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Haridopolos agrees to CFO Atwater’s request for public meeting on SBA investment

Thursday, October 6th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Senate President Mike Haridopolos has agreed to call in State Board of Administration executive director Ash Williams to answer questions about a $125 million investment after Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Haridopolos’ predecessor, asked for the public meeting.

Atwater, a North Palm Beach banker, asked Haridopolos on Thursday to bring Williams in to satisfy Sen. Mike Fasano’s demands for information about an investment earlier this year in hedge fund Starboard Value and Opportunity. Williams gave Fasano, R-New Port Richey, a bill for more than $10,000 in response to a public records request for documents regarding the investment, which was in the works for more than two years before the investment was made in April.

“It is my deep belief that you and the other members of the legislature, elected to represent the interests of Floridians, should have full and open access to information wherever it might reside throughout government, including the SBA,” Atwater wrote in a letter to the senate president.

Atwater also said Fasano should not be charged to review the documents and that he trusts Fasano to keep any confidential information in the records private. On Monday, Fasano asked Haridopolos to subpoena Williams and the documents or to order him to appear before a Senate committee to explain the investment and the public records charges.

“Being that the CFO is a champion of transparency and given his expertise in this realm, I plan to take his recommendation and hold a meeting that will be open to the public and ask the Director of the SBA, Ash Williams, and his staff to be available to answer any questions that the public or my fellow legislators may have about the investment, as well as the public records request,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said in a statement late Thursday. “Like CFO Atwater, it is my hope that this meeting will alleviate any questions that lawmakers or the public may have regarding this investment and the SBA, and the IAC may continue to conduct business.”

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UPDATE: Senator seeks subpoena for SBA documents related to pension investments after getting $10K bill

Monday, October 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

After getting a bill for more than $10,000 from the State Board of Administration, state Sen. Mike Fasano is asking Senate President Mike Haridopolos to subpoena the documents from the Cabinet agency regarding a $125 million investment in the state pension fund earlier this year.

Fasano is seeking public records demonstrating the “due diligence” the SBA used before it invested $125 million in Starboard Value and Opportunity, a hedge fund spin-off of Ramius LLC. Ramius’s president is a former client of SBA executive director Ash Williams. Williams told Fasano it would cost $10,750.13 for 360 hours of staff time and possibly take months to produce the documents.

An SBA spokesman said the investment – which took more than two years to research, negotiate and complete – was already in the works before Williams came to work for the SBA in July 2008 and neither the agency nor Williams has done anything wrong.

But on Friday, Fasano wrote a letter asking Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, to use his legislative authority to subpoena the documents or order Williams to appear before a committee to explain the investment.

In his letter, Fasano said the SBA’s estimated cost of the records is “chilling to the concept of governmental transparency” and sets a dangerous precedent.

“It is a disgrace that the SBA could merely set a price tag on information that it does not want the public to see. Florida’s Government in the Sunshine laws are a protection that prevent secret deals and other behaviors from being hidden from public view. Circumventing these laws by slapping a price label on the requested material must not be tolerated. Not only will it damage access to information for the legislature, the greater danger is that it will damage access to information for Floridians as a whole,” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, wrote.

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UPDATE: McCollum helps debunk Scott ads blasting Sink and pension fund

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: GOP officials appear to be linking Attorney General Bill McCollum to billions of dollars in losses – on paper – to the state pension fund during the 2008 financial meltdown.

McCollum has steadfastly refused to join other GOP elected officials in their support for Rick Scott, who defeated the attorney general in the August GOP governor’s race primary.

The Republican Party of Florida paid for a series of ads attacking Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the Democrat nominee for governor, for her role in the pension fund losses.

“Under current oversight, the fund has lost billions upon billions – and now Alex Sink is actually running ads on her questionable record overseeing SBA,” RPOF spokesman Dan Conston said in an e-mail in response to a reaction to McCollum’s pointed questioning yesterday to refute recent reports that the State Board of Administration made risky investments that endangered the pension fund.


Attorney General Bill McCollum may have finally put to rest speculation that he may eventually endorse Rick Scott in the governor’s race in the spirit of party unity.

