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The Buzz: Florida politics

Democratic rivals display a lesson in being gracious

By Times staff writers
Published March 12, 2006

More than 150 Democratic activists turned out for a Democracy For America candidate forum Friday night in Largo featuring Democratic gubernatorial candidates Jim Davis and Rod Smith. They saw something unusual: Democratic rivals trying to avoid a circular firing squad.

U.S. Rep. Davis is taking heat for supporting the Patriot Act and missing a key vote extending it, while state Sen. Smith says he opposed the original Patriot Act as infringing too much on civil liberties. But when a heckler started yelling at Davis for his Patriot Act position, Smith jumped into the fray and won roaring applause.

"I hope we avoid a very destructive and rancorous primary because we've got a chance this time to win. I promise you this: I'm going to try to stay on the issues," the underdog state senator said. "There'll be votes congressman Davis took that (I) won't like, and there will be votes Rod Smith has taken that he (Davis) won't like. But ... I hope that in the end, we're not going to poke at one another when all that will do is do what we've been doing in much of America - and that's elect Republicans."

Smith, the Tallahassee politician, doesn't completely avoid jabs at Davis, the Washington politician. Recalling a Davis line about the need for "adult supervision" in Tallahassee, Smith said, "If Tallahassee needs adult supervision, Washington needs a spanking."

E-DONATIONS BANNED: Most statewide candidates with campaign Web sites have been receiving contributions online. But for legislators, those online donations halted on Tuesday when the legislative session began. Rules ban fundraising during the 60-day session except for those seeking federal office.

Most lawmakers with Web sites posted disclaimers informing prospective donors that checks cannot be accepted until after the session. But two attorney general candidates, state Rep. Everett Rice, R-Indian Shores, and state Rep. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, continued to solicit money online until the Buzz brought it to each's attention.

Both promised Web changes to clarify that donations are forbidden for now.

Rice said his campaign accountant, Harold Vardy, has to approve any incoming donations and that no checks from March 7 or later would have been accepted regardless of what the Web site said. Any that come in will be returned, Rice said.

Negron said no one had attempted to donate to his campaign online between Monday and Friday, when we asked about it.

LEE'S HAPPY RETURNS: For the second time, Senate President Tom Lee has written a refund check to a disgruntled lobbyist from his political committee known as FLUST (Floridians Uniting for a Stronger Tomorrow).

First it was the Florida Home Builders Association for $20,339.60, after a St. Petersburg Times article that included criticism of Lee from an association official. Now Lee has sent $19,255.75 to the Orange Lake Resort Coalition, a Central Florida time share represented by lobbyist Mike Spinelli.

"He had asked for it back," Lee said of Spinelli. "We have a very, very, very liberal refund policy."

Lee has said he won't use the soft-money-laden fund to augment his fundraising in his campaign for chief financial officer, and he says he may give the $1.1-million to the Republican Party of Florida ("Yeah, sure. It's possible," Lee told reporters). FLUST is so flush that it's getting fatter by the day on accumulation of interest from Bank of America, where the funds are kept. The interest in January and February was about $6,000.

MADDOX HALFWAY OFF HOOK: Remember those Police Benevolent Association attacks that helped make Scott Maddox an ex-gubernatorial candidate for governor? The Florida Elections Commission has found no probable cause to pursue charges against Maddox for the first of two complaints filed against the former state Democratic chairman by the association. That complaint accused Maddox, as chairman of the Leon Democratic Executive Committee, of certifying a party campaign finance report showing no financial activity when in fact the party had paid a $10,500 fine for filing a report late.

Debbie Griffin-Bruton, former state Democratic Party comptroller and treasurer of the Leon committee, told an investigator she had taken the money from the state party and "I never told (Maddox) of the late filing of the report, the fine incurred or the payment I made with party funds." The commission concluded there was no evidence showing Maddox knew he had certified a false report.

A second complaint by the organization against Maddox with the Elections Commission is pending.

Adam C. Smith, Steve Bousquet and Joni James contributed to this week's Buzz. For more political Buzz check out

[Last modified March 12, 2006, 01:17:10]

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