With millions of dollars parked in his Florida Leadership Fund political action committee, disgraced State Senator Jack Latvala may soon be faced with mounting requests for refunds from his donors. The American Federation of State, Federal and Municipal Employees union, AFSCME, is one of the larger contributors to Latvala’s committee, with more than $27,500 in recent contributions to his committee.
The organization has been very outspoken about workers rights, and recently called for “zero tolerance” of sexual harassment of state workers after an Associated Press report exposed millions of taxpayer dollars were used to settle harassment claims:
“Florida’s dedicated state employees at all levels expect, and deserve, a safe work environment free of harassment, discrimination or whistleblower retaliation of any kind. While we are not in a position to comment about the individual incidents reported by the Associated Press we believe there should be zero tolerance for the type of conduct detailed in the article. AFSCME Florida takes any report of harassment with the utmost seriousness and urgency and we encourage any state employee who has experienced abusive working conditions to contact their union.”
But AFSCME and a handful of other big donors, including Destin developer Jay Odom, whose holding company, Sterling Diversified, gave $50,000 to Latvala in July, refused to respond to a request for comment when asked what they planned to do about the cash they steered to Latvala.
In addition to the sexual harassment allegations, Latvala faces a potential criminal probe for public corruption. The alleged criminal behavior is currently under review by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which would begin a formal investigation if probable cause is found.
Some Latvala supporters told The Capitolist they were reviewing their options. A few were considering following in the footsteps of State Senator Denise Grimsely, who donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in her own campaign to a women’s shelter because those dollars came from Latvala. But Latvala’s own donors may soon follow suit by asking Latvala to donate the funds they gave him to a women’s shelter or other appropriate charity, or ask him to refund the money directly to donor so that they could direct it elsewhere.
Unlike Latvala’s official candidate committee, the Florida Leadership Fund is not specifically set up to support a run for any particular office. But in addition to the nearly $5 million in that committee, his official campaign account has collected over $400,000 since he opened it earlier this year. State law requires that he must offer to return those donor contributions if he decides not to run for governor.
But Latvala’s options are limited in terms of what he can do with those dollars. In the past, he’s doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the political campaigns of allies, or in some cases, subvert the campaigns of opponents. But those options may no longer be viable because any contribution from Latvala or his campaign could be damaging to the recipient’s campaign. An obvious link to Latvala would likley be toxic – an open invitation by opponents to tie them to Latvala’s tarnished reputation.
As pressure mounts on donors like AFSCME and others to repudiate their links to Latvala, the disgraced state senator may soon face a cascade of donors asking for their money back so they can invest it somewhere else.
A link to all of Latvala’s political supporters can be viewed here.