By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Broward Bugle owner Andrew Miller, right, with Roger Stone Photo: Dan Christensen
The registered owner of an online Broward “news” operation contributed over $120,000 to a political group that made payments to a firm owned by Sheriff Scott Israel’s campaign manager, Amy Rose, and to her husband.
Andrew James Miller, 29, gave the money to Taxpayers for Integrity in Government last August, amid Israel’s successful bid to unseat then-Sheriff Al Lamberti, election records show.
Miller is a protégé of flamboyant South Florida-based political consultant and prospective gubernatorial candidate, Roger Stone. Miller describes himself on his Twitter page as a “political pirate, provocateur, street fighter.”
Internet domain registration records obtained by BrowardBulldog.org identify Miller as the owner of record of the Broward Bugle, which calls itself “your new source for political and governmental news.” The records list Miller’s address as Stone’s former offices at 401 E. Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale.
A SECRETIVE NEWS SITE
The secretive Bugle does not identify its publisher or staffers by their real names. Its Hollywood attorney, Holiday Hunt Russell, would not answer questions about his client. Stone, an Israel supporter with a reputation as a political dirty trickster, has been rumored for months to be behind it because of stories with headlines like last month’s “Lamberti has Chutzpah.”
“I’m nervous talking about this. I don’t want to say something wrong,” said Miller when asked about the Bugle. “I’m not the one running it. I know who is, but I’m not at liberty to give any names. It’s above my pay grade.”
Said Stone, “I’m not going to talk about the Bugle, I’m really not.
Taxpayers for Integrity in Government is a Florida electioneering communications organization (ECO) which raised more than $1.2 million last year. Its chair is Todd Wilder, a Tallahassee political consultant and former top aide to disgraced ex-Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne.
Miller, who said he is a friend of Wilder, lives in a three-story walk-up in an older building on Manhattan’s upper east side. He said he makes a living as a political operative, but that Stone doesn’t pay him. However, with Stone, he worked last year for Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico and Libertarian Party nominee for president.
Andrew Miller with Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson in a photo he tweeted last year
This year, Miller is helping another Stone client, Kristin Davis, a former madam running for mayor of New York City as a Libertarian. Miller’s stepmother, Dianne Thorne, is Stone’s longtime assistant and chairs the Libertarians’ Miami-Dade chapter.
Stone called Miller a “trust fund baby” from a wealthy Missouri family who’s “like a son to me.”
Miller, however, told a reporter he’s not wealthy. He also said he had no specific candidate or issue in mind when he decided in advance of last summer’s primary election to give $120,200 to Taxpayers for Integrity – his lone statewide political contribution last year, according to state records.
So why did Miller contribute such a large sum to an obscure group that, unlike candidates, can accept unlimited contributions to influence political campaigns?
“DOING MY CIVIC DUTY”
“I was just doing my civic duty. Making the world a better place,” said Miller. Asked where the money from, he said “my bank account.”
Two weeks before last November’s general election, Taxpayers for Integrity, paid $10,000 to Amy Rose’s firm, Win on the Ground Consulting, and another $5,000 to her husband, Wally Eccleston.
Those payments were unrelated to the sheriff’s race, according to Rose and Wilder. Rose said the payments were for various data and fundraising lists.
Taxpayers for Integrity, however, was on Israel’s side in the sheriff’s race. The Sun-Sentinel reported in August that Wilder’s group used email, mail and phone calls to tout Israel and attack his opponent during the primary.
Broward Sheriff Scott Israel
The Bugle, too, has been on Israel’s side since it began publishing last year, with most of its coverage either positive about Israel or negative about Lamberti. The Bugle also has attacked Barbra Stern, the new Florida elections commissioner, whose mother, lobbyist and consultant Judy Stern, ran Israel’s losing campaign for sheriff in 2008.
Rose said she and Eccleston will soon join BSO. Rose starts at the end of the month as Israel’s assistant chief of staff. Eccleston is to work under Finance Director Angelo Castillo, though no start date has been set.
Stone, 60, who enjoys his reputation for political hardball, is a longtime Republican operative who cut his professional teeth working for Richard Nixon’s notorious CREEP, the Committee to Re-Elect the President. Nixon’s face is tattooed on his back.
He says he became disillusioned with the Republican Party last year and switched his allegiance to the tiny Libertarian Party. He announced his interest in a 2014 run for governor in February.
STONE’S $1.6 MILLION IN TAX LIENS
But some Libertarian party leaders don’t believe Stone. Bill Still, a candidate for the party’s presidential nomination last year, said Stone and sidekick Miller appeared to him to be Republican moles looking to take over or destroy the Libertarian Party.
“That was my feeling, yes,” said Still.
