IIt's a special summertime money, gifts and trips edition of inside the Tallahassee bubble....
BOUND FOR FRANCE...As it happens every year when the humidity bears down oppressively on the Florida capital, many people in the state's political hierarchy are nowhere near North Florida.
Legislators of course have long gone back home. But the state Supreme Court is also on summer break, the Florida Cabinet is on hiatus until mid-August and Gov. Rick Scott's time in Tallahassee is likewise kept at a minimum (of course unless a serious storm threatens the state.)
Many years these conferences are held in cooler and more pleasant environments than Florida. This year, NCSL is holding its annual legislative summit in Boston on Aug. 6 through Aug 9, while ALEC held its annual meeting last month in Denver.
Attendance to these events was usually higher back when legislative leaders routinely approved travel expenses for members. The tradition used to be that members would have one trip a year paid out of the House and Senate budgets.
That's not how it works anymore.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran allows members to pay for the trips out of their own district accounts, as opposed to having his office cover the expenses. (State law allows legislators to transfer unused campaign money into these accounts.)
"The speaker no longer approves travel for members but he is holding the members accountable if they are questioned on their expenses,'' said Fred Piccolo, a spokesman for Corcoran. "In other words, they have to be prepared to defend their travel."
Over in the Senate, however, there are a handful of members who have been approved for trips this year, said Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate President Joe Negron.
When asked about it recently, Betta said that Sens. Audrey Gibson and Oscar Braynon had been approved to attend the NCSL summit in Boston. Betta also said that John Phelps, the Senate Committee on Rules staff director and former long-time House clerk, had also been permitted to go because of his "international reputation as a legislative historian."
Betta also said that Sen. Anitere Flores (pictured above) had been chosen to represent the Florida Senate in the NCSL Executive Leadership Development program being held in Normandy, France from Sept. 25 to Oct. 1.
BONDI'S TRAVELS...Speaking of trips, disclosure forms show that Attorney General Pam Bondi continues to take trips to Washington D.C. and elsewhere that are paid by various groups she's involved with.
Bondi had nearly $28,000 worth of travel provided to her in 2016, which included a "weeklong diplomacy mission to Israel" in late May-early June 2016 that cost $5,000 and was paid by the America-Israel Friendship League.
Bondi said shortly after the trip she traveled with seven other attorneys general and that "it allowed the members of the delegation to meet face-to-face with cybersecurity experts, national legal leaders and top government officials to share strategies to bolster public safety and security."
Bondi, who was once was the chairman and now sits on the executive committee of the Republican Attorneys General Association, had several trips paid by the RAGA and the Rule of Law Defense Fund, which bills itself as "the public policy organization for issues relevant to the nation’s Republican attorneys general and promotes the rule of law, federalism, and freedom in a civil society."
The association, for example, picked up the cost of Bondi's travel to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland where she gave a speech that included her saying about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton "Lock her up, I love that."
Bondi also reported that it was RAGA that picked up costs related to her attending the inauguration of President Donald Trump in January.
The group _ which was called a "money machine" by The New York Times _ has seen its activities come under scrutiny, because its meetings are held at resorts where large donors have access to attorneys general who can play a role in deciding whether to investigate corporations or get involved in policy fights.
The latest meeting for RAGA was held in Lake Tahoe late last month and Bondi was in attendance. She has not yet turned in her gift forms for that time period.
AN OLD TUXEDO, WINE AND CIGARS...While legislators and other top state officials are not allowed to take gifts directly from lobbyists or the principals who hire lobbyists, state officials can accept gifts from others that are worth more than $100 if they report them.
A look through some forms shows that only Bondi and Corcoran are the only top officials to regularly file them.
Scott, former Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam have maintained that they have received zero gifts worth $100 or more in recent years.
One top public official, however, who has disclosed gifts on a routine basis is Corcoran.
A review of his forms for this year shows that Corcoran accepted a "old tuxedo" from fellow representative and House budget chairman Carlos Trujillo at the time of the presidential inauguration. Sen. Keith Perry gave Corcoran a box of cigars worth $100 in late January.
But Negron - whose relationship with Corcoran seemed strained at times during the legislative session and subsequent special session - gave Corcoran a "humidor, crystal, wine, lighter and cutter" worth approximately $1,000 during the first week of the 2017 session.
Fellow House Rep. Ralph Massullo gave Corcoran $400 worth of wine in early May, while Rep. Travis Cummings gave the Republican speaker about $100 worth of wine two weeks later.
A request for gift forms in fact shows Corcoran has been filing them as far back as 2011 - when he got $200 of cigars from then (and now lobbyist) Rep. Chris Dorworth. Future House Speaker Rep. Jose Oliva _ and who along with his family created a successful cigar business _ has also given him cigars on several occasions.
Then-Sen. Frank Artiles (who resigned this spring after using racial slurs during a tirade at a Tallahassee bar) gave Corcoran a "gun and display" worth $1,000 last November. Corcoran has gotten grilling tools, artwork and even DVD copies of speeches made by famed economist Milton Friedman.
But maybe the most interesting gift Corcoran reported? A sword he got in Sept. 2015 from Mat Bahl, an attorney and former chief of staff for House Speaker Dean Cannon who became Corcoran's chief of staff last year.
BIG PRICE-TAG FOR SENATE GOP FUNDRAISER...Remember the fundraiser for the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee held at the famed Torrey Pines golf course in June? It got some publicity because there was concern that this year's budget-related special session would collide with it.
Well it appears the fundraiser - which attracted the attendance of many well-known Senate Republicans - wasn't cheap, according to campaign finance reports. The GOP committee _ which gets its money from groups seeking to pass or defeat legislation in the Legislature _ spent more than $77,000 on lodging, meals and golf fees for the two-day event.
There's no requirement that an organization breakout how much money is received at a single fundraiser. The committee reported that it raised $720,000 during the quarter that ended on June 30.