Money and the FDP Chair Race, Part III: Project New Florida – The Link

tantThere 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:

Original Registered Agent Statement for Mr. Findlater

Appointment of Susannah Randolph to The Florida Watch

Change to Loranne Ausley as Registered Agent

Change of name to Project New Florida, Appointment of Ausley as Chair and Randolph as Secretary.

Ms. Tant’s donations are readily available on the Division of Elections website.

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22 thoughts on “Money and the FDP Chair Race, Part III: Project New Florida – The Link

  1. Look Trotter the Randolph’s are idiots and do more damage to our party both locally and statewide than just about anyone out there. We are thankful FWA is on the margins of Florida politics and that Scott Randolph will not be chairman.

    Allison Tant has zero to do with Florida Watch Action. She will be a strong fundraiser and will not be the nut as a public spokesperson Randolph would be.

    Most agree with you on FWA but your shallow attempts to link Tant with them speaks more of a vendetta than anything else. What is the point of your series. You are just stating obvious hits on the Randolph’s the same points everyone makes. It has zero relevance to the chair race.

  2. I love this site normally but this series is becoming long and pointless. Sorry but attacking the Randolph’s personally means nothing in the chairs race. Randolph is not running. Or did you miss the memo?

  3. I should say Randolph would have been a disastrous chairman but trying to transfer his baggage to Tant is making you look silly.

  4. Did you miss the point about Tant? You might want to reread the article. Thank you. Also, Florida Watch Action is only mentioned four times in this article.

  5. Your links are tenuous at best. Seems you are trying to attack Tant’s supporters without explaining why they want her do badly and why they need to maintain power. Funding of outside organizations is completely unrelated to who is party chair.

  6. As far as why people would want to maintain power, that is pretty obvious, no matter what situation in life you are looking at. But in politics it is pumped on steroids.

    As far as outside organizations and the party (either the chair or organization, which are all one in the same), are you saying that American Crossroads and FreedomWorks are totally unrelated to the GOP? Yes, they might be structurally, but their interests are in the GOP.

  7. You do realize Trotter all you are doing with this series is rallying the base of the other side and potentially hurting Clendenin who we all support? Remember the state committee members do not care about this type of thing. Get back to talking about Alan’s plan being better, all the lost state house and senate seats and how we need to revitalize the grassroots. We all think Scott and Susannah Randolph are idiots but still this series is diverting from the real issues. Focus more tightly on the points above and Tant’s lobbying ties and GOP contributions. You may think this stiff matters but it does not relative to the other issues.

    It was interesting to learn Lorrane Ausley is paying herself as a consultant.

  8. I agree. I love this website and didn’t mind the shots at Florida Watch Action, but please devote your time and resources for the next month making real digestible points that can help Clendenin. This stuff will be more useful after the election if Tant wins.

    The reality is 501c4 orgs, CCEs, ECOs, etc all exist for these nefarious purposes. The fact that Tant contributes to these groups and her allies run them is in no way anything close to a smoking gun against her candidacy. In fact it isn’t even largely relevant. We all know the Randolph’s are our version of he tea party patriots but still you are diverting attention from the real issues which are e party’s poor performance and lack of structure. Posts like the ones about poor legislative targeting and how those consultants rob the party blind while producing bad results and those which discuss the breakdown in party structure and grassroots advocacy are much more important and useful to this fight than what you put here. I appreciate the time you put in on this piece but it is a bit of a waste in the bigger picture.

    Still a good read with lots of good points though they are largely irrelevant for the discussion of the chairmanship.

  9. Actually, oddly enough, I agree with you all.

    Honestly, my worry isn’t about any ties that Tant has to Susannah Randolph. In fact, in this article that I wrote, I rarely mention Susannah with the exception of what position that she held within the organization. Nowhere do I say that Susannah Randolph is influencing Tant in any way. In fact, I didn’t even say that in the last article. So for those that are implying that I would think that Tant would run the organization like Randolph, or would even have influence, are highly incorrect. I have only said that they were connected through Project New Florida and that Susannah has endorsed Tant. That is it.

    The reason that I have connected them is because of the overall worry that I have which is this man named Christopher Findlater. This is a mysterious man who comes into Florida politics in 2009 and pours in nearly $3.5 million of his own money. He starts FWA and Project New Florida before anyone named Randolph or Ausley are involved with them. In addition, he has given nearly $400,000 to the FDP. He starts all of these organizations and pours in all of this money. Therefore, this is a man who is highly influential in Florida Democratic politics, but nobody knows who he is.

    So, overall, my biggest worry is not the Randolphs. It is trying to see who this Mr. Findlater is. The only reason that I mention Tant, Randolph, Robinson and Ausley all in the same breath is because they all have connections to this mysterious man. Is this good or is this bad? I have no idea!

    That is my biggest worry. I fear a Democratic Party that is highly influenced by someone that almost nobody has heard of. Is he a big vendor? Is he trying to influence the party with the hundreds of thousands of dollars he has given to it? Does he make money off of the polling? I don’t know. Nobody knows!

    So, when I see an organization like FWA which is taking in a bunch of money but only spending about 13% on actual advertising, it raises a red flag. Again, Mr. Findlater is the treasurer of Florida Watch Action and Progress New Florida.

    That, I think, is very, very scary. And the people mentioned in these articles are the only links to Mr. Findlater and, thus, probably the only ones that know the answer.

  10. Great reporting and analysis.

    Many comments on this article reflect a real lack
    of critical thought. So much of this ‘blow-back’
    Is unwarranted and somewhat childish .

    It is terribly important we learn about these
    non-transparent business and personal relationships
    within the Florida Democratic Party.

