TALLAHASSEE — The real scandal when it comes to Florida Senate big Jack Latvala isn’t really that he allegedly turned into a poor man’s Harvey Weinstein wannabe.
While the mainstream press has been barking up the wrong tree about six unnamed females accusing Latvala of harassment, a Gossip Extra investigation has dug up a much larger political machination involving the Clearwater Republican, and dozens of members of the state legislature.
Through several companies owned by Latvala, family members and/or business associates, Latvala may be making big money off the electoral process.
The well-connected Republican state lawmaker has used his political clout to help hundreds of municipal and state political hopefuls raise millions in campaign contributions, often from the same donors.
That, in itself isn’t news, and it’s sound political maneuvering.
But after poring through thousands of pages of public records and political campaign disclosure forms, Gossip Extra has figured out there’s more to it.
Upon receiving the cash from Latvala donors, candidates have been spending some of those contributions on companies either directly or indirectly related to Latvala, companies that sell political consulting, direct marketing, mailers and posters and other means to imprint a candidate’s mind into the mind of voters.
And the best part?
Despite the stench of impropriety, it’s all perfectly legal and tolerated by Senate President Joe Negron, a Treasure Coast Republican.
We reached out to the senate boss to ask if he knows about Latvala’s scheme and whether he condones it, but we have yet to hear back from Negron.
Negron is already under scrutiny for his apparent lack of action and, critics say, his mishandling of complaints against Latvala’s libido.
Latvala’s business dealings and furious fundraising could also explain why many members of the Florida Senate have been silent about the married senator’s alleged love for female lobbyists way too pretty and young for him.
“This is the most incestuous, insidious thing that’s going on,” said one senator who asked to remain anonymous because Latvala’s business tentacles reach far and wide. “It’s like a money closed circuit, and that’s the most lucrative kind.
“Lobbyists who put money into his campaign always have Latvala’s ear,” the politician continues. “So, he hits them up for contributions to the campaigns of other people, those he supports. Jack’s candidates then spent a portion of that cash on Latvala’s businesses. Everybody knows he does it.
“It’s not illegal, but people like Negron are not even thinking about doing anything about it even though it flips the system upside down. Some candidates don’t have to lift a finger and get out on the street to know the voters since Jack finds money for for them anyway.”
In the state legislature election cycle in 2016, companies tied to Latvala have made a whopping $3.2 MILLION working for Latvala-backed candidates for the state House and Senate.
And in the 2014 cycle, the companies made close to $ 2 MILLION on his candidates for the state legislature.
The big money maker, according to elections records, is the Clearwater-based Direct Mail Systems. The political marketing company made $2.8 million in 2016 and $1.6 million on house and senate candidates in 2014.
While incorporation records have not shown Latvala as an officer since 1997, Latvala listed the company as a secondary source of business income on his September 2017 senate financial disclosure form. He didn’t reveal how much income.
Another company, the Largo-based Gulf Coast Imprinting was paid $320,000 by 2016 Senate and House candidates for mailers, and $154,000 by candidates in 2014. The company’s state records lists Latvala as president. He reported a salary of $142,508 a year from the printing company.
Thanks in parts to his dealings with candidates for office, Latvala is clearly a multi-millionaire.
The recent disclosure forms reveals his worth is currently $7.4 million.
To illustrate how Latvala makes money on the back of campaigns of politicians he supports, we took three examples of Latvala cronies at random during the 2016 election cycle.
Outgoing Senator Kathleen Peters, a Republican from Pinellas County, won her 2016 elections with $2,000 from Latvala’s political action committee, the Florida Leadership Committee; $2,000 from Gulf Coast Transportation, a cab company that’s a major donor to Latvala’s PAC; and $1,000 from Tallahassee lobbying firm Akerman, friends of Jack’s.
She spent $11,380 on services from Direct Mail Systems and another $21,300 on Gulf Coast Imprinting.
We asked her why she picked Direct Mail Systems of all marketing companies and Latvala’s own print business. She didn’t comment.
Panhandle Senator George Gainer raised about $850,000 in contributions. From whom? His donors include Florida Leadership Committee, $1,000; Gulf Coast Transportation, $1,000; and Akerman, $1,000.
In the end, Gainer paid nearly 10 percent of his total campaign loot on companies related to Latvala: $55,000 to Direct Mail, according to state records, and $24,000 to Gulf Coast Imprinting.
We asked Gainer why he didn’t hire a printing plant in his district. No response.
And Miami Senator Anitere Flores won in 2016 with $2,000 from Latvala’s political action committee, the Florida Leadership Committee. Then, the Miami Republican got $1,000. And Flores picked up another $1,000 from Tallahassee lobbying firm Akerman, friends of Jack’s.
Among her campaign expenses, Flores spent $4,600 in the same election cycle on Direct Mail Systems, campaign records show.
Why didn’t she hire a marketing business in Miami? She won’t say.
The percentage of money raised spent by the candidates on Latvala-related businesses may sound puny.
Peters received 783 contributions for a total $475,000. And Flores got 2,294 contributions for $1.7 million.
But Latvala, in the 2016 cycle, may have had a hand in at least seven Senate races and 20 — TWENTY — House races. And dozens of more for candidates running in town, city and federal elections throughout the state.
Leading politicians like Latvala have been known to to help candidates raise money. But it is rare that leaders benefit so personally from contributions they helped gather.
In a series of emails to Gossip Extra, Latvala pointed out he hasn’t owned Direct Mail Systems since 1997.
“I am completely divested of any interest in it,” he wrote.
We pointed out his listed the company as the main client of his Gulf Coast Imprinting.
“They are customers of my printing company,” Latvala admitted.
He refused to comment on whether his business plan is unethical.
“This is clearly a conflict of interest,” said the politician who agreed to talk to Gossip Extra about Latvala’s business plan. “Instead of worrying about [sexual] harassment, this is what the leadership should be worried about.”