Every weekend, we take a look at the news stories shaping the conversations in Florida’s business, policy and political worlds. Here’s this weekend’s Capitolist wrap-up, which we call “The Wrap.”
Pressure grows on U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz to walk the plank
With questions mounting faster than Matt Gaetz can offer up explanations, patience among Republicans for the Congressman’s antics appears to have run out. Amid the near-daily drip of devastating revelations, Gaetz attempted to go on offense this week, starting with a flat rejection he had any involvement with any underage female, and ending with a bizarre, national media appearance in which he leveled a claim that his predicament is part of a $25 million extortion attempt on his family, which he claims is being investigated by the FBI.
That disastrous interview resulted in Gaetz being declared persona non grata at Fox News after having committed the cardinal sin of getting under the skin of conservative rock star Tucker Carlson.
But Carlson isn’t the only former ally wishing Gaetz would walk the proverbial political plank and sink out of sight. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is almost certainly regretting having named Gaetz to his transition team after the 2018 election, because liberal activist groups are already pouncing on the connection, emailing reporters to suggest thorny questions for DeSantis to answer, or more likely, ignore.
So far, at least, Gaetz is showing no signs of leaving office. On the surface, the scandal appears to be politically unsurvivable: allegations of paid liaisons with various women, one of which is rumored to have been underage at the time, coupled with alleged drug use, rumors that investigators are looking into his use of campaign funds in connection with the other allegations, and, again, allegedly, security video footage showing Gaetz accompanying his now-indicted buddy, Joel Greenberg, on a late night raid of the tax collector’s office to pilfer drivers licenses.
As bad as that sounds for Gaetz, there’s something crucial missing, at least so far: the smoking gun. There has not been any actual, direct evidence leaked to public that he’s complicit in any of the allegations against him. And while it defies belief that he wasn’t at least partially aware of Greenberg’s highly questionable antics, the public evidence against Gaetz so far remains strictly circumstantial: the payments, allegedly for sex, were made to Greenberg, not directly to the women in question, according to the story in the New York Times. The drug use allegations are also just that: allegations. We don’t know if there’s anything that could corroborate that claim, or even if investigators are looking into the drug use angle at all.
There’s also no public proof at this early stage that he used campaign funds in any of the alleged schemes. All we know for sure is there were reports that federal investigators were looking into his campaign expenditures. And finally, while the late night excursion into Greenberg’s office certainly sounds
Still, despite the lack of direct evidence provided to the public, everyone I’ve talked to this week, many of whom know Gaetz quite well, all believe the allegations are plausible. After all, it’s a stretch to believe Greenberg kept Gaetz in the dark about his antics. To outside observers, the pair come off in this tale like a couple of out-of-control frat boys. Unfortunately, at the time, both held positions of immense responsibility and public trust. Are we to believe Gaetz is so naive he trusted Greenberg implicitly and Greenberg kept Gaetz in the dark?
Possible, but unlikely.
Yet Gaetz’s departure from Congress is not a foregone conclusion. Without an indictment, the aforementioned lack of evidence may allow Gaetz to flip the script on his accusers and claim he is the victim of a smear campaign.
For now, though, both the accusers and the accused are playing a dangerous game with the public: the accusers are leaking apparently sensitive details about an ongoing federal investigation, and Gaetz has allowed himself to be caught in a compromising, if not career-ending, position.
If the allegations prove true, though, Gaetz will be reviled for lying to his friends and political allies, and also to the millions of Americans he asked to believe him when he said he’s never engaged in any of the acts he admitted were “disgusting.”
We hope the allegations are false. But we fear they are true.
Seven billion dollars headed to Florida cities and counties. Is anyone paying attention?
One of the easiest ways to make a big stack of cash vanish into thin air is to give it to government bureaucrats to spend without any accountability. But that’s what’s about to happen if the business community and other civic leaders don’t step up and present real plans for how billions in unrestricted federal cash will be spent:
On February 9, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform released its Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Reconciliation Act bill, which includes the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. These funds would provide $350 billion to help states, counties, cities and tribal governments cover increased expenditures, replenish lost revenue and mitigate economic harm from the COVID-19 pandemic. The measure outlines that states, along with the District of Columbia, would receive about $195 billion, distributed mostly upon each state’s share of unemployed workers. Local governments would receive about $130 billion, split evenly between cities and counties, resulting in a direct county allocation based on population of $65.1 billion dollars. Tribal governments would receive $20 billion and U.S. territories would receive $4.5 billion.
The U.S. Department of Treasury would oversee and administer these payments to state and local governments, and every county would receive a direct allocation from Treasury. Once an eligible entity provides a certification on the use or needs of funds to the U.S. Treasury, the agency is required to make the payment.
Seven billion dollars will be split between 67 counties and 61 metro areas in Florida. Local politicians and their cronies are undoubtedly drooling at the prospect. In progressive cities like Miami and Fort Lauderdale, city leaders are talking only in vague terms about how it plans to spend $139.1 million dollars on vague concepts like “emergency assistance” and “stimulating the economy.”
Other big cities will get similar windfalls, including Jacksonville, which will see a whopping $163.8 million land in the city’s bank account in the coming days. But even smaller cities are slated to get large amounts of cash. Fort Walton Beach will receive $3.6 million, Marco Island will receive more than $2 million. And all of that cash is free for politicians to spend without any restrictions imposed by the federal government.
Vague talking points about rental or food assistance sounds good in a television sound bite, but any cities and counties without plans in place to get a good return on investment are doomed to squander millions of dollars on, at worst, cronyism, and at best, well-meaning but poorly executed spending sprees. It’s a virtual guarantee that many of those cities and counties will play fast and loose with this money, all of it provided by us, the taxpayers – unless we demand accountability.
Who best to do that? Responsible elected officials, civic leaders and business executives should step up with localized action plans for getting the highest return on investment possible. If the federal government is going to mortgage our financial future by printing money, the least we can do in Florida is make sure we do something useful with it.