There is an organization that is involved with politics that many have really ever heard of called Project New Florida. Some of you might have heard about organizations called Project New America and Project New West, which say they help progressive candidates. But when looking at what they have done at the national level, one must wonder if they are really helping. If someone was to do a Google search on “Project New Florida”, they would generally only find polling results. Even on their national website they have to “clarify” that they are not a polling firm, stating “We’re not a traditional polling firm, though we do employ them as part of our methodology.” When there needs to be clarification, that isn’t a good sign.
Project New Florida is run by former Florida House member Loranne Ausley. We have been made aware from a number of different sources in Tallahassee that Ms. Ausley is actively campaigning for Allison Tant for Florida Democratic Party chair. Yet we are unaware of any endorsements or public statements by Ms. Ausley in which she claims support for Tant.
Still, Ms. Ausley wasn’t one of the founders of this organization. She didn’t join Project New Florida until May of 2011. In fact, the organization wasn’t even originally called Project New Florida. Instead, it was called “The Florida Watch”.
In August of 2009, The Florida Watch was started as an organization by Christopher Findlater. Many of you might remember Mr. Findlater as a $47,000 contributor to Ruth’s List as well as the treasurer of The Florida Watch. With The Florida Watch, he originally started off as both the treasurer and chairperson of the organization. During 2009, when only Findlater was associated with the organization, there were only four contributors to the organization. The largest was investment banker Vincent Ryan from Boston, who gave the first donation to the organization in the amount of $100,000. Mr. Findlater himself gives $10,000 to the organization. The last person to donate to the organization is a Minnesota attorney named Charlie Brinkwho, according to his Linkedin page, specialized is commercial litigation, start-ups and mergers. He gave a $50,000 check to the organization. The Florida Education Association also gave the organization $75,000 as well. All of these donations happened within a 10-day period (August 21st to August 31st). They also happened within the first three weeks of the committee’s existence, which was official on August 10th.
While the donations themselves don’t seem to be of any huge interest (but just interesting to know), the expenditures are quite different. During the time that Findlater was alone as the chair and treasurer of Florida Watch Action, an overwhelming amount of the expenditures were spent on polling, consulting and legal fees. Only one donation, which was to Pro-Choice Florida CCE, was made. The rest went to polling and consulting firms regarding….well….something.
Anyway, a new twist in the organization takes hold in March of 2011. At this time, Mr. Findlater resigns as the chairperson of The Florida Watch but retains his treasurer position. In the chair position, he is replaced by Susannah Randolph, who also becomes the new registered agent for the organization. During Randolph’s time as chair not much activity happens. In fact, she only holds on to the position for two months, until May, when The Florida Watch changes their name to Progress New Florida and appoints Loranne Ausley as chair. Still, the same paperwork also says that Susannah Randolph was appointed as secretary of Progress New Florida. Since there has not been any other paperwork submitted from the organization regarding changes to the secretary position, it must be assumed that Ms. Randolph still holds that position.
But that is enough about the people who are involved. What about the money? When looking at the records what is interesting is the high involvement in polling when it comes to this organization. Yet on their national website they say that the organization is not about polling. But let’s follow some of the money.
The best place to start is in August, 2009. As we mentioned the Florida Education Association gave $75,000 to the organization. Looking back at the FEA Solidarity Fund, Inc. expenses, they do confirm that on August 26th, they did pay Florida Watch $75,000 for “polling services”. On the same day, The Florida Watch spends $63,750 with Hamilton Campaigns for polling as well as $75,000 for Bendixen Associates for polling. Therefore we know right from the start that The Florida Watch was highly involved with polling.
Between the time of these polls mentioned above until December 30th of 2010, The Florida Watch was active in spending money on polling, consulting and other services. One of the organizations that provided a number of consulting services was Defero Advisory Services, where William Phillips was a managing member. This is the same William Phillips that started Florida Watch Action with Mr. Findlater back in 2010, according the the tax papers from that organization in 2010. He was also involved with the FEA before going into his own practice. When December 30th rolled around, the organization spent the last of its money, according to the Division of Elections’ website, and had an account balance of $0. From this point, it seemed as if the organization had run its course.