Instead, he helped Scott’s opponent Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the Democrat candidate for governor, debunk ads bashing Sink for her role in the state pension fund’s loss of billions of dollars in value during the financial meltdown in 2008.

McCollum, who lost the GOP primary bid in a brutal battle against Scott last month, sits with Sink and Gov. Charlie Crist on the board of trustees that governs the State Board of Administration, which handles the pension fund and other investments.

In a public meeting yesterday, McCollum repeatedly asked SBA chief Ash Williams about reports that the pension fund is troubled and that the SBA made risky investments.

Williams assured the trustees the $119 billion fund is sound.

“The SBA is stronger and different then it was only two years ago,” Williams said.

He also refuted allegations that the investments were risky.

“The truth is they are performing,” McCollum said. “They are assets that pay back.”

UPDATE: Sink calls Scott deceptive, irresponsible for ‘scaring our retirees’

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: A spokesman for Rick Scott’s campaign responded to Alex Sink’s rant about her GOP opponent Scott’s attack ads, paid for by the Republican Party of Florida.

“As the St Petersburg Times reported, CFO Sink never declared a potential conflict and supported a no-bid contract to her former employer. Instead of looking for a correction from the St Petersburg Times, Sink is trying to draw attention from valid questions over her integrity and competence,” Scott campaign spokesman Joe Kildea said in an e-mail.

As far as her accusation that Scott is scaring pensioners, Kildea wrote: “She is trying to draw attention away from the facts (as reported in the St Pete. Times)”

Chief Financial Officer and Democrat governor hopeful Alex Sink went on a rant in response to questions about her GOP opponent Rick Scott’s attack ads accusing her of benefiting from a no-bid contract that went to her former employer and being responsible for the state pension fund’s $23 billion loss three years ago.

“You know that’s ridiculous,” Sink, a trustee along with Gov. Charlie Crist and Attorney General Bill McCollum of Florida’s State Board of Administration, which handles pension funds for state and municipal workers.

“The whole market almost collapsed. Everybody’s 401K took a dive. And the good news is that independent authorities call the Florida pension fund one of the strongest investment pension funds in the country.
We are one of the strongest public pension funds in the country. He is out there scaring our retirees into thinking that their pensions are at risk. He’s irresponsible and shouldn’t be doing it.”

Sink was even more incensed over an ad accusing her of voting to give former employer Bank of America a no-bid contract when she may have held stock in the company. The Republican Party of Florida paid for both of the television ads.

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Scott slams Sink with new ads

Monday, September 27th, 2010 by Dara Kam

GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott’s campaign released two new ads attacking his Democrat opponent Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink accusing her of steering no-bid contracts to her former employer and slamming her for poor oversight of the state’s pension fund.

Sink spent more than two decades as a banker and ended her career as the head of Bank of America’s Florida operations.

One of the ads accuses Sink of steering at least $770,000 to Bank of America and its subsidiaries in her role as a member of the board of trustees that oversees the State Board of Administration. Sink sits on the board with fellow Cabinet members Attorney General Bill McCollum and Gov. Charlie Crist.

Sink has said she did not declare a conflict of interest in voting on matters affecting her former employer because her investments are in a blind trust.

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No movement on expanding board that oversees $110 billion state pension fund

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist and Attorney General Bill McCollum put off a request from Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink to expand the board they make up that oversees the agency in charge of $185 billion in state investments.

Sink, the sole member of the panel with any professional financial experience, is proposing an expansion of the State Board of Administration to include at one least investment expert and also wants the panel to get some training in financial matters.

But McCollum, a Republican running against Democrat Sink to replace Crist as governor next year, balked at his political opponent’s suggestion. Crist, also a Republican, backed him up.

Sink wants to add at least two members to the Board of Trustees that supervises the SBA, which manages the state’s $110 billion retirement fund. She suggested expanding the three-member panel to include an investment expert and someone who is invested in the state’s pension fund, the fourth largest in the nation, like other states with similar boards.

But McCollum and Crist put the brakes on making any decision about the board.

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