Voting made easier and other bright ideas

Betty Carlson (L) helps her husband Keith Carlson, who is visually impaired, fill out his ballot during early voting at the Black Hawk County Courthouse on September 27, 2012 in Waterloo, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Betty Carlson (L) helps her husband Keith Carlson, who is visually impaired, fill out his ballot during early voting at the Black Hawk County Courthouse on September 27, 2012 in Waterloo, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Making it easier to search the voting records of Florida politicians and making voting more accessible to all citizens are two of 22 voting-related projects awarded grants this week by the Knight Foundation.

Orlando Sentinel data analysts Charles Minshew and Andrew Gibson will get $35,000 to create Tabs on Tallahassee, a searchable database of voting records of Florida legislators. The University of Florida’s Juan Gilbert will get $35,000 to develop Accessible Voting for Everyonean electronic voting system to make voting easier for all citizens, particularly those with disabilities.

The foundation’s Knight News Challenge handed out $3.2 million for 22 projects Wednesday in Austin, Texas. Ten of the projects get more than $200,000. The rest get $35,000.

The foundation has given away $50 million to more than 130 projects over eight years.

The biggest award this year, $525,000, went to The Center for Responsive Politics and GuideStar for Inside the 990 Treasure Trove, a proposal to unearth and track campaign contributions by unregulated non-profits.

Among other winners: efforts to make state campaign finances more accessible, a way to access and fact-check political advertisements and  a way to provide less-expensive, more reliable exit polls.

Public may learn what happened to $110,000 in mystery election money

A campaign mystery documented last month by The Palm Beach Post is now the subject of a complaint to the Florida Elections Commission.

What happened to $110,000 paid by a campaign committee run by a Broward County political operative to a company run by that same political operative is the subject of a referral from the Florida Division of Elections to the elections commission, which has the power to investigate elections shenanigans.

The Post linked the money to the Kimberly Mitchell campaign for West Palm Beach mayor. But Amy Rose, the woman who runs the committee and whose Broward company received the money, stands to be the one answering questions about the where the money went — if the commission staff finds legal sufficiency to proceed with an investigation.

The complaint did not come from a citizen, who lacking knowledge would not have had enough information to spark a probe. Instead, the Division of Elections, part of the Florida Department of State, has referred “possible reporting violations” involving the committee, Floridians for Accountability, to the elections commission, spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice told The Post.

The Post could not get Rose on the phone, despite daily phone calls, before its story ran on May 17. The story pointed out that Rose and her company, Win on the Ground Consulting, played no visible role in Mitchell’s campaign. The campaign itself made no payments to Rose’s company for services.

Yet, several big donors with ties to Mitchell consultant Richard Pinsky made contributions to Rose’s Tallahassee-based committee, an electioneering communications organization allowed to coordinate with campaigns but not able to solicit votes for a specific candidate.

In March, the month of the election, the committee received $110,250 in contributions and paid out $110,250, all to Rose’s company. It said the money went for consulting services.

Earlier, it had gotten $52,000 from Mitchell-linked contributors and paid out $6,000 of it. However, during that period, Win on the Ground, Rose’s company, gave $14,000 of its own money to two neighborhood committees backing Mitchell.

The nine-member election commission, appointed by the governor, does not comment on investigations until, meeting in secret, it determines whether there’s probable cause for a hearing. That usually takes months. Investigations are made public whether or not probable cause is found. The decision on the first step, legal sufficiency, is not made public.

Marco Rubio’s immigration reform policy and generous prison friends

Immigration reform may yet be a millstone around presidential hopeful Marco Rubio’s neck, Politico speculated today. Rubio+book+vertical

But nothing Rubio has suggested would win him anything but bouquets from Florida-based GEO Group, the prison management  company. It has already showered him and his chief of staff’s former lobbying firm with cash.

GEO bristles at the suggestion that it lobbies for any law that would impact the number of prisoners jailed or immigrants who might be detained.

But it does give to lawmakers who do.

Rubio got $29,700 from GEO and its executives for his Senate run and another $5,000 for his PAC.

Protesters outside GEO’s annual meeting in Palm Beach.
Protesters outside GEO’s annual meeting in Palm Beach.

Then, once in Washington, Rubio named lobbyist Cesar Conda his chief of staff.

Conda continued to accept money from the lobbying firm he co-founded, part of a payout arrangement blessed by Senate ethics advisers.

And Conda’s former lobbying firm quickly started accepting money from GEO. Within months of Conda’s appointment, GEO hired the firm, paying it $100,000.

The next year, GEO boosted payments to $120,000, about the same time Rubio’s support of a border security bill that would almost certainly have grown the number of immigrants in detention.

Conda and Rubio’s office shrugged this all off back in 2013, when The Post was asking questions. It wasn’t important enough for them to answer.

It probably still isn’t, what with a presidential campaign heating up.

But it’s worth noting that Rubio’s major immigrant reform ideas, which for now seem to focus on such things as people who overstay visas and beefing up border security, also would lend themselves to increased detention.

Pro -immigration reform protesters a few blocks from Rubio's local office.
Pro -immigration reform protesters a few blocks from Rubio’s local office.

For a look at where GEO puts its dollars – more than five million of them – Follow The Money provides its analysis here.

Allegations of substandard inmate conditions at facilities run by GEO and its competitor CCA, including immigrant detention facilities, were detailed by The Post in 2013.