Ten years ago, revelations such as the New York Times expose this week on Attorney General Pam Bondi's pattern of dropping lawsuits or declining to investigate cases after a variety of events where she hobnobbed with the law firm Dickstein Shapiro, would be exactly the type of "October surprise" that could potentially threaten a safe incumbent's otherwise smooth glide to re-election.
But with so many Floridians having already voted before Election Day, the power of that deeply reported story — as well as a report by the Tampa Bay Times' Michael Van Sickler last Sunday about her support of out-of-state court fights that have nothing to do with Florida — may not have the impact that her Democratic Party opponent, George Sheldon, might hope for.
But it would be political malpractice for Sheldon not to seize on the damaging reports, which he's doing today, saying that a "pay-to-play mindset" has become standard operating procedure in the Attorney General's office.
"It troubles me to say this, but quite frankly she’s the most unethical Attorney General in my lifetime," Sheldon declared, reading from prepared notes in a third-floor office inside the Hillsborough County Teachers Association building in West Tampa. "Apparently she feels if the governor can the take the fifth 75 times, and still get votes, that she can get away with this as well."
The stories have revealed that Dickstein Shapiro gave over $122,000 to the Republican Attorney General Association, and that group has given $750,000 to Bondi's campaign. Dickstein has also given thousands of dollars to Bondi's campaign as well. And it appears to be money well spent.
The records show that there were several dropped lawsuits or investigations declined by Bondi's office by companies represented by Dickstein Shapiro.
In the case of online travel businesses Travelocity and Priceline, Bondi's GOP predecessor in the Florida AG office, Bill McCollum, fired suit against those companies, claiming that they were pocketing taxes that deserved to be given to the state. But Bondi dropped the suit against them.
Accretive Health was the subject of abusive collection practices in other states, including bedside collection visits with ER patients. Bondi took no action in Florida.
The for-profit online school Bridgepoint Education was the subject of "unconscionable sales practices" and being investigated in several other states. But Bondi opted not to get involved, saying there were only a few complaints.
Herbalife was being investigated in other states regarding allegations that they ran a pyramid consumer distribution scheme. There was no investigation.
All of those businesses were represented by Dickstein Shapiro.
"She sold out consumers in Florida at lavish parties at fancy resorts, taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from firms representing clients trying to head off AG investigations, and she said all of that money, hundreds of thousands of dollars, did not influence her decision," said Sheldon dismissively.
"Pam Bondi should not be reelected. She should be investigated," he added.
Sheldon says he has a "perception" that prosecutors at the state and federal level are reviewing the stories about Bondi, "but I'll that leave up to them and won't prejudge them."
Some polls show Sheldon down by as many as 10 points, and with just four days left before voting ends, his path to victory still seems a steep bet. But the 67-year-old Democrat says that voting totals amongst registered Democrats are up strongly from the last midterm election in 2010, and pollsters aren't included that fact in their analysis. And he believes that better late than never that these reports have surfaced, saying, "It’s better for the people of Florida to have all the facts in front of them before they’re voting, but that is what it is."