    We must remove nationally known Florida ‘Wizards of Oz’, back-room play makers, and greedy insiders from controlling and pre-determining the result of the upcoming election for Chair of the Florida Democratic Party.

  11. I believe I understand your target better now. Your concern is the insider, back-slapping relationships that have repeatedly brought weak strategies and losing campaigns to Dems statewide. Unfortunately, I think your more focused target should be Hamilton Strategies and other orgs that are routinely contracted and don’t produce much value. The next FDP chair does need to be free from the baggage, but it still seems in your posts that there is a lot of guilt-by-association and assumptions which serve more as distractions than clearly causal relationships. I don’t have a stake in the FDP Chair race personally, but I hope as you do that FDP gets leadership that will make it more effective. That’s what I hear throughout the comments you’ve received – a good sign.

  12. You’re right. But it is more than just the vendors. I think the current culture in FDP politics is that anyone can make money off the current system as long as you are buddy-buddy with the people. I mean, don’t think I am naive, I know that is how politics work. But when you are in a swing state and have the dismal performance of the FDP, then it is different.

    It can be Hamilton, FWA or anyone else. People need to be aware of what is going on in the party and need to know the truth. All organizations, as well as the party and its vendors, should be held accountable.

    There is a HUGE lack of transparency. That is why I post what I post. People give money to these organizations willy nilly but don’t know if their money is going to good use. The idea of this series was to show that a lot of people are getting rich off the party but we are rarely getting results.

    In addition to transparency, we need to know what is going on. When someone like Mr. Findlater is giving $400,000 to the party, why is he doing so? Why is he creating groups like FWA and Project New Florida? What is in it for him and those associated with him? And those that are associated with him just happen to be the people that are highly influential in Mrs. Tant’s campaign. I’m sorry, but that link is a valid one.

    In Florida Democratic politics we have become highly complacent when it comes to not just accepting failure, but how our party runs. We need to turn the tide on that, which is why this election for chair is so important.

  13. I think the consultants and pollsters are part of a larger symptom. In many cases they are providing bad or simply tired old advice that does not apply to a changing state. But the structural issues of the party create this situation and thus it is tough to solve that problem without major structural changes to the party itself.

  14. Tant versus Clendenin

    Tne Republican Party of Florida depends on a black ops structure in the legislative races. That black ops structure is run by David Ramba / Sarah Bascom and Frank Artiles.

    Voters Response – 527 PAC [David Ramba]
    101 South Monroe Street
    Tallahassee, FL 32301

    Ramba Consulting Group
    Ramba Law Group

    Bascom Communications [Sarah Bascom]

    Frank Artiles
    Citizens for Housing and
    Urban Growth

    Citizens for Housing & Urban Growth
    120 South Monroe Street
    Tallahassee, FL 32301

    and the various ECOs like Save Our Internet Access.

    The FDP has failed to address this structure, to expose it or to prepare our candidates to confront it. Ramba’s activities in the last election were unethical and borderline illegal. Look at John Alvarez’s race in Brevard County as an example and Joe Garcia’s Congressional race. Fraudulent mailings and robocalls supposedly supporting the candidates with hot button issues on gay rights, immigration, abortion and law enforcement.

    Ramba is making mad money off his various consulting fees. He creates the legislator through his Voters Response PAC, owns them, then gets them to do his bidding for his lobbying activities, eg, gambling interests. It is a complete package deal. The gambling interests donate to Voters Response, Ramba wins the election, the legislators pass special interest legislation for his clients, Ramba gets a big fee. Frank Artiles provides cover through the phony front group.

    David Trotter’s expose just underscores that the FDP has failed in a poor attempt to copy this business model. Tant is part of this poor business model. The FDP failed to counter Ramba, but could not match his black ops model.

    The FDP needs effective management and an effective business model. The question for me is who can take on Ramba: Tant or Clendenin.

  15. I cannot speak for Dave as we do disagree on some of these issues but I think Allison Tant is probably a decent person. But the overriding issue is a culture of insiders and lack of accountability that turns massive losses into “victories” and rewards being on the inside over competence and creativity. Our party has had structural problems since the 1990s and through the years the many people have made efforts to fix these problems have been ostracized or shown the door by party elders. Thus we still are in the low 40s in the House and at 14 in the Senate despite constantly changing and improving demographics for Democrats. Blaming money and reapportionment is a cop out. I’d urge those who doubt this to take a look at other states like Florida, where the GOP tide in 1990s and early 2000s was met with a stronger, more organized fightback.

  16. I happen to think Scott Randolph had a lot to offer as a potential chairman but obviously there is baggage also. Ultimately, Alan Clendenin has developed a real plan to change things and this threatens the status quo. Clendenin ought to get the support of those looking for change, many of whom looked to Randlolph for leadership.

  17. No matter who you support for the FDP Chair, I think we can all agree that the State Leadership needs a desperate overhaul, from top to bottom.

    We are going nowhere fats as a party and it’s mostly the fault of shell-groups like the ones mentioned in the past few days, organizations that are taking valuable resources (in the form of not just $$$, but volunteers, and their time and labor as well) and are misusing these resources and even worse are just plain NOT getting the results we need as a state party.

    So far it seems Clendenin is not only the candidate with a solid plan and organizing track record, but has been open and honest about rebuilding the party and getting some fresh, new blood in!

  18. reminds me of Wall Street CEOs… “making a lot of money off failure” couldn’t put it better myself.

  19. BRAVO!

    Now tie it all together. Florida Watch Action is a fraud. The Randolph’s are a joke, an absolute embarrassment to the party. They are like the Tea Party people are in the GOP.

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