TAMPA — New television ads in the Pinellas County congressional election link Republican David Jolly with offshore oil drilling and allege impropriety in Democrat Alex Sink’s previous career as a banker and state financial administrator.
A Sink campaign ad accuses Jolly of lying about whether he lobbied in favor of expanded oil drilling off the coast of Florida — a hot button issue for coastal Pinellas County. Jolly denies he took that position as a lobbyist despite disclosure records that suggest, but don’t prove, otherwise.
An ad by Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC rehashes questionable or false accusations made against Sink during her 2010 race for governor. The ad blames her for layoffs that occurred after a bank merger and for the decline in the value of the state pension fund during the 2007 recession. It also charges that she used a state plane for a vacation.
Sponsor: Sink campaign
Video: Blurry video of David Jolly speaking; Alex Sink in a domestic setting speaking into the camera.
Narrator: “First David Jolly lied about being a lobbyist. Now he’s lying about Alex Sink’s record on health care. The facts: Jolly would go back to letting insurance companies deny coverage. His plan would even force seniors to pay thousands more for prescription drugs.
Sink: “We can’t go back to letting insurance companies do whatever they want. Instead of repealing the health care law, we need to keep what’s right and fix want’s wrong. I’ll work with Republicans and Democrats for health care that’s affordable and works for us. I’m Alex Sink and I approved this message.”
Analysis: The accusation that Jolly “lied about being a lobbyist” is based on Jolly’s denial that he lobbied for expanded drilling.
Jolly lobbied for Free Enterprise Nation, a conservative advocacy group founded by Pinellas businessman Jim MacDougald, a donor to Republican causes and candidates who’s now Jolly’s campaign finance chairman.
Jolly listed “Domestic energy issues” including H.R. 909, called the “Roadmap for America’s Energy Future,” on a 2011 lobbying disclosure report of his activities for Free Enterprise Nation. The bill, which didn’t pass, would have required greatly expanded access for oil drilling in offshore areas including Florida’s east coast.
How it would have affected the west coast, protected by a congressional moratorium, is uncertain, said drilling debate veteran Mark Ferrulo of Progress Florida, an advocacy group opposed to near-shore drilling. But, Ferrulo said, “At minimum it would have been the camel’s nose under the tent — it was an A-to-Z wish list for big oil.”
MacDougald acknowledged that he wrote a letter endorsing energy independence at the request of the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Cal. But he said no energy issues were included on the list of legislative priorities Jolly was hired to lobby for, which focussed heavily on fiscal issues including unfunded liabilities for government employee pensions and Social Security.
MacDougald said Jolly listed the subject on a lobbying report only because it came up in a conversation.
In a statement from his campaign, Jolly said his view “has always been that the current moratorium on expanded drilling in the eastern gulf should be protected,” and vehemently denied ever lobbying for the Nunes bill, even though he acknowledged Free Enterprise Nation supported it.
However, in an item he wrote for the organization’s blog in April, 2011, Jolly said Free Enterprise Nation “will stay closely involved as Congress begins to debate [energy issues] including advocating for legislation recently introduced by Rep. Devin Nunes (CA), the Roadmap for America’s Energy Future.”
He then quoted MacDougald’s letter praising the bill.
Still, MacDougald said he’s sure Jolly never pushed the bill in the Capitol, in part because Free Enterprise Nation went out of business in June 2011, and undertook little or no advocacy work that spring.
The ad’s contentions about health care concerns what could happen if the Affordable Care Act were repealed, as Jolly advocates. The Affordable Care Act closed the “doughnut hole” in Medicare prescription drug coverage that added to seniors’ prescription drug costs, and prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
Jolly vows to “replace it with an affordable, private-sector solution.” Campaign spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said he “has a plan for pre-existing conditions by pre-qualifying those individuals for a subsidized plan and supports closing the doughnut hole through a stand-alone measure.”
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Ad title: “Sunk”
Sponsor: American Crossroads
Video: Pinellas County individuals speaking into the camera — Gigi and Connie Deneault, Barbara and John Woodson and Judy Peterson
Gigi Deneault: “Alex Sink? I don’t like that when she oversaw Florida’s retirement system, our pension fund lost billions.”
Connie Deneault: A lot of retirees depend on that money.”
John Woodson: “And when Sink was a bank executive they cut thousands of Florida jobs.”
Barbara Woodson: “While Sink collected more than $8 million for herself.”
Judy Peterson: “Sink made all that money and then used a state plane to get to a vacation in the Bahamas?”
Connie Deneault: “Alex Sink has sure helped herself.”
Gigi Deneault: “But what about us?”
Narrator: “Helping herself, sinking Florida.”
Sink, former state chief financial officer, was one of three Cabinet members who oversaw the state pension fund, along with two Republicans, Attorney General Bill McCollum and then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist.
The losses occurred during a historic recession, when investors including pension funds nationwide lost billions. By early 2010, about a year before Sink left office, the pension fund was considered one of the nation’s best-managed, according to the non-partisan Pew Center on the States.
Sink proposed enhanced oversight of the pension fund, but her proposal was voted down by Crist and McCollum.
Sink was Florida state president of Charlotte-based NationsBank, later Bank of America, when it merged with Florida’s Barnett Bank in 1998. The merger wasn’t Sink’s decision, but she was responsible for promoting and carrying it out.
Bank officials had forecast eliminating thousands of positions as operations were consolidated, but said most of the cuts would come from attrition, not firings. Sink has said because of attrition and hiring freezes enacted beforehand, the number of actual people losing jobs was hundreds, not thousands. It’s difficult now to document the number independently.
According to tax returns released while her late husband was running for governor, Sink was paid more than $8 million over three years — 1999, 2000 and 2001. But that included lump sum pension payments because of her 2001 retirement.
Sink never took a state plane to the Bahamas. According to the news story cited, she and CFO staff members took a plane to Miami on state business. Returning to Tallahassee, it dropped Sink in Fort Lauderdale where she caught a commercial flight to her family’s condo in the islands.
Connie Deneault is a Republican who ran for the state House in 2010 and contributes frequently to Republican candidates. John Woodson said he and his wife were included in the ad because of a connection with the Tibbetts family of Pinellas, which includes Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes.
Peterson couldn’t be reached for comment, and a spokesman for the Crossroads group refused to provide contact information for her or any other information on the people in the ad.