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Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Powerful senator pushed state money for firm’s client, budget document shows

TALLAHASSEE _ Powerful state Sen. Bill Galvano says he had nothing to do with a client of his private law firm securing millions during the 2013 legislative session, but a state budget document that Galvano disputes shows he requested the money.

IMG Academies, a Bradenton-based private sports and academic training academy, received $2.3 million in the current 2013-14 state budget. The firm is represented by a Bradenton law firm that includes Galvano as one of several named partners.

Galvano told the Tribune/Scripps Capital Bureau that he had nothing to do with the money in the current year’s budget, or $2.5 million for IMG in the 2014-15 proposed budget lawmakers are currently considering.

“I was not involved in securing the funding in either budget,” Galvano wrote in an email to Tribune/Scripps.

A budget spreadsheet compiled by the governor’s office lists Galvano as requesting last year’s $2.3 million, which was for “a major expansion that includes a stadium, field house, student dorms and a research facility” at the nearly 500-acre campus.

In addition, he told his local newspaper that he helped secure the money.

“I think it shows the projects we were advocating for were justifiable and need-based,” Galvano told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in a May 2013 story about few regional projects getting vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.

He said the governor’s office spreadsheet is inaccurate.

“It was not something I went out and lobbied for,” Galvano said.

In his email, he said he did vote for the state budget, which included the IMG money, but “no disclosure was, or is, required in those votes.”

The state budget is a roughly $75 billion spending plan that includes money for all areas of state government. Galvano is the Senate’s top education budget writer, so billions for his specific area is included in the budget.

While Galvano disputes he requested the money, he crafted an amendment that would “make the IMG Academy eligible for (state) tax refunds,” according to the spreadsheet.

That language was amended onto a Galvano-authored bill with two weeks left in the legislative session. The underlying bill (SB 1828) didn’t pass.

Galvano said he met with the Senate’s general counsel about the issue, and it was determined he didn’t need to file a disclosure form.

Along with sitting on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Galvano is widely seen as the front-runner to become Senate president for a two-year term beginning in 2018. Being in line for that post gives him considerable clout in that chamber.

Galvano did include IMG on a “client disclosure” form filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics for the quarter covering last year’s legislative session. Those forms are required for any legislator who has private clients with issues before a state department or agency.

The form lists IMG as having business in front of the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), which oversees the state incentive program Galvano was trying to give IMG easier access to, though he denies involvement securing the money.

“Another lawyer of my law firm represented IMG before a state agency (DEO) for a fee during the second quarter of 2013,” Galvano wrote in his email to Scripps/Tribune.

Chip McCarthy, IMG’s chief financial officer, said Galvano’s firm, which has seven named partners, represents them, but not in front of the Legislature.

“Though the firm represents us, we have no contact with Mr. Galvano,” he wrote in an email. “We use the firm solely for land-use matters locally. For state matters, we hired a lobbying firm out of Tampa.”

State lobbying records show IMG is registered with Corcoran & Johnston, a state lobbying firm with offices in Tampa and Tallahassee. The company paid an estimated $15,000 last session to lobby the state Legislature.

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