Money and the FDP Chair Race, Part II: Florida Watch Action, what’s it for?

taxesBack in 2010 we saw the emergence of Florida Watch Action, a political advocacy group which promoted liberal causes and started the “Pink Slip Rick Scott” campaign, discrediting the current governor. As far as some of the work done by Florida Watch Action, it is nice to see that some people are out there saying things; whereas in the past nobody ever organized.

But with that being said, I wonder what Florida Watch Action is really up to. Yes, I understand that they are trying to move public opinion away from Rick Scott, but is that their main goal? To me, a few bumper stickers around the state as well as protests here and there really doesn’t do it for me. While I think it has made some impact, it still seems quite inadequate. I fail to see the lack of any real action in trying to get progressives elected in the State of Florida.

What is interesting about Florida Watch Action, Inc., is that last part “Inc”. Yes, it is one of those 501(c)(4) organizations which has been able to find its way into politics after the Citizens United case in the United State Supreme Court. Unlike Ruth’s List, who formed an organization (a committee of continuous existence, or CCE) which has to disclose their contributions and expenditures to the Florida Division of Elections, Florida Watch Action doesn’t have to disclose any of theirs.

Therefore, when looking at what Florida Watch Action has actually done, one must look at the contributions that they have made. So has Florida Watch Action made any contributions to any Democratic candidates? No, not really. In fact, Florida Watch Action has only given, according to the Division of Elections website, to Florida Hometown Democracy, Inc (a total of $120,000), Project New Florida (a total of $250), Florida Watch Ballot Committee (a total of $2,500), the Florida Democratic Party (a total of $300) and Pro-Choice CCE (a total of $4,700). So, in all, Florida Watch Action has really done nothing whatsoever to promote Democratic candidates at the state level or try to help in any way.

The paperwork regarding the setup of this non-profit organization was received by the State of Florida on January 10th, 2010. While Susannah Randolph has been highly involved with the organization (as the Chair), the treasurer of the organization is someone named Christopher Findlater, a multi-millionaire businessman. Interestingly enough, Findlater is also the top contributor to Ruth’s List, the organization that we did an article on yesterday.

When I first looked at Florida Watch Action, I figured that they were really contributing to Democratic causes. After further research, I am not entirely sure. Many have complained that this organization has been taking in money while not delivering anything in return. As far as the money going into the organization, it is unclear due to the fact that it is a 501(c)(4) and is able to hide all of their donors. But if we look at the money that they have spent in Florida campaigns and causes, there doesn’t seem to be a lot, or any, toward individual campaigns.

Therefore, one must ask “what is the goal of Florida Watch Action”? Why is the organization so involved with the Florida Hometown Democracy project, giving the organization $120,000 while doing nothing for individual candidates? On the federal level, where Florida Watch Action is a registered 527, they only spent $30,053 against Mitt Romney, according to OpenSecerets.com.

One thing that we have been able to do is look at Florida Watch Action’s tax records. Here are their 2010 filings and 2011 filings. One thing that is interesting is that all of the officers changed in a span of one year with the exception of one, Mr. Findlater. Even Susannah Randolph wasn’t part of the group according to the 2010 filings. Still, in 2011, Mrs. Randolph was on record as the “Executive Director/Chairperson” of Florida Watch Action, in which she had a “reportable compensation from the organization” of $63,000. In 2011, Florida Watch Action took in $312,060 in revenues. They also expended $225,104. The links above show an itemization of the expenses.

What is interesting is that $142,357 was paid for “fees and services (non-employees)” on Line 11G in the “Statement of Functional Expenses” portion of the tax report. One would assume that the $63,000 mentioned above would have been in the Line 5 of the same report in which “compensation of current officers, directors, trustees and key employees” amounts would be listed. Instead, this line has $0, even though it said that Mrs. Randolph is listed as “Executive Director/Chairperson”.

But wait, let’s go down to the Schedule O part at the tax forms. In this form, called the “Supplemental Information to Form 990”, it says the following:

Form 990, Part VI, Section A, Line 3: The organization hired an outside consultant to be the executive director and handle the daily operations of the organization.

Now this makes perfect sense why Line 5 was left blank, because Susannah Randolph, according to the Schedule O, is an “outside consultant”. Therefore, any amount that she would have made would have been put, instead, on “Line 11G” of the “Statement of Functional Expenses” portion as she is a “non-employee”. Therefore, how much did Susannah Randolph get paid to run Florida Watch Action in 2011 alone? It is quite possible that she got paid $142,357, according the the tax filings.

