Democratic Florida gubernatorial candidate and Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum may have broken state law by using city funds for a private round-trip flight on a developer’s plane to meet campaign donors, contradicting his previous account of the flight, emails released earlier this week as part of a state ethics probe show.
The revelation marks the latest headache for Gillum, coming days after it emerged he had accepted pricey tickets to the Broadway musical “Hamilton” from an undercover FBI agent named Mike Miller posing as a developer in the summer of 2016. Gillum has maintained he got the tickets from his brother, Marcus, and assumed his brother had paid for them.
The document releases from GOP-connected lawyer Chris Kise, who represents Gillum backer and former campaign treasurer Adam Corey, followed a subpoena by the Florida Commission on Ethics, which along with the FBI has investigated potential corruption at the highest levels of the Tallahassee city government. Gillum has not been formally identified as a target of either probe, and he has not been accused of criminal wrongdoing.
Gillum took a round-trip flight from Tallahassee to Tampa Bay’s St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport on Feb. 12, 2016, to attend an event at the posh Capital Grille restaurant described in the documents as “MEET AND GREET TAMPA DONORS.” Among the prospective donors were lobbyists, local business executives, and high-profile trial lawyers.
But, last August, The Tallahassee Democrat reported that Gillum’s office maintained the trip was for official business, saying Corey had set up the trip for his client, local developer Peter Leach.
“The mayor was invited by Peter Leach to a meeting at his office to learn about some of the work he was doing to advance wrap-around social services in schools and housing developments,” Gillum spokeswoman Jamie Van Pelt said at the time. “While visiting Tampa the mayor also met with local political leaders before returning to Tallahassee.”
City expense accounts, by Florida law, can be used “only for legitimate expenses in connection with the candidate’s public office,” and any violation is considered a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
The Florida Division of Elections has ruled that it is “the responsibility of the elected candidate to determine whether an expense to be paid out of these surplus funds is an expense incurred as a result of and due to that person’s public office or position as opposed to an expense that is personal in nature.”
The documents released on Monday and flagged by Politico showed that both Leach and Corey worked closely with Gillum to arrange the Feb. 12 event, and openly discussed its apparently political nature.
“Does lunch on that day work?” Gillum wrote to Corey in January 2016, referring to Feb. 12. “I would like to try to make this work.”
In one email, Leach appeared to confirm the arrangement was a campaign function, as part of an effort to comply with campaign finance laws that would require documentation and reimbursement of some expenses. “I have reserved the room in my name, but perhaps under campaign regs it should be in Ruth’s List’s name,” Leach wrote. “I’ll reimburse Ruth’s List if that is preferred.” Ruth’s List is a pro-choice organization aimed at getting progressive Democratic women elected to Florida offices.
Leach added in another note: “Adam, can I assume we’ll need [an] invoice for this trip to the Gillum campaign for the prevailing [round-trip] ticket cost [from Tallahassee] to Tampa International?”
Gillum’s campaign did not respond a request for comment from Fox News. But in a statement to a local newspaper, his team alleged a witch-hunt.
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“Once again, Chris Kise, one of [former Florida Republican Gov.] Rick Scott’s most high profile political hatchet men, is trying to confuse and distract voters with information that has long been public,” Gillum communications director Geoff Burgan said.
Top Republicans immediately pointed to Gillum’s’ increasing finance woes: “On top of this bombshell revelation, the documents show that Gillum may have used official office funds to pay for a campaign trip,” the Republican Governors Association wrote in an email earlier this week.
The mounting charges against Gillum led President Trump to call him a “stone-cold thief” in an exclusive interview Monday on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle.” Critics accused the president of racism and making a “racially loaded” attack.
At a recent debate, Gillum pointed a finger at his Republican opponent, former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, after reports emerged that he hasn’t provided detailed records explaining how he spent $145,000 on travel using taxpayer funds during his six years as a congressman.
DeSantis isn’t legally required to provide those records, and all members of Congress receive a budget to defray expenses associated with representing their constituents — including travel to conduct interviews and answer questions.
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“What happened to the $145,000 in receipts of public taxpayer money that he has yet to reveal?” Gillum asked last week, saying DeSantis has disclosed only a general ledger of his expenses.
“Six years of congressional travel, every single member of Florida does the same thing. One hundred percent legal. I followed the law,” DeSantis replied.
Fox News currently assesses the Florida governor’s race as a toss-up, with most polls showing DeSantis trailing by a small margin.