in a press release.

This morning, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service incorrectly reported that tar balls had washed up on the beach in Destin. Not true, local officials said.

As Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink’s campaign staff pointed out, Sink (the Democratic candidate for governor) beat Crist to the punch this weekend by formally asking BP to pay for the ads. Sink also asked Crist earlier this week to get the federal SBA disaster loans to help out small businesses.

It’s been an oily week for the newly-independent governor and U.S. Senate so far, and it’s only Wednesday.

Crist, who is shortly going to officially abandon the Republican party by changing his voter registration, visited the Panhandle this weekend and took a leisurely ride with reporters on a charter fishing boat to spread the word to visitors that Florida’s beaches are beautiful, fish are biting and the water’s clean.

Also today, Crist asked federal officials for an economic injury disaster declaration for the 19 counties abutting the Gulf Coast from the Panhandle south to Sarasota so local businesses can get emergency loans to tide them over until BP fills their damage claims.

UPDATE: BP pledges 2-day turnaround on claims

Thursday, May 6th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Bill McCollum said that British Petroleum executives promised to pay claims within two days and agreed to put in writing their commitment to pay all costs associated with the massive oil spill circulating in the Gulf of Mexico.

McCollum and the attorneys general of Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama yesterday pressed the oil giant to put on paper its pledge to fund damages for the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil blast still spewing hundreds of thousands of oil daily into the Gulf.

“BP has assured us it will do whatever it takes to make our states and their citizens whole, and I encourage them to continue working diligently to make the claims process expedient and efficient so our citizens and businesses can see immediate relief,” McCollum, running in a GOP primary for governor, said in a statement.

Federal law requires that business owners and others impacted by the oil spill file claims with the “responsible party” before pursuing other litigation.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate, is also demanding that BP do a better job handling claims and communicating with coastal businesses.

BP promised McCollum and the other attorneys general it would put in writing their commitment to cover all costs of the incident – which they are bound to do under federal law – “without regard to any potentially applicable
statutory caps on recoveries,” McCollum said in a statement.

BP gave the states $25 million each to help defray the costs of preparing for the spill and set up a toll-free number for claims, 800-440-0858.

McCollum and his colleagues also asked for the same commitment in writing from Halliburton and Transocean, the other companies involved in the drilling operation off the coast of Louisiana.

Crist asks Obama for $50 million to cover oil spill

Thursday, May 6th, 2010 by Dara Kam

cristobama_090210Gov. Charlie Crist asked President Barack Obama for a $50 million emergency grant to offset costs related to the oil spill threatening Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Crist asked the president to essentially put his money where his mouth is and keep true to his promise to go all-out to help the Gulf states with the disaster.

“Encouraged by your pledge to ‘spare no effort to respond to this crisis for as long as it continues…And we will spare no resource to clean up whatever damage is caused,‘ we ask that you seek ways to help bring about an application of disaster provisions of the Stafford Act that would permit disaster National Emergency Grants and the payment of Disaster Unemployment Assistance,” Crist wrote in a letter to Obama today.

Crist’s request is the latest in a string of high-ranking officials’ efforts to ensure the state’s emergency needs are met despite an initial $25 million block grant from BP to cover rapidly mounting costs to prepare for the anticipated impact of the massive oil spill.

No word yet if the newly-independent U.S. Senate candidate Crist will hug Obama if the president gives the green light for the dough.

Sink, McCollum step up pressure on big oil over spill

Thursday, May 6th, 2010 by Dara Kam

29354286tChief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Attorney General Bill McCollum, likely to face off in the November gubernatorial election, are growing more frustrated with BP’s apparent lackadaisical approach to the impending financial crisis headed toward Florida in the shape of an oil blob.

Sink, a Democrat, sent a letter to the oil giant’s president of American operations Lamar McKay asking him to put her in touch with a BP exec who can make decisions.

McCollum, a Republican, and the attorneys general of the other Gulf states, want President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to create a federal-state work group to coordinate lawsuits coming out of the massive oil spill.

BP has given Florida $25 million to pay for initial clean-up and preparation costs and has pledged more.

“We recognize that BP has stated publicly that it will live up to its obligation to pay all claims arising from this environmental and economic disaster. We hope that BP will. But we would be remiss in our responsibilities if we did not consider the possibility that enforcement or litigation efforts may be required in the future,” McCollum and the AG’s of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi wrote in a letter today.

McCollum and Sink traveled several times to the oil spill command center in Mobile to make sure Florida’s needs are being addressed.

Sink, who said she there’s a communication breakdown among the top brass handling the disaster, is putting BP on the spot. (more…)

McCollum, Gulf state AGs seek assurances from oil companies

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Bill McCollum and the attorneys general of the four other Gulf Coast states potentially affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil blast asked the three corporations associated with the massive oil leak to put their financial commitment to the clean-up in writing.

McCollum and the AG’s of Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana sent letters to BP, Transocean Ltd., and Halliburton, asking them to “memorialize their commitment to fund the protection and clean-up of our coastline and provide compensation for any economic losses suffered on an individual, corporate, and governmental level,” McCollum said in a press release.

The attorneys general also want the companies to set up a contact person and to keep all “documents, data and tangible objects” related to the disaster intact until further notice.

Read the letters here:

Attorneys general letter to Halliburton.
Attorneys general letter to BP.
Attorneys general letter to Transocean

Tired of waiting for BP, Crist pushes locals to move ahead

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist urged Florida local officials to move forward to prepare for the oil spill looming off the state’s coastline instead of waiting for permission from the unified command center in Mobile.

