George Sheldon tries to capitalize on Bondi expose in NY Times

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The latest major poll
shows George Sheldon in rough waters in his battle to oust incumbent GOP Attorney General Pam Bondi, but the longtime Florida Democrat is hoping that some tough reporting about Bondi's cozy relationships with some lobbyists might turn the tide a bit more in his favor.

This morning Sheldon fired off a fundraising email to his supporters, seizing on a lengthy expose in today's New York Times  that Bondi has received a lot of corporate money and guidance which has influenced her work as the state's top cop.

Sheldon takes notice in his fundraising request that there's a link with medical marijuana, which Bondi has vehemently argued against this year. The article exposes emails between Bondi and a lobbyist for Las Vegas Sands, which was trying to convince Bondi to try to ban online poker. The Sands is owned by Sheldon Adelson, one of the biggest contributors to Republicans and conservative causes in recent years. Adelson has been quite generous in his funding of the No on Amendment 2 campaign. 

Sheldon notes, "That lobbyist and Bondi were making plans at an exclusive, $4500/night club, paid for by corporate sponsors, with a $125,000 entry fee to hobnob with the Attorney Generals of different states."

There's much more to the article, like this little nugget that Sheldon also includes in his email:

For the attorneys general, there is a personal benefit, too: Their airfare, meals and hotel bills at these elite resorts are generally covered, either by the corporate sponsors or state taxpayers.

Ms. Bondi, the Florida attorney general, for example, received nearly $25,000 worth of airfare, hotels and meals in the past two years just from events sponsored by the Republican Attorneys General Association, state disclosure reports show. That money came indirectly from corporate donors.

She has charged Florida taxpayers nearly $14,000 since 2011 to take additional trips to meetings of the National Association of Attorneys General and the Conference of Western Attorneys General, including travel to Hawaii. Those events were also attended by dozens of lobbyists. Ms. Bondi, in a statement, said the support she had received — directly or through the Republican Attorneys General Association — had not had an impact on any of her actions as attorney general."

The Times piece comes just days after the Tampa Bay Times' Michael Van Sickler also took a shot at Bondi for her close ties with the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), which has led to her taking up legal fights that frequently have nothing to do with what's going on in Florida. Like the intervention in a federal court to prevent the EPA from implementing rules to finish a Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort begun more than 30 years ago.

That issue has also been something that Sheldon has brought up on the campaign trail, to little effect, seemingly.

The law firm of Dickstein Shapiro is featured prominently in the New York Times piece. The story says that "perhaps the greatest victory in Florida" for the firm related to a lawsuit filed by Bill McCollum, Bondi's predecessor, against online reservation companies like Travelocity and Priceline, which Dickstein then represented, based on reports that they were conspiring to improperly withhold taxes on hotel rooms booked in Florida. 

“As our state’s highest-ranking law enforcement official, and as the people’s attorney, you have the authority to pursue action on behalf of the citizens of Florida,” Mayor Rick Kriseman of St. Petersburg, a Democrat, wrote to Ms. Bondi in 2011, while he was a state legislator, estimating that Florida was losing $100 million a year.

Behind the scenes, Dickstein had been working to get the case dropped.

“Thank you so much for chatting with me last week about the online travel site suit,” said a January 2012 email to Deputy Attorney General Patricia A. Conners from Christopher M. Tampio, a former lobbyist for the convenience store industry who was hired to work in Dickstein’s attorney general practice, even though he is not a lawyer or a registered lobbyist in Florida.

A year later, a second round of emails arrived in Ms. Bondi’s office: first, one inviting Ms. Bondi or her top aide to dinner at Ristorante Tosca in Washington, and then one from a Dickstein lawyer pointing out that similar online travel cases had recently been dismissed by Florida judges.

The email records provided to The Times show no response to Dickstein, other than a terse “thanks.” But two months later, Ms. Bondi’s office moved to do what the firm had sought.

“Dismissed before hearing,” the state court docket shows, as the case was closed in April 2013 even before it was officially taken up by the court.

A spokesman for Ms. Bondi said her office had dropped the matter after concluding, as Dickstein had argued, that state tax law was ambiguous. The office urged the State Legislature to clarify the matter. But several Florida counties have continued to pursue the matter, taking it to the State Supreme Court.

Sheldon ends his email thusly: "Bondi's actions may not be illegal, but at the least they are counter to the interests of Florida's citizens. Please donate today to help me replace her. "

Will this move any votes away from Bondi? Probably not that many. And even if parts of the electorate are outraged at Bondi for these actions, Sheldon can only hope that they're voters who haven't succumbed to Democratic Party entreaties to vote early, taking away the power of such last-minute surprise revelations/stories.

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