March 21, 2023

EXCLUSIVE: The latest GOP plot involves energy monopoly plan to take over media outlets

EXCLUSIVE: The latest GOP plot involves energy monopoly plan to take over media outlets

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An exclusive email dump provided to Occupy Democrats just exposed the ties between Florida’s top Republicans, the state’s biggest electricity monopoly, and a recently revealed fake news website run by a former senior political aide to Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL).

The story stems from a larger investigation into Florida Power & Light’s schemes to corrupt our democratic process in the 2020 election cycle.

The corrupt energy monopoly funded fake no-party affiliated (NPA) candidates in state Senate races across Florida with the hope of confusing voters in order to obtain a filibuster-proof majority for Republicans in the upper chamber, allowing the Republican Governor Ron DeSantis to appoint candidates without Democratic input.

Brian Burgess is the publisher of the Capitolist and the former Communication Director for Sen. Scott, who today chairs the National Republican Senate Committee, which is its primary political campaign vehicle. He’s effectively the strategist for the entire GOP senate minority caucus.

This week, a pair of bombshell stories published in the Orlando Sentinel and Miami Herald confirms what some of us have been warning about for a long time. A corrupt group of pay-to-play political consultants is working with corporate actors to undermine Democratic candidates who challenge corporate power.

I also encourage readers to familiarize themselves with the stories published by the Orlando Sentinel on this memo and their other story detailing how FPL has been funding the pay-to-pay “news” publication “The Capitolist.” Florida’s power monopoly Florida Power & Light secretly controlled The Capitolist and used it to viciously smear lawmakers, public advocates, and journalists who are critical of the utility company.

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But this cache of emails highlights the dizzying scope of action they achieved with fat corporate budgets that they hid from their readers and the public at large to avoid the “icky” yet honest reputation as nothing more than a shill for a big corporation holding grossly profitable monopoly entitlements to sell power in Florida.

Burgess discusses a plan for Matrix LLC consultants involving asking Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL). These days, Florida’s junior senator is best known for his awkward appearances on Fox News, where they fact-checked his plan with the National Republican Senatorial Committee to raise taxes on the poor, which yielded a stunning moment of television.

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The group of his acolytes asked if Scott, Florida’s former governor, could provide the funding to achieve the following results in a transaction with mainstream news company Gannett:

“buy ALL Florida Newspapers… we could let all the clown reporters go, save a fortune, eliminate print, and syndicate content across the entire state.”

The operative even cynically discusses how they can do this without anyone knowing “who’s actually pulling the strings.”

Their stated goals?

“[W]e could let most of the clown reporters go, save a fortune, eliminate print and syndicate content across the entire state. We could even do it stealthily so we could inject content into all those publications, and nobody has to know who’s actually pulling the strings.”

Fortunately for Florida’s news consumers, the proposed transaction was not consummated.

Here’s the first email; the story continues below: 

One of the most shocking emails exclusively obtained in this cache is from FPL’s CEO Eric Silagy to a consultant at a political firm, Matrix LLC asking them to make a state lawmaker’s life a “living hell” because he filed a bill that would democratize solar power in Florida.

In Miami’s state Senate District 37, the scheme recruited ghost candidates in the same race as incumbent Democratic Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez, a progressive who was nominated to a position last year at Biden’s Department of Labor but not confirmed.

Rodriguez had long been a thorn in the side of FPL because of his environmentally friendly policies.

In the interest of full disclosure to the reader, I’d like to note that I briefly served as Rodriguez’s district aide and got to witness his fight against the expansion of the Turkey Point nuclear power plant and his advocacy for environmentally friendly policies that FPL opposed.

He would ultimately lose his reelection by a mere 32 votes to State Sen. Ileana Garcia (R), with an independent opponent, Alex Rodriguez, drawing more than 6,000 votes.

Former Republican State Senator Frank Artiles, who resigned his own senate seat over his use of the n-word against colleagues, is criminally charged in this election fraud scheme that elevated Garcia.

Alex Rodriguez is the fake candidate Artiles surreptitiously paid to run for office against Jose Javier Rodriguez and has confessed to having been bribed to run for the seat. The FPL and GOP-backed dark money machine in Florida supported his candidacy, and he didn’t campaign or even actually live anymore in the same county as the district.

