Florida Politics

Democrats file complaint against Putnam alleging campaign violations

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s payments to a consultant are being questioned for their compliance with Florida’s campaign finance laws.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s payments to a consultant are being questioned for their compliance with Florida’s campaign finance laws. Miami Herald file photo

Agriculture Commission Adam Putnam’s decision not to disclose in detail how he uses the funds received by his political committee has drawn a complaint before the Florida Elections Commission.

The Democratic Governors Association, the partisan political organization determined to defeat Putnam when he announces a campaign for governor later this year, filed the complaint Wednesday accusing him of violating state law.

Citing a March 24 story in the Miami Herald, the complaint alleges that Putnam’s political committee, Florida Grown, gave $1.3 million in lump sum payments to the consulting firm run by his top political consultant, Justin Hollis, without detailing where the money goes in an alleged violation of a law that requires disclosure of individual expenditures when 80 percent of the costs are paid by the political committee.

“By only reporting the purpose of these expenditures as ‘consulting’ or ‘political consulting,’ Florida Grown PC is withholding relevant information that the Florida Election Code intends for political committees to disclose under Section 106.07(4)(a)(13),” wrote Elisabeth Pearson, executive director of Washington-based DGA.

“We request this commission immediately launch an investigation into these claims and take appropriate remedial action against Florida Grown PC,” she concluded in the three-page complaint.

Under state law, the commission has five days to notify Putnam of the complaint, he will then have 14 days to respond and the confidential review process is triggered.

Putnam told reporters Tuesday that he hadn’t heard about the complaint but was confident his campaign finance reports filed with the Florida Division of Elections were complete.

“We have fully complied with all of our reporting requirements,” he said. “We’ve got lawyers and CPAs that sign off on all of that, too.”

Putnam’s political committee had raised $9.4 million between January 2012 and March 2014 and spent $1.8 million of it on a Lakeland-based political consulting firm, Silloh Consulting. According to reports filed with the Florida Division of Elections, 70 percent of the $2.6 million spent by the political committee went to the consulting firm and nearly $1.3 million of that was in more than 50 lump sum payments written for “political consulting,” “consulting” or “management consulting.”

The report did not detail how much of those payments were diverted to compensate vendors, pollsters, fundraisers, advertisers, opposition researchers, media interests and others.

When asked in March, Hollis defended the practice, telling the Herald/Times that it would be wrong to conclude he was making as much as $75,000 a month for the funds received by his consulting firm but would not explain how the practice complies with Florida campaign finance law.

“Silloh Consulting is a Florida-based small business that consists of multiple individuals and offers a myriad of political consulting services, including fundraising, event planning, communications and outreach, among others,” he said in a statement.

State election law requires any political committee to detail “the full name and address of each person to whom expenditures have been made by or on behalf of the committee or candidate within the reporting period” and specifies that the “primary purpose of an expenditure shall be that purpose ... that comprises 80 percent of such expenditure.”

Florida Grown paid $1,606 to Putnam’s fundraiser, Meredith O’Rourke, to reimburse her for travel, event expenses, food and beverage. But there is no indication how much O’Rourke was paid by Silloh Consulting for her fundraising efforts.

When Putnam was asked how people know how he is using that money, he responded: “We’ve been fully compliant with all the accountability and transparency issues that are out there.”

The next step will be for the staff of the Florida Elections Commission to review Putnam’s response to the complaint. The commission’s investigators then will determine if there is probable cause to conclude a violation occurred.

If the staff recommends probable cause, the person accused of the violation has 14 days to file another response and a confidential, non-public probable cause hearing will be held before the commission. If the commission concludes the person violated the law, the finding then becomes public.

Herald/Times staff writer Jeremy Wallace contributed to this report.