Oh, and if you were wondering, Florida Watch Action paid $40,668 in advertising and promotion, according to the tax filings, less than half of what they paid to “fees and services” for non-employees.

I really do not understand the goal of the organization. I do not see them out there helping individual candidates. They only seem to be slamming Rick Scott and Mitt Romney. Even then, we don’t know how much money is going into the Rick Scott effort because of the nature of the 501(c)(4). Basically, I am not assured that Florida Watch Action is going to help Democratic candidates get elected in Florida. In my opinion, they didn’t help in 2010 or in 2012.

Much like Ruth’s List, one must question this organization’s existence. In fact, many people, even activist, that we know around the state consider Florida Watch Action’s acts laughable and, honestly, quite childish. Also, if the goal of Florida Watch Action is to take down Rick Scott, that is setting the bar quite low. Democrats should expect to beat a governor that rarely has an approval rating over 40%. It is the hard races where Democrats need to be putting their attention.

The reason that I wanted to point this out, much like with Ruth’s List, is because the head of this organization, Susannah Randolph, is actively supporting Allison Tant for Chair of the Florida Democratic Party. While I am not claiming that Mrs. Randolph can afford a Lamborghini like her Ruth’s List counterpart Ellis Robinson, I do wonder why there is a lack of investment into local candidates. Therefore, we really have no idea how much money is being retained by the 501(c)(4) (even though the “cash on hand” in the tax filings states $86,956). Is the organization a truly productive entity, or a paper tiger?

Finally, why does Florida Watch Action need to create a 501(c)(4)? The only reason that someone would want to create an organization like this, as well as a 527, is to hide who their donors are. Therefore, what does Florida Watch Action have to hide? Why are they hiding their donors?

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31 thoughts on “Money and the FDP Chair Race, Part II: Florida Watch Action, what’s it for?

  1. Fantastic!!!! This is why I keep reading this blog despite the left wing bent you guys bring. This is great. The Randolph’s are clownish frauds. The sooner the party realizes that and moves beyond them the sooner we have a genuine chance for victory.

  2. Great Piece!!!

    It’s insulting to the many people who have helped out FWA that the organization is being used as a personal piggy bank. More than insulting, it’s disgusting.

    From the look of these tax records I’d say it’s about time FWA gets a knock on the door from ol’ Uncle Sam…

    Anyone else smell an IRS audit??

  3. Bravo Mr. Trotter! Excellent piece of reporting here. Florida Watch Action is based around the cult of personality. The Randolph twins simply put are self promoters of the highest order. The organization does little no organizing. Take it from me as I have interacted with the Randolph’s and Amy Ritter in the past. It is just carefully planned agitating. This has a purpose but is no substitute for a real functioning party that puts organization and issues first. consider it a fringe element of the Democratic Party.

    Allison Tant is a respectable individual with a great track record. She should reject the support of the Randolph’s and state unequivocally she does not associate with their childish attacks on Rick Scott, Marco Rubio and others. Again this serves a purpose but isn’t anything the party itself or a party chair should be near let alone condone.

    I know you support Clendenin but the more I see of Tant the more I like her. But I do not like the Randolph’s and may just sit this out thanks to them.

  4. I think it is important to remember Allison Tant is not in any way controlled by the Randolph’s and is her own woman who involvement in politics predates Florida Watch Action’s formation by 30 years.

    Allison Tant Richard unlike the chareterizations on this website is a good Democrat, a mother, and a top rate fundraiser.

    As to this article it is on the money. Most of us were very worried about a potential
    Randolph takeover of the party. This is good, accurate reporting.

    Florida Watch Action is a sham. A bunch of loud screaming silly activists who wouldn’t understand the first thing about real politics.

    Your candidate Alan Clendenin would have won by default because most reasoned people cannot stand Scott or Susannah Randolph. Thank goodness Allison
    Tant has chosen to run and Randolph is out.

    Besides Randolph becoming Tax Collector in Orange is borderline criminal. What do the staff there think? They must be horrified!

  5. The Randolph’s are self absorbed clowns who have done more to hurt the party both in Orlando and statewide than they have actually helped it. Hopefully this article will achieve wide distribution. Dave, congrats on a great piece of political reporting!