And now we know for sure that the head of the utility monopoly, which the senator indirectly oversaw through his public office, openly admits to his strategists that he and the company wanted Rodriguez out of office.

Story continues below:


Shamefully, the grifting wasn’t limited to Republicans, who, without Democratic help, probably could never have defeated a strong incumbent like Jose Javier Rodriguez.

It turns out that before there was a fake candidate scheme, a “top” Democratic Party consultant named Dan Newman drafted a plan to primary Jose Javier Rodriguez for a firm called Matrix LLC that was retained by FPL.

If you want to see the memo, I got my hands on it exclusively and tweeted it. It’s an illuminating read on how transactional some of these political operatives can be.

They behave and work as mercenaries for the highest bidder:

As part of Democratic consultant Dan Newman’s duties with Matrix LLC consultants, he participated in a smear campaign against South Miami Mayor Phillip Stoddard.

The former mayor is a Democrat known for his environmentally friendly policies, pro-solar track record and opposition to a lot of FPL’s schemes.

The shady tactics they used included the publication of negative stories in The Capitolist, filing an ethics complaint, andeven filing a lawsuit against Stoddard, whose political star appeared to be rising seven years ago but who is for now virtually retired from political office.

Another line item includes what is deemed as “preliminary research” into now-Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine-Cava and then state Senate District 39 candidate Anna Hockamer, both Democrats who were deemed to be environmentally friendly.

What is most ominous about this email is that a “pullback in fees” regarding a private investigator related to the “Stoddard work” is discussed, insinuating they had the former South Miami Mayor followed.

Story continues below:

Here is a window on how Dan Newman used 501c4 entities to move money around for FPL using a group run by Christian Ulvert, who also happens to be South Florida’s most influential Democratic political strategist amongst elite circles of elected officials.

Coincidentally, Ulvert’s firm Edge Communications was former state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez’s senior advisor as well as his biggest expense during the last election cycle.

The message below discusses money sent to Ulvert’s dark money group for the Miami Dolphins NFL team’s owner, Steven Ross, who is a major Trump supporter whose big dollar fundraising for the disgraced ex-President landed his other business, Soul Cycle, in major trouble with consumers.

In this message, Newman reports that Ulvert is asking if he can help out FPL with his dark money stash too.

The circle of influence didn’t just include The Capitolist and FPL; it extended to one of the largest national dark money operations supporting Republican causes.

The below email discusses Americans for Prosperity. It’s a Koch Brothers dark money group that is known for its opposition to environmentally friendly policies, labor unions, the expansion of Medicaid, and the raising of the federal minimum wage that has shamefully stagnated at $7.25.

Apparently, AFP is funding an individual named “Peter” who is involved in Florida-based media.

I have no way of confirming if this is true or who “Peter” is.

But the email speaks for itself about the Koch Brothers’ involvement in Florida politics.

Story continues below: 

How profitable is it to sell fake news? Emails say it is VERY profitable

One message shows just how Brian Burgess asks a Matrix LLC consultant to “swing” him $2.04 million dollars.

He followed it with a smiley face.

The banality of the message belies the sinister nature of this scheme because, as their messages show, the editor of The Capitolist knew that secrecy about his sources of funding and associates were key to disseminating paid corporate messages to the audience but repacking them falsely as “news” reports.

Matrix LLC was the firm retained by FPL that was involved in various election fraud schemes and also the overseer of a website that people in Florida’s capitol believed was on the up and up because they were lied to.

In the below email, Burgess also talks with this FPL-linked consultant about his plan to recruit Florida journalists Matt Dixon and Gary Fineout of Politico, as well as Marc Caputo, now at NBC News, into working for his pay-to-play grift.

None of them ever took employment for The Capitolist.

It’s also worth noting that Burgess states his salary asks at $150,000 but also says there are “a lot of ways” he is “willing to be compensated” if his $2.04 million dollar price tag is too much for FPL.

Story continues below:

The email below is particularly wild.

Burgess and another consultant named Tim Fitