OPINION: Caught Again, but Adam Putnam just keeps Ignoring Florida Law.

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Following Tampa Bay’s ABC Action News’ illuminating coverage of Adam Putnam’s cover up of the Publix grocery stores food safety inspection failures, USA Herald Reporter Jeff Watterson revealed further information about the campaign contributions received by Putnam’s Florida Grown PAC that tie back to Publix. Watterson showed a link between additional contributions made by Publix to Putnam’s PAC even after the revelations of the removal of ratings critical of the grocery chain dealt the Agriculture Commissioner an embarrassing blow.

Watterson’s review showed either a direct link or a remarkable coincidence where Publix made substantial contributions to the Florida Retail Federation that ended upon Putnam’s PAC within a week of large checks being sent to FRF’s PAC. While this practice is not illegal, it’s interesting to note how big companies launder their contributions through industry PACs, so the intended donor/recipient link is never fully revealed or clear. This shell game does not, however, shed a favorable light on any of the coordinating participants.

For Putnam, a man who inadvertently and illegally launched his campaign for Governor this past week, the hubris is stunning. For Florida Republicans to even contemplate this man for the state’s highest office, now seems foolhardy. Putnam’s hubris turns to abject arrogance when one digs a little deeper into the Agriculture Commissioner’s corruption machine. You see, not only has Putnam legally raised millions of dollars from entities he regulates and changes the rules for when the answers are bad (as already pointed out by Bay News 9 and USA Herald). Putnam fails to accurately report his PAC expenses as required by Florida election law, which plainly states that all “expenses must be drawn from a check from the campaign treasury. This is not a complicated process and it is one that has been followed by candidates, parties and PACs for decades.

The Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas pointed out the anomalies of Putnam’s reports in an article on March 24th. The Putnam team’s responses fell flat as vague and uninformed. The Florida Democratic Party, seeing an opportunity to embarrass the GOP Establishment frontrunner, filed a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission within a week of the report. It was a simple complaint which elicited a typical smug response from the perfect one – Commissioner Putnam, who stated that there was no doubt he was right and this was just politics. The absoluteness of his response was either poorly devised or poorly advised, leaving Putnam no wiggle room to blame advisors, should the Commission rule against him. He owns this one all by himself.

Well, Commissioner, your reporting is not right, and it’s not politics, it’s the law! You are the first candidate to ever so brazenly ignore Florida’s disclosure laws and the Commission must understand what you are doing. If the Commission does not rule against Putnam, it will be the end of disclosure in Florida elections as no candidate, Party or PAC will ever disclose any detail again but simply pay one vendor who subcontracts the entire efforts of the campaign. That is the most dangerous thing of all Putnam’s deeds. The devastating consequences of his clear violations of Florida law – that if the Elections Commission – an entity that has shown an abject lack of principle in the last several years when posed with tough questions, might just lose its nerve again when the Established One, Putnam, stands before them. We can only hope they find courage in the fact that this decision is not just about Putnam’s approach to disclosure, but would end disclosure for all other PAC’s, candidates and Parties should they not find Putnam in the wrong.

All this would be bad enough, but this sad and disgusting tale does not end here. Stunningly, just this week, Florida Grown’s crack team of political consultants changed a logo on their Florida Grown Twitter account to one that read “Putnam for Governor.”

Politico reporter Matt Dixon wisely inquired about the logo from Florida Grown’s $80,000 a month consultant Justin Hollis, who clarified that Putnam had not announced his campaign for Governor, but that a vendor had made a mistake. The classic campaign response – Blame the vendor! This from the Party of personal responsibility! Hollis, who likely received a trophy for his shoddy work, may have been truthful, but his response acknowledged yet another illegal act by the Florida Grown committee – even though the News Herald reporter completely missed it. First, the fact that Hollis passed blame on a vendor is absurd since his company is almost the only vendor listed on Putnam’s expenditure report. Problem #1 for Hollis, Putnam and Florida Grown: Why is that vendor – the term vendor itself indicated payment to a company – not listed on your report as the law requires?

Problem #2 for Putnam and Florida Grown: Florida election law prohibits the expenditure of funds for campaigns in the state from taking place until a campaign treasurer is established and a bank account opened and publicly listed. There is no campaign account for Putnam for Governor, which means the act of creating a logo for it, by a vendor paid by Putnam’s PAC is simply illegal. Furthermore, Putnam has created another problem for himself: There are limits on how much a PAC can support a candidate, and those limits apply to campaigns for Governor. If your vendor who does not exist (if they were a vendor, they would be listed on your report) spends time and money creating a campaign logo – that cost must be either be an in-kind contribution to, or paid for by, the Putnam for Governor campaign. Which does not exist. Also, an in-kind contribution is limited to the same restrictions that apply to monetary contributions at $1,000 and must be reported during the reporting period it was made. So, without a campaign account – this problem cannot be fixed.

For Putnam, this must be distressing. What is an Establishment Darling to do? Like the liar who has to keep telling lies after the first one, if you are Adam Putnam, you just ignore all of this because you are the GOP Establishment candidate and Big Sugar and Big Utilities love you, and you don’t need to obey the law. If you are willing to change health standards that protect consumers for a big donor and friend, ignoring election law is a piece of cake. The only real victims are transparency and truth and the very integrity of Florida’s elections disclosure system. Surely, Adam Putnam must believe that his campaign for Governor is more important than any of that.

We’ll see how long the “Opie effect” lasts when the light shines a little brighter on the man whose family sold its land to the government for $20M above appraisal, gets his real hearing in the public eye! The 2018 Campaign for Florida Governor will be a barn-burner for sure. We’ll have to wait and see if the barn being burned is Adam Putnam’s shrouded campaign.