  6. This is excellent information but Susannah Randolph is not running for chair nor is her husband. I doubt Tant will be controlled by them. I do think however it is worrying that she aligned with them. Florida Watch Action is a largely frivolous group and they should not be associated with the FDP.

    Also you need to examine Scott Randolph’s record as OCDEC Chair. Dividing the executive committee , turning off the hispanic, upsetting the african-americans and running off anyone with any experience or instsituional knowledge. All of that and then the self appointment as Tax Collector.

    Again this is good, well researched information but its relevance to Tant v. Clendenin is minimal.

  7. Thank you all for the comments. As I mentioned on Twitter (but I don’t think I mentioned it on here), this is a five-part series about money and the FDP Chairs race. These first two are just to set up the third and fourth articles about the subject, in which Mrs. Tant does become relevant. The fifth part of the series is a conclusion. But yes, we do tie this all together for those of you who are wondering about this.

  8. Florida Watch Action serves a very real and important purpose. It is where all the outcasts and trouble makers throughout our DECs can gravitate and feel important. It also serves the need to fill up Susannah Randolph’s ego and make her feel like she is superbly important.

    Have you Dave Trotter ever gone to a FWA event? It goes like this. A bunch of loud screaming middle aged activists show up at an event where Rick Scott is doing a workday or forum and they very loudly hijack the event and give him a pink slip. Then they all head out for drinks and to pat themselves on the back.

    Great piece Dave, by the way!!!!

  9. I’m hoping I can provide some general context for the type of activities that groups like Florida Watch Action engage in and their general effectiveness. This is not meant to be a commentary on the effectiveness or lack thereof of Florida Watch Action itself. I have little familiarity with the organization and whether it’s been successful or not.

    However, I have worked for a 501 (c) 4 organization that engaged in similar activities as Florida Watch Action, at least from my understanding of how you have described them. Let me start by saying that the goals of these organization is not to advocate for Democratic candidates, at least not directly. After all, 501c4s can only spend a total of half of their expenditures on elections. The other half have to be on issues, which is where most organizations will spend the majority of their time and investment.

    First and foremost, the goals of organizations like this are to move the conversation on issues and to keep the pressure on elected officials and the base active. The reason why a lot of groups like this have sprouted up on the left after 2010 is because it was a direct response to what we saw in the tea party surge and a general weakness in the Democratic/progressive side in operating in capacities outside of elections.

    In 2008, a lot of the progressive movement felt that we had achieved our high point with the election of Barack Obama, and that all of the problems that plagued our country the last 8 years would be magically fixed. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. We learned the hard way that Democracy is a 365 day a year sport, and if you want to win your agenda, not just elections, you have to be involved all the time, not just in election years.

    So with the focus on preventing a repeat of 2010, a lot of these groups (whether they were new or already existing), focused on three main objectives: setting the narrative in the media to frame the debate on major issues, keeping the pressure on elected officials, and keeping activists engaged during the off years.

    From what it sounds like of Florida Watch Action and the Pink Slip Rick campaign, their goal was to at least do the first two of those things, though generating earned media that was critical of Rick Scott and Mitt Romney. This is a similar way to a lot of groups act, and is a way you can quantify what their contributions are.

    I any C4 throws a protest or a rally and no press show up, all it is is a bunch of people yelling at clouds. And this happens more or less often, depending on the success of the organization. But once media is factored into the picture, you can start to quantify their effect. Did it get covered by a local television station, national news, the huffington post, etc? If it did, what would be the comparative cost buying that same amount of coverage of your message in advertising space? $1,000, $10,000, $100,000?

    If a C-4 is effective, it will generate several dollars of earned media for every actual dollar spent in operational expenses for the organization. That alone would make the C4 serve a valuable purpose, outside of any additional contributions they have made.

    There appears to be a genuine split in the progressive movement between the effectiveness of activism vs. the effectiveness of electoral work. I’ve met people who firmly believe that elections are pointless and the only way to make change is through activism, while I’ve met others who believe the only way to make change is through electoral politics, and activism is just angry people shouting.

    As someone who has been involved in both activism and electoral politics for years, I think both have a place and both are needed in order to truly achieve change. When done effectively, activism can help control the conversation and make it easier for candidates to get elected by framing the conversation on issues or elected officials to help bolster the candidates argument.

    So when you ask about what the point of Florida Watch Action is, and what they do to help Democrats get elected, I think that is the goal of the organization, or at least organizations like it. Like I said earlier, I’m not affiliated with the organization and don’t have a strong opinion of it.