Stone, who lives in Miami Beach, is a former business partner of imprisoned Fort Lauderdale Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein.
The South Florida Business Journal reported last month that he agreed to pay $18,000 to settle a lawsuit stemming from the bankruptcy of Rothstein’s law firm, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler. A bankruptcy court trustee had sued alleging Stone and his companies were paid $400,000 in professional fees that provided no benefit to the law firm.
Stone, however, has not resolved more serious financial claims by the Internal Revenue Service.
Five tax liens filed in Miami-Dade say Stone and his wife, Nydia, owe more than $1.6 million in unpaid back taxes. The assessments are for the years 2006-2011.
Stone said his attorneys are in talks with the IRS to resolve the matter.
By Suevon Lee, ProPublica
The U.S. Supreme Court
On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would hear two cases challenging state and federal laws which prevent the legal union between same-sex couples.
But it’s not the only significant civil rights case the Court has decided to take up this term.
Last month, the Supreme Court said it will consider
the constitutionality of a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the hallmark legislation
from the Civil Rights era that has come under increased challenge. (more…)
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
An argument over government support of religious organizations and schools has erupted between unionized teachers and the backers of a state proposed constitutional amendment, including the Catholic Church.
Amendment 8, also known as the Religious Freedom Amendment, would repeal a state prohibition on using public dollars, directly or indirectly, to fund religion. Likewise, it would bar the state from denying government benefits to individuals who use those funds to pay a religious service provider.
Supporters say they seek to solidify partnerships between government and religious groups that provide social services through hospitals and organizations such as the Salvation Army.
Opponents argue that the new law would allow dollars intended for public schools to be given to religious schools and cross the line between church and state.
“This is a big step because it would breach a barrier: separation of church and state,” said George Knox, Florida International University law professor and former Miami city attorney. “And because we are dealing with a finite and shrinking bucket of resources, dollars going elsewhere are less dollars for public education.”
However, Knox said, “Much of this could be motivated by the trend that education is a privilege and not an entitlement and it’s appropriate to include education in a religious content, especially since religious institutions provide social services. It would be a testament to the success of religious based education when measured against public education.”
Knox added, “I think you have to pay attention to trends, including alternatives to public education.
In order to be approved, 60 percent of Florida voters must back the measure at the Nov. 6 election. If approved, enabling legislation would have to be drafted and approved by the State Legislature.
One of the groups at the forefront is Citizens for Religious Freedom and Non-Discrimination, which has raised over $105,000 to support passage of Amendment 8, according to its report to the state elections division.
MIAMI ARCHDIOCESE LEADS SUPPORT
Nearly all of that money has come from Catholic groups, with the Archdiocese of Miami donating the most, $28,064. Broward County is within the Miami Archdiocese.
Dioceses contributing major sums are St. Petersburg, $16,313; Orlando, $14,828; and Palm Beach, $10,268, according to the latest state filings.
While Catholic groups have donated the most thus far, Jim Frankowiak, campaign manager for Citizens, said he expects donations from a cross-section of religions now that the primaries are over and the November election is near.
“We have a lot of support from grassroots organizations” around the state, said Lesley Bateman of Design4, a marketing and communications firm in Plant City that provides campaign services for Citizens. The group has launched the “Say Yes on 8“ campaign.
Bateman said Citizens wants to assure that religious organizations can continue working alongside government agencies on existing social service programs.
Here is the ballot question: “Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution providing that No individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, government benefits, funding, or other support, except as required by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and deleting the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”
Passage of Amendment 8, Frankowiak said, clarifies the legal line between church and state.
There is a broad cross section of religious groups — Catholics, Jews, Lutheran, Baptists and others involved in these programs now, Frankowiak said.
A video this month from the Diocese of Orlando urged area Catholics, estimated at 400,000, to support the amendment, according to WFTV in Orlando.
ACLU LEADS OPPOSITION
Leading the opposition is the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which since January has contributed nearly $100,000 to its “Vote No Committee.”
“Every single chapter around the state is united in opposition to Amendment 8,” said John DeLeon, president of the ACLU’s Miami chapter.
“We are obviously concerned that the historic separation of religion and secular education is not blurred and the separation continues. We need to have a strong separation of church and state. We want to make sure the people enjoy the constitutional rights of separation of church and state,” DeLeon said.
The ACLU is seeking to pull together a coalition of other groups to oppose Amendment 8. Those who have committed are the Florida Education Association - which unsuccessfully sought last year to keep the measure off the ballot, the Florida Association of Superintendents and the League of Women Voters, said ACLU senior legislative associate Ron Bilbao.
Educators in Broward are gearing up against it, too.