“I think it’s important to do what local officials know best,” said Crist before heading to the Mobile Unified Command Center this morning with a contingent of Florida officials including Cabinet members Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Attorney General Bill McCollum.

The Florida cadre went to Mobile to ease the bottleneck keeping resources from being expedited to the state’s coastal counties, they said.

Crist said he expects to extend the state of emergency now in effect throughout Panhandle coastal counties south to Sarasota County to include Collier and Monroe counties later today.

McCollum reiterated his threat that the state will sue British Petroleum over the disaster that could be the worst oil spill in Florida’s history.

“I think that’s certainly within the realm of possibility,” Crist agreed.

Oil spill update: $25M from BP, Brogan sets up academic task force

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The novelty of the massive oil spill in the Gulf coupled with inclement weather is posing a challenge for one of the nation’s most renowned emergency operations units.

Florida’s emergency management division, considered a model for the rest of the nation, has a long history of preparing for and responding to natural disasters, especially hurricanes.

But the mammoth surface spill and incessant pumping of up to 210,000 gallons per day of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico is an unaccustomed catastrophe, more unpredictable than the “skinny lines” meteorologists use to predict where hurricanes might land.

“As you’ve all seen the trajectory, this oil spill continues to go back east, west, north, south. This is going to be the pattern for the rest of the spill duration. I want you all to know that,” Department of Environmental Protection emergency response director Doug White.

Crist to meet with Gulf Coast guvs, Obama officials and tour oil leak HQ

Monday, May 3rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist will check out the oil leak command post in Mobile tomorrow morning before meeting with the governors of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama and a contingent of President Barack Obama administration officials.

Crist is scheduled to start off his day at the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center before heading to the Mobile Unified Command center, ground zero for federal, state and BP officials managing what could be the nation’s worst oil spill. En route to Alabama, he’ll fly over the oil leak and finish up with a meeting with the his fellow governors.

Crist expressed earlier today dissatisfaction with the petroleum giant’s response to the disaster.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink spoke even more strongly about the “confusion” she encountered at the command headquarters in Mobile.

Attorney General Bill McCollum vowed there will be litigation over the rapidly-growing leak.

All three Florida politicos are running for higher office: newly-independent Crist for U.S. Senate, Sink as the presumptive Democratic candidate for governor and McCollum the frontrunner in the GOP primary for governor.

‘Daunting’ oil spill will wind up in court, AG says; BP pledges to pick up tab

Monday, May 3rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Florida officials are ramping up preparation for the massive oil spill looming off the state’s Panhandle coastline.

“The magnitude of this spill is daunting,” state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole said at a press conference early this morning.

oil-locationsAttorney General Bill McCollum warned Floridians not to sign anything releasing BP or other companies associated with the oil leak and to ignore “scammers” who promise to clean up affected areas.

“There is a great concern on our part with people who may go out in advance of any oil coming at all and try to get some hold harmeless agreement, either BP or some other potentially liable party,” McCollum said. “We also don’t’ want anybody to get ripped off by scam artists.”


House committee bolsters McCollum’s federal lawsuit

Thursday, April 15th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The House Rules Committee gave Attorney General Bill McCollum’ “boost” this morning by allowing him to add individuals in the state’s lawsuit against President Barack Obama’s administration over federal health care reforms.

McCollum, a Republican who is running for governor, doesn’t necessarily need a new law to give him that power, Chairman Bill Galvano said, but would let the courts know that the state supports McCollum’s efforts.

“However, at best it can bolster it. At worst, it’s window dressing,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, said.

More than a dozen Republican attorneys general in other states have joined McCollum’s lawsuit, which in Florida has fueled a partisan fight echoed in the committee this morning.

” I don’t think we should be in the business of passing laws that aren’t necessary,” argued Rep. Jim Waldman, a Coconut Creek Democrat who is a lawyer.

“The law that’s not necessary is the unconstitutional mandate requiring Floridians to buy health care coverage and if not fining them,” retorted House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach.

The bill passed along partisan lines, with Ron Saunders of Key West the only Democrat voting with Republicans. Democrats had stopped McCollum’s measure from being tacked onto a different bill last week but GOP House leaders revived the bill at McCollum’s request.

Deputy Attorney General Joe Jacquot said McCollum’s office does not believe they need the statutory authorization but that it would bolster the lawsuit’s standing in the courts. McCollum’s office is seeking a Senate vehicle for the proposal.

House GOP leaders help McCollum shore up support for federal lawsuit

Thursday, April 15th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Bill McCollum‘s attempt at turning a (non-controversial) life insurance bill into a vehicle to boost his (controversial) lawsuit against the federal government over health care reforms backfired last week.

But Republican House leaders are breathing new life into a measure giving the GOP candidate for governor the power to represent Floridians, individually or en masse.

Democrats protested that McCollum’s amendment – tacked onto the life insurance bill in a series of surprise amendments that confused even Republican House General Government Policy Council Chairman Baxter Troutman – wasn’t germane to the original bill.

House Speaker Larry Cretul’s staff and the Democrats agreed to strip the original bill of the McCollum language and instead are introducing it at a stand-alone bill at today’s Rules Committee meeting.

House rules require that amendments be germane to the bills on which they are attached. Often subjective, rulings on germanity frequently threaten credulity.

But a legislative lawyer’s diagram of the germanity rule and its relationship to the bill in question (HB 885) as an explanation to a lawmaker who questioned the process seemingly made the germanity issue clear. As mud.


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