    Not all C-4s are effective, and maybe Florida Watch Action is one of them that is not. The disclosure requirements with C-4s make it hard to tell. But it seemed that your article was not just a criticism of Florida Watch Action and the Randolphs, but activism centric C-4s in general.

    I realize that my comment is as long as the article itself, but I hope you’ll take the time to read it, and that it will provide some perspective on the type of work C4 organizations do.

    I both a big fan of your blog and a strong supporter of Alan Clendenin as chair, so I hope you won’t read this as a defense of Tant or the Randolph’s endorsement of her.

  10. “Therefore, when looking at what Florida Watch Action has actually done, one must look at the contributions that they have made.” Not entirely true Trotter. This organization focuses on messaging and communications ie those protests that you think are so pointless- have gotten them on Maddow, Schultz, and Chris Matthews as well as every local media market in Florida, it’s called earned media. They have successfully defined and branded the governor of Florida 2 years out from his re-election and have been laying the groundwork for 2014. If you’re wondering why they haven’t “done anything” to help Democrats get elected its because they’re nonpartisan, meaning they have a base of over 20,000 anti-Rick Scott fans on facebook alone that span party lines. Having a group that is solely against Rick Scott has been a huge help in keeping this guy at bay. Every time he tried to make himself look good by claiming to give money to education, or doing one of those those stupid workdays, this group has always been right on him calling him out every step of the way. I know you’re all bent about the FDP chair race and feel like you’re doing some great service to Clendenin by personally attacking those who don’t support who you support, but all you’re doing is marginalizing yourself and your little paper even further and looking more like a crazed desperate puppet of Clendenin pulling at straws than a meaningful reporter.

  11. I associate with the above two comments about how FWA works and have to say Trotter is missing the point on this. The reality is that the goal of the organization is to earn media and show some relevance for framing the debate. On this score they’ve been remarkably successful.

    The issue is the Randolph’s themselves. They can accomplish a heck of lot more if they were rational. They are not. They are power mad and attention crazed. Scott Randolph has divided the OCDEC into factions that are busier fighting themselves than the republicans. He’s deliberately stopped people disloyal to him from being members and ignored the applications of those in other factions. He appointed himself tax collector passing over several interested and more qualified Democrats.

    Susannah Randolph literally knows zero about practical politics and is a self promoting flake.

    I echo the sentiments also that the Randolph’s are not Tant. I don’t know Allison Tant but the mere fact she was recruited and that Clendenin has so much more traction than similar styled and profile candidates of the past reflects a strong disatisfaction with both of the Rabdolphs. The reason Randolph did not run ultimately was because he could not win.

  12. I understand where you are coming from, but this debate right now is about the FDP Chair race and the money that is involved with it. Later posts will help clarify this. I do not want to go off on what Scott and Susannah have done personally, including stories regarding the DEC. I believe that debate should happen, and you are correct. But I feel that is a debate for another time and another place.

    Bashing the Randolphs isn’t what the debate is about, and it shouldn’t be. Talking about who is currently making money and having influence because of the current Florida Democratic Party structure, which supports Mrs. Tant, is the subject. Therefore, for the rest of this race for the chair’s position, I want to keep on topic.

    There will be more than enough time to address any issues with the Randolphs regarding their handling of the DEC and other things after January 26th. But now, that is not the issue. Mr. Randolph has already been reelected chair of the Orange County DEC and there is nothing to be done about that. Therefore, going after them is not vitally important to this debate regarding the FDP.

    But I do appreciate where you are coming from.

  13. Rachel Maddow said that she didn’t give awards, but if she did, she would give one to Florida Watch Action. Just sayin’

  14. This is completely irrelevant to the chair’s race. What the heck does FWA have to do with anything? It’s just an annoying group most of us have chosen to avoid and the less relevance they have the better. Scott Randolph is not running for chair, thank god. Tant is. I think she’s okay. The thing that gets me is all the GOP contributions and you’d be much better served continuing to highlight those as well as DBT online etc than this absolute garbage.

    Again hate the Randolph’s but he is not running for chair anymore. Is is a waste of time.

  15. The Randolph cult is particularly worrying. People who see them as the saviors of the party and follow their every move despite all the obvious flaws they have an the things correctly pointed out above. I would love to see them on the margins soon.

