Monday, July 15, 2019

AFT's "Bad Tax" Con Was Planned To Surprise Public and Prevent Public Scrutiny

As a recent Circuit Court ruling confirmed, All for Transportation (AFT) put an illegal and unlawful transit tax charter amendment referendum on the ballot in Hillsborough County last year.

If such a big mess was about an issue local media did not agree with, we would see daily headlines shouting out those who were involved with it. But local media refuses to do that with AFT and prefers to filter out information about those who pushed an illegal transit tax onto unsuspecting voters in 2018.

The public deserves to know more. 

An informed electorate can decide for themselves who they want to trust (or not). An informed public can help prevent such mess from happening again. 

As US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis stated in 1913, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant".

Thus we begin the Eye's "Sunlight" series to bring Sunshine into the public arena about the All for Transportation transit tax and those who were involved.

The AFT illegally flawed transit tax could be one of the most dishonest scams ever perpetrated on Hillsborough County voters.

How did it happen?
  • By crafting a massive $16 Billion transit tax in the dark 
  • By launching a last minute transit tax "surprise" petition initiative on unsuspecting voters, taxpayers and anyone AFT considered their opposition
  • By preventing public debate and public scrutiny
  • By using millions of dollars from wealthy special interests on a deceptive marketing campaign 
  • By using pro transit tax media accomplices to cheerlead support, drown out opposition and filter out and ignore serious issues raised about the tax
  • By masquerading their transit tax that benefits the city of Tampa behind a facade that it was a tax to fix roads and reduce traffic congestion in Hillsborough County
AFT may be the Theranos fraud of Hillsborough County (read the book "Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup" written by the WSJ investigative reporter John Carreyrou who broke the Theranos story of deceit and fraud). 

Perhaps All For Transportation should be known as the "Bad Tax" con that AFT perpetrated on the voters of Hillsborough County.

AFT rammed a 30 year $16 Billion transit tax onto the ballot by exploiting a very shortened petition initiative and short campaign cycle. They used millions of dollars from wealthy special interests donors to do it.

Remember, AFT refused to debate NoTaxForTracks, who was AFT's formal opposition, or anyone who opposed their transit tax last year. AFT refused to go head to head with anyone from the other side.

Public debate and public scrutiny during the campaign would have highlighted AFT's legal issues that Commissioner Stacy White, NoTaxForTracks and others raised last year. It would have been much harder for local media to avoid those issues if they were brought up publicly in a debate.

AFT could not afford to risk such scrutiny. The pro transit tax local media willingly complied by ignoring the issues and never reporting about them.

AFT was like a "fake news" story - fraudulent.

AFT falsely claimed they were "grassroots". AFT used millennials as their public face and window dressing to front the older wealthy special interests donors who funded them. AFT was emboldened to make exaggerated claims with no evidence to back them up by shielding their illegal transit tax from all public scrutiny.

Reality is AFT was crafted, in the dark and with no transparency, through political insiders, influential power players, and wealthy special interests donors who stood to benefit from the transit tax.

How did it all begin?

The All for Transportation "Bad Tax" charter amendment was written by transit advocates, including Kevin Thurman and Brian Willis, who were previously associated with the now defunct local transit advocacy group Connect Tampa Bay (CTB).

CTB had previously publicly announced their proposed one cent rail/transit tax hike proposal in 2014 they named "Go Hillsborough".

Ironically, "Go Hillsborough" later became the name that a local crony PR firm, who was paid gobs of taxpayer dollars, branded Hillsborough County's 2016 "Go Hillsborough" tax hike debacle. We have no idea whether CTB was paid by that PR firm to use plagiarize that name but there appears to be some connection.

Connect Tampa Bay was abruptly dissolved in April 2016 after it was reported by the Tampa Bay Guardian that Connect Tampa Bay never filed any federally required tax returns.

When "Go Hillsborough" failed to get on the ballot in 2016, Thurman stated that crafting a citizen led referendum was the only way to move "transit" forward in Hillsborough County.

