Documents: Gillum stuck taxpayers with travel costs for fundraising

And that’s a no-no … even in Florida. A new release of documents from a probe into corruption in Tallahassee shows that Andrew Gillum charged the cost of a flight to the city when traveling to discuss his potential gubernatorial run. That vindicates the local newspaper’s reporting last year — and raises more questions about the Democratic nominee just days before the election:

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum was visiting potential campaign donors to talk about his run for governor when he used an official Tallahassee mayor’s office expense account to pay for a private flight that ferried him there, according to documents released Monday.

Gillum paid for the Feb. 12, 2016, round-trip flight from Tallahassee to St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport with an official mayor’s office expense account, the Tallahassee Democrat reported last year. The newspaper quoted Gillum’s mayoral office spokesman Jamie Van Pelt saying Gillum took the trip on official city business of talking with Tampa affordable-housing developer Peter Leach about wraparound social services in schools and housing developments. Gillum also found time to meet with high-profile Democrats like Alex Sink and now-Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), Van Pelt had said.

However, the newly released records provided by the lawyer of former Gillum ally Adam Corey under a subpoena issued as part of an investigation by the Florida Commission on Ethics indicate the flight was expressly for Gillum to meet with potential donors to his gubernatorial campaign. Gillum’s 2014 mayoral campaign finance reports show he had moved $10,000 to his official mayoral office account about the time he won the local office in 2014. State law restricts use of the account to only official city business.

In other words, Gillum might have more problems than just a few lost votes. The FBI has remained silent on whether Gillum is a target in their probe, but the state can prosecute anyone violating its own laws separately. Violating this law is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison, although a penal sentence would not be a likely outcome; the political damage would be more significant. It might be tough for the Florida Attorney General to ignore at this point, too, given the high profile Gillum has carved out for himself by running for governor.

The documents make clear that this wasn’t official Tallahassee business, but rather a campaign-related event. An e-mail from Peter Leach, one of the organizers, explicitly notes that “campaign regs” might require shifting the cost to a different political group:

I have reserved the Bay Street Room at Capital Grill from 1:30PM to 4:00 Friday February 12, 2016 for a food and beverage required bill of at least $600. The room can be set up for up to 30 but will be downsized to the actual count just before the event when we have a closer count confirmed.

I am expecting Andrew Gillum’s Group will be 3, Southport 3, I’ve also called Charlie and will address the caveat Marley and I discussed today if he does come.

Should the event cost be in Ruth’s List name? I have reserved the room in my name, but perhaps under campaign regs it should be in Ruth’s List’s name. I’ll reimburse Ruth’s List if that is preferred.

There wouldn’t be any need for that if this was official Tallahassee business. That negates the explanation offered by Gillum’s office when the Tallahassee Democrat first reported this in August 2017:

The Feb. 12, 2016, flight was arranged by Adam Corey on behalf of his client, Peter Leach, a Tampa-based affordable housing developer who had previously done business with the city and gave several generous donations to Gillum after their meeting.

Before flying back to Tallahassee that same day, Gillum had lunch at the Capital Grille with former Gov. Charlie Crist, who was running what turned out to be a successful bid for Congress, and Alex Sink, former CFO of Florida who had run unsuccessfully for governor and Congress.

“The mayor was invited by Peter Leach to a meeting at his office to learn about some of the work he was doing to advance wrap-around social services in schools and housing developments,” said Jamie Van Pelt, spokesman for the mayor. “While visiting Tampa the mayor also met with local political leaders before returning to Tallahassee.”

The meeting certainly seems to have been successful. Three months after this meeting, Leach dropped $10,000 into Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign, and then added $5000 the next year. However, Leach ended up doing no business with Tallahassee, either at the meeting or afterward, the paper noted, after coming in second on a bid for low-income housing. So what did Tallahassee taxpayers get out of the trip? Not as much as Gillum did.

Ron DeSantis will likely make this part of his closing argument over the next few days — not just the corrupt acts but also Gillum’s serial prevarications about them. If Democrats lose this election, they can only blame themselves, as Gillum’s ethics issues were well known before the primaries.