  16. and Maddow is the end-all for you?

    who cares, he GOP care about their pundits and talking heads, Dems care about policy and people, REAL people.

  17. BTW, FWA uses FALSE FACTS and MISREPRESENT THE TRUTH o get their point across, which is directly from the far-right playbook. Hence Politi-Fact labeling FWA’s claims FALSE and PANTS-ON-FIRE.

    it’s not only a diservice to the truth, but to Dems and Progressives alike.

  18. So it’s fine that these so-called Progressive groups (FWA, Ruth’s List, w/e) soak up donor money to enhance their own pay-checks and political clout instead of doing what they claim to be doing?

    The Randolphs are solely in this game for money and fancy fundraisers. they’re pitiful excuses for party leaders and have isolated the OCDEC.
    In other words I don’t give a flying f*ck what Rachel Maddow or Chris Matthews think, because they DON’T LIVE HERE. And they are absolutely CLUELESS as to what happens in Orange County.

    And to say the least these IRS 990 Tax Forms are suspicious.

  19. you are who you associate yourself with…

    will Tant be any better with clowns like the Randolphs behind her?

    besides, do we want someone who Susannah called “Tantrum” to be the FDP Chair? Tantrums are childish, while that bullspit may work with her, it gets us as a party NOWHERE, FAST.

  20. Agree. They are habitual liars who twist and manipulate facts like the tea party does. Both Randolph’s are hurting the Ds far more than helping.

  21. I’ve sat out of all these debates to this point but let me comment on this. The Randolph clan as I call them are more damaging to the Democratic brand than anybody or anything else. They have destroyed the Orange County DEC playing factions against each other to obtain and maintain power, they have ostracized anyone who doesn’t agree with them, they have taken the Tax Collectors office in order to enrich themselves and they have done the same with this “organization” Florida Watch Action. This “organization” does ZERO organizing for Democrats instead making clowns of themselves by disrupting book signings, and legitimate government events. They may earn a lot of media but they make Democrats look like kooks at the same time as they are as this article points out making TONS OF MONEY OFF THIS “ORGANIZATION.”

    I would check carefully what vendors the Orange County Tax Collectors office uses from here on out. I would also echo the sentiments above urging Allison Tant to distance herself from the Randolph family and those who are closely tied to them.

    As a liberal, active Democrat I have seen enough of this husband and wife clown show for one lifetime.

  22. I hope Mr. Trotter can make a very compelling case at the end of his series, because right now he is way, way off target. I would have thought he understood the difference between a political party and a progressive advocacy group, the difference between electing candidates – the primary and often singular job of a political party – and issue advocacy, what parties really suck at doing because it’s really outside their mission, and it steps on candidate platforms. Advocacy groups will look to keep in line some of our piss poor Dems who get cozy with the Chamber and “education reform” lobbies, for example, as well as keep the heat on Repubs for their stances. To imagine FWA as an arm of the Dems is totally goofy. It’s pretty hard to argue that the Pink Slip Rick campaign alone hasn’t been damn effective. C’mon! I realize you’re opposed to Allison Tant’s candidacy, and you’ve shown some matters of real concern, but you risk the reputation you’ve built if you can’t do better than this.

  23. I will be publishing something tomorrow that should connect much of it together. As far as Ruth’s List though, it is a group that specifically supports Democratic women. I just think that should be stated. I know you didn’t mention it, but I just wanted to make a clarification on that organization.

  24. Hmmn: “The reason that I wanted to point this out, much like with Ruth’s List, is because the head of this organization, Susannah Randolph, is actively supporting Allison Tant for Chair of the Florida Democratic Party.” So if Randolph were supporting Clendenin, you wouldn’t have written this?

  25. This is important. FWA has consistently been found to be liar or pants on fire by PolitFact. The people who mention Rachel Maddow forget that she attacks PolitiFact as a right win organ when in fact it is right down the middle. Part of her attacks have been due to their exposing of FWA’s lies. PolitFact was founded by the St Pete Times, hardly a conservative news outlet.

    FWA and the Randloph’s have done more damage to the Democratic brand in both Orange County and the state than you would know. The sooner they are out of the picture the better for the party.

  26. Yes. And more than likely I would not support either of the candidates running for the position. But that is not the case.

  27. We need to work hard to ensure that the Randolph’s do not reflect badly on the party. Remember Susannah and ACORN? How about what a clown she made of Grayson at times.

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