But wait, it hadn’t. On May 24th, 2011, The Florida Watch received its first donation in over six months. This donation was from a Tallahassee “homemaker” named Allison Tant. After’s Tant’s donation other donations started flying in. Mr Findlater was the next to donate to the organization on June 27th, donating $25,000. Remember Vincent Ryan, the man who gave the organization its first donation at $100,000? He was next to give to the organization on July 11th, which was also $25,000. Tant would eventually donate another check for $10,000 on September 19th, 2011.
While Tant, Findlater and Ryan’s contributions added funds to the organization, even more interesting was the expenses coming out of the organization. On June 30th, 2011 Capital City Strategies, Inc. received $10,000 in “consulting”. The registered agent for this company is Loranne Ausley. Capital City Strategies has made, to date, over $45,000 from Project New Florida.
Another company that has made a lot of money from Project New Florida is Hamilton Campaigns. Currently the company has made $244,100 from Project New Florida. While that in itself doesn’t sound like a big deal, Hamilton Campaigns has made over $1.6 million from the Florida Democratic Party. Just these two organizations alone have made Hamilton Campaigns over $1.8 million since 2008.
Over the course of the last few articles in this series, I have tried to show a connection between money and those that support Ms. Tant for the Florida Democratic Party Chair’s race. While the first two articles were only related to those that “endorsed” Ms. Tant, this article connects everyone together in a working relationship. The only exception to this is Ellis Robinson, but Mr. Findlater, who is highly involved with this, is Ruth’s List highest contributor. Again, Ruth’s List is actively supporting Ms. Tant.
Here is just a rough timeline and synopsis regarding Project New Florida:
Christopher Findlater was the original chairperson of both The Florida Watch and Florida Watch Action. Eventually, Susannah Randolph took over the chairperson positions of both of those organizations. Florida Watch Action remains intact from what it was when it was formed. However, The Florida Watch changed. Susannah Randolph resigns as chairperson of The Florida Watch on May 18th, 2011 and is replaced by Loranne Ausley, though Randolph remains on the organization as secretary. Mr. Findlater remains the treasurer, a position that he assumed from the beginning. Just five days after this change in leadership, Allison Tant becomes the first donor to the organization, now renamed Project New Florida, in over six months. Tant’s donation is soon followed up by Mr. Findlater. Ms. Tant also gave a $10,000 check on September 19th, 2011.
Since its inception the main expenses for The Florida Watch/Project New Florida have been polling. While the organization used polling from Project New West as well as other polling firms, the largest benefactor from these polls was Hamilton Campaigns, which to date has made $224,100 from Project New Florida. In addition, Hamilton Campaigns has made over $1.6 million from the Florida Democratic Party, with $395,462 coming just in the 2012 election cycle.
One thing that many Democrats agree on is that the polling that the Florida Democratic Party has been using has been quite dismal. Hamilton Campaigns provides a lot of that polling. But as we can now see, this polling firm is connected to Mr. Findlater, Susannah Randolph, Loranne Ausley and Allison Tant all through their association with Project New Florida. And since this connection does exist, it could be assumed that it is in Hamilton Campaigns’ best interest to have Allison Tant as the Florida Democratic Party Chair, so that they can retain their business with the FDP.
This is just one case. All of the current vendors have direct financial interests in making sure that everything remains status quo. Not only does this include the people mentioned above, but all the vendors that we haven’t talked about. And since we know that Scott Arceneaux and other Florida Democratic Party staffers are actively backing Ms.. Tant, we know that the vendors will not change if Ms. Tant is elected. And more than likely, the Florida Democratic Party will not change.
If you are like me, you are tired of constantly losing, or celebrating because we won a measly 40% of seats in the Florida Legislature. Yet the people that have been financially involved with the Florida Democratic Party are the same people that have put us in this position. This is the main reason we need a clean break from the current system and move to something that will benefit Democrats throughout the state.
I personally feel that the money involved with the party is out of control. People do talk about fundraising and whatnot. After doing a lot of research, the money isn’t the problem. Trust me, there is more than enough money to go around. The problem is that it is going around to the wrong people. And with Tant’s connection to not only Scott Arceneaux, but vendors like Hamilton Campaigns that offer polling data that is highly questionable, one must wonder if Tant truly wants to help the party, or keep the status quo. With all that has been uncovered so far, it seems to be the latter.
Attached below are some of the documents mentioned throughout the article:
Ms. Tant’s donations are readily available on the Division of Elections website.