Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam this week provided the most detail yet on his hunting trips to King Ranch in Texas, saying he did not discuss state business, such as water policy, while visiting hunting land leased by U.S. Sugar.
However, Putnam still won’t answer key questions about his trips to King Ranch, where he and other top Florida Republican elected officials have visited since U.S. Sugar leased land there in 2011.
Who else was at the ranch during his trips, which are described as Republican Party of Florida fundraisers?
“I would hate for my memory to fail me,” he said to explain his reluctance to identify anyone else who went on the trips. Later, pressed again on the subject, he said, “I don’t recall.” He would only say there were “multiple donors” present.
Putnam said he stayed at the lodge built by U.S. Sugar on its King Ranch lease. “I’m not a decorator,’’ he said when asked to describe it. “It looks like a hunting lodge.”
In a brief interview Monday, Putnam said he’s been on two deer hunts and one turkey shoot at King Ranch, but hadn’t been there since 2012.
The discussions, he said, were “typical hunting lodge talk — how good the hunting was, which football team was better.”
He shot a buck during one trip, he said. King Ranch charges thousands of dollars for any deer killed on its premises, and the price of mounting the head and butchering the meat is additional. Putnam said he picked up those expenses.
“I covered all my own costs,” Putnam said twice, not going into detail.
As for any souvenirs such as boots or hats, Putnam said he did not accept any.
Gov. Rick Scott, who visited King Ranch in February 2013, has previously said no state business was discussed and that he also shot a buck. But, like Putnam, he won’t say much more.
Scott was asked repeatedly after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting which donors he was with during his trip. He was also asked if he was with Mitchel A. “Mitch” Hutchcraft, a King Ranch executive who Scott appointed to the board of the South Florida Water Management District a month after his trip.
Scott ignored those questions.
“I had a great trip,” Scott said. “I had a great shot. I like hunting. It was a 200 yard shot (to kill the buck). And I had a great time. I paid my own way. I paid for my meals. I paid for my license. I paid for my flight. And all the other expenses were paid for by the political party.”
Previously, RPOF records disclosed that on the day Scott visited King ranch, the party paid $1,029 to U.S. Sugar for “travel, meals and hunting license.”
Asked last week if there was proof that Scott paid his own costs, including his license, his campaign spokesman Greg Blair said that Scott’s “credit card receipts are not public records.” Blair notified the Times/Herald that the RPOF amended its campaign finance report, deleting any mention of a hunting license. So now the purpose of the February 2013 expense reads “travel, meals and event staff.”
“Yes, we amended the report because it mistakenly said hunting license, and as the Scott campaign told you, the governor paid for his own hunting license,” said Susan Hepworth, an RPOF spokeswoman.
Though the trips are described as party fundraisers, the RPOF has refused to say who was there or how much money was raised.
According to Brittany Lesser, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of State, no public notifications or explanations are required to alter campaign finance reports filed with the Division of Elections.
Some have called for Attorney General Pam Bondi to investigate the King Ranch trips, but Bondi said Tuesday she has no authority to do so, calling it a matter for the Florida Elections Commission.
“We don’t have any independent authority to initiate investigations,” said FEC executive director Amy Toman. “It’s strictly complaint-driven.” If someone files a complaint, she said, “we wouldn’t be able to acknowledge it” until the commission’s investigators are able to establish a probable cause to prosecute.
Both Bondi and Chief Financial Office Jeff Atwater, who along with Putnam comprise the Florida Cabinet, said they had not been invited on any King Ranch trips. Asked if she was upset that no one invited her to take a secret hunting trip to Texas, Bondi laughed and replied, “Not at all.”