Rewind: Florida Watch Action…Susannah Randolph’s “cash machine”?

taxes

EDITORS NOTE: In the past, we did a series of articles about Susannah Randolph and her questionable dealings with an individual named Christopher Findlater. With the election for Congress approaching, it seems wise to revisit these issues regarding the integrity of those who may become members of Congress.

Back 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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