In this April 2016 article, the Times reported Thurman was "keeping open the option to amend the county charter by petition" and that if a progressive business community would fund it, he would do it.

Transit advocate Thurman began crafting how to put a petition initiated transit tax on the ballot.

Kevin Thurman, community organizer
From public records received, it appears Thurman began shopping his "how to get a transit tax on the ballot in 2018" political strategy to select inside power players in 2017. 

Ali Glisson, Vinik VP
Thurman had access to power players through his wife Ali Glisson. Glisson, formerly Mayor Buckhorn's spokesperson, was hired by Jeff Vinik in 2015. Glisson is currently Vinik's VP, Marketing and Communications for his real estate development company.

Vinik became AFT's largest donor who sunk over $800K into AFT's coffers according to AFT campaign filing reports.

Thurman's 62 page presentation outlines his political strategy for using a very shortened citizen petition cycle to put a transit tax hike referendum on the ballot in 2018. He proclaims that putting a transit tax in 2018 was a "once in a lifetime opportunity". Thurman sold his narrative the voting demographics were on their side in 2018

Thurman subsequently reduced his 62 page document to a 42 page transit tax proposal he called "The People's Plan".

The intent of the "People's Plan" was to fund costly rail and transit projects through a sales tax hike. Roads were nowhere to be found.

Not one road project is mentioned in the "Peoples Plan". "Roads" are only mentioned in the context they must somehow be used (like in a marketing campaign) to gain support for his proposed transit tax.

On page 38 of his "People's Plan", Thurman states his strategy - a last minute petition effort will "surprise" the opposition. 
Thurman was shopping a transit tax political strategy not a transportation plan because he is not a transportation expert.

According to LinkedIn, Thurman has a degree in film and communications and most of his work experience is PR and community organizing for political campaigns. 

By scheming in the dark with influential power players, Thurman prevented public scrutiny of the illegal mess that was being crafted.

Obviously, the scheming failed to include ensuring AFT's transit tax charter amendment was legal and lawful. We don't know if that is a result of AFT's incompetence, sloppiness or they thought they could get away with what they were doing without any legal scrutiny.

Thurman's CTB transit advocate sidekick Brian Willis, who helped write AFT's illegal transit tax charter amendment and became one of AFT's public spokespersons, is a real estate and business attorney.

Brian Wills, Real Estate Attorney
Willis told Florida Politics last December after Commissioner White filed his lawsuit:
“We don’t think he has a case,” said Tampa attorney and All For Transportation volunteer Brian Willis. “I’m a lawyer. We’ve had attorneys at Holland & Knight vet this. Constitutional law professors. Nobody had any issues with it."
But according to AFT Chair Tyler Hudson's Deposition (more to come about it) that was taken on April 1, 2019, AFT did not have any constitutional lawyers or any lawyers render an opinion about their proposed transit tax.

Tyler Hudson is also a real estate attorney who previously worked for Holland and Knight.
Tyler Hudson, Real Estate Attorney

When questioned under oath about Brian Willis statement that lawyers vetted the AFT transit tax, Hudson admitted Holland and Knight had nothing to do with the AFT transit tax. Hudson also stated under oath that AFT did not solicit any formal written legal opinion about it.

Basically Willis lied. If Willis would lie about Holland and Knight and constitutional lawyers vetting AFT's transit tax, what else was he and others associated with AFT lying about?

Circuit Court Judge Rex Barbas has now confirmed AFT's haphazardly written transit tax is unlawful. He threw out all of AFT's illegal and unlawful pre-determined spending mandates, constraints, prohibitions and unlawful Independent Oversight Committee authority as unconstitutional.

Over 80 years ago, Justice Brandeis was thinking about 'people who shield wrongdoers and pass them off (or at least allow them to pass themselves off) as honest men' when he proposed his Sunlight remedy. Brandeis call the private the citizen the most important political office.

The arena of public opinion may be the only place to hold people accountable for AFT's "Bad Tax" con.

Next up in our "Sunlight" series on the AFT "Bad Tax":  Thurman shops his proposed transit tax to power players at Tampa International Airport.

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