“We are opposed to Amendment 8,” said John Ristow, spokesperson for the Broward Teachers Union.
Public school teachers have long objected to school dollars flowing into private hands – such as through charter schools. In Florida, parents can take public dollars intended to educate their child and use the money for enrollment in a privately owned charter school that is subject to government oversight and standards.
TEACHERS FEAR DRAIN ON PUBLIC SCHOOLS
The teachers argue Amendment 8 will become a backdoor method for the state to underwrite religious schools.
In a press release several weeks ago, the BTU said the amendment “will deprive public school children of much needed state funding by enriching private religious schools with Floridians’ hard-earned tax dollars.”
“Amendment 8,” the BTU said, “will have a devastating impact on students and public schools, which are already funded amongst the lowest of all public education systems in the nation, as well as the community at large….”
The United Teachers of Dade is also against the amendment.
“This is another amendment that will have a negative impact at the expense of public schools,” said Karen Aronowitz, Dade teachers’ union president.
Aronowitz said the union will urge its members and the public to “vote no” on Amendment 8.
Americans United For Separation of Church and State, based in Washington DC, also announced its opposition to passage of the amendment and has donated nearly $6,000 in cash and in kind services to the Vote No Committee. It stated that the amendment has been “deceptively” referred to as “religious freedom.”
“The goal of the amendment,” the Washington group said, “is to strip church-state safeguards currently present when the government partners with religiously affiliated organizations and to open the door to private school vouchers.”
Former Miami Mayor and Miami-Dade Commissioner Maurice Ferre noted that the founding fathers intended “that we have a secular state and that religion is protected and guaranteed and as important as the right of speech, thought and assembly.”
“The constitution is clear on separation of church and state,” he said.
William Gjebre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Ethan Magoc, News 21
Florida’s hanging chads and butterfly ballots in 2000 ignited the divisive battle that ended with the U.S. Supreme Court denying an election recount, effectively declaring that George W. Bush won the presidential election by 537 votes.
Another potentially close election is ahead, and the nation’s largest swing state is again at the center of a partisan debate over voting rules — this time, a fight about the removal of non-citizens from Florida’s voter roll and how the state oversees groups who register voters. (more…)
By William Gjebre and Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
From Jay Schorr's campaign website
A political writer for Examiner.com who for months has written stories attacking opponents of Hallandale Beach mayoral hopeful Jay Schorr did not tell her readers that she is Schorr’s wife.
Reporter Margaret Kessler Schorr, who uses her maiden name in her byline, disclosed the relationship in a story published Monday in Examiner.com after inquiries by Broward Bulldog
“Apparently, (Commissioner Keith) London is none-too-pleased that his opponent’s wife, yours truly, has the unmitigated gall to write objective, fact-based articles about him,” Kessler wrote.
Hallandale Beach blogger David Smith first raised questions about reporter Kessler’s relationship to candidate Schorr in an email to friends over the weekend. He operates http://hallandalebeachblog.blogspot.com/
Schorr, 54, is a write-in candidate and a long shot in a three-way race that includes London and incumbent Mayor Joy Cooper. Kessler has the title “Miami Political Buzz Examiner.” She also writes about celebrities and travel.
The election is Nov. 6.
Examiner.com is an “entertainment, news and lifestyle network” based in Denver and operated by the Clarity Digital Group, part of billionaire entrepreneur Philip Anschutz’s namesake corporation, Anschutz Company. It bills itself as a credible source of local news that relies on as many as 70,000 “citizen journalists” in cities across the country to generate local content.
Examiner writers are lightly vetted, filling out only an online form before they are hired. A former editor of the site has said their stories are not edited.
“It’s kind of like the reinvention of local news, in a way,” Clarity Digital President Leonard Brody told Toronto’s The Globe and Mail last year. “It is a huge network of trusted insiders in local markets that talk about the things they are passionate about.”
A spokeswoman said Clarity has nothing to do with Examiner.com’s editorial content. No one at Examiner.com responded to requests for comment.
Margaret Kessler Schorr
Candidate Schorr and his wife operate Hallandale-based TMR Multimedia, an advertising, marketing, public relations and television production company. Among other things, TMR sells various items online including its Home Alien Abduction Verification Kit ($24.99, plus $1 shipping and handling).
“The kit comes complete with everything an abductee needs to prove an other-worldly abduction,” the sales site says.
Schorr’s biography describes him as a visionary and TMR as a “nationally renowned think tank” whose clients have included corporate giants like Kmart.
In an email, however, Schorr sounded more like a political brawler. He described Mayor Cooper as “Hallandale’s own Hugo Chavez in a dress” and called London “the poster boy for would-be Broward public servants with limited vocabularies and ideas.”
In a June interview with his wife, Schorr said he’d like to turn Hallandale Beach’s city commission meetings into a “nationally broadcast television talk show like Late Night with David Letterman, complete with celebrity guests and an in-house band.”
Last week, the Sun-Sentinel reported that Schorr is behind a recent petition drive that seeks a citywide vote on the development of a $100 million, 31-story hotel/condominium along the Intracoastal Waterway at Hallandale Beach Boulevard. The city commission unanimously approved the Beachwalk project in June.
Blogger Smith, who often writes about city issues, raised questions about the couple in an email that first took issue with a Kessler story critical of London. Smith wrote that he’d never heard of any of the people she quoted. He said a city official told him that Kessler and Schorr were apparently married.
When asked by Broward Bulldog, Schorr confirmed the two were indeed married.
Kessler, who also posts items on the “Jay Schorr for Mayor” blog, declined to answer questions about her coverage of her husband’s campaign.
Schorr said he sees no conflict of interest.
“Last time I read the AP (Associated Press) Stylebook, there was no prohibition against nepotistic journalism as long as it’s honest and straightforward,” Schorr said. “If I did something wrong I’d encourage my wife to write about it.”
Write-in candidates like Schorr do not appear on the ballot and rarely win elections.
“I love my chances,” Schorr said.
By Suevon Lee, ProPublica
Voter IDs laws have become a political flashpoint in what’s gearing up to be another close election year. Supporters say the laws — which 30 states have now enacted in some form — are needed to combat voter fraud, while critics see them as a tactic to disenfranchise voters.
We’ve taken a step back to look at the facts behind the laws and break down the issues at the heart of the debate. (more…)
By Ann Henson Feltgen, BrowardBulldog.org
Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes
Broward County may finally be closing in on a new home for its Supervisor of Elections following 10 years of trying re-locate to new digs.
Last week, at the urging of public works staff, the County Commission approved a plan to obtain formal bids from two developers – one of them from a family with deep political connections.
The developers expressed interest last March in building a long-sought facility that would consolidate the crowded downtown Fort Lauderdale elections office in County Hall and an elections warehouse now housed about five miles away in the back of the Lauderhill Mall.
The county wants to spend no more than $15 million for both a six- to seven-acre site in a central location and a 74,000-square-foot building.
The goal is to have a developer under contract by September, with a new facility ready within two years.
One of the interested developers, Continental Real Estate Companies, is proposing an eight-acre parcel, the site of a former BJ’s Wholesale Club in Sunrise, near Oakland Park Boulevard and University Drive. The property was purchased by Oakland University Associates LTD, based in New Jersey, in July 1998 for $10 million and is for sale. For 2011 property tax purposes, the county estimates the value of the site at $11.4 million.
The property is in foreclosure with the public sale set for July 12. According to county documents, Continental expects to gain title to the property on or before July 25.
“It’s premature to comment on what we will propose there until the commission approves step two,” said Dave Moret, of Continental. “We need to see what they are looking for.”
The other developer is Sunrise Properties & Investment, controlled by M. Austin Forman, son of the late longtime political powerbroker Hamilton Forman. In his prime, Hamilton Forman was said to have a hand for decades in nearly every major political decision in the county. He died in January 2010. The company’s project manager could not be reached for comment.
Forman’s plan, according to county documents, includes three parcels in Plantation at 6901 Sunrise Blvd., near Plantation High School. The company purchased the 6.67 acres in March 1999 for $1.6 million. The site’s current assessed value is $3.4 million. In a June 12 memo to the board, Snipes recommended this option.
An evaluation committee will make a recommendation to the county commission, which will make the final decision on a developer.
“All things being equal, the contractor will be responsible for building at the negotiated price, time and place,” said Steve Hammond, a county assistant director of Public Works.
FINDING A SATISFACTORY SITE
Finding a new home would be a relief for Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, who splits her time between the two existing facilities.
In October, commissioners discussed purchasing and remodeling the current Lauderhill Mall location to consolidate Snipes’ operations. However, Snipes objected during the January commission meeting saying the facility was too small and too old. A heated debate ensued and the site was dropped.
“The Lauderhill Mall owners have been very responsive to our needs, but it’s an old leaky building and we need more security,” Snipes said.
Vandals had damaged staff cars in the parking lot, she said.
Other sites have been considered and discarded over the years; one bid was tossed because it came in over the previous $10 million budget.
Commissioners have also been wary of spending county funds due to the economy and at one point, the money was returned to county coffers, Snipes said.
“This time around, things are going well,” Hammond said. “With the county commission you never know, there’s a healthy debate about all expenditures. But, I think everyone is aware of the need.”
Ann Henson Feltgen can be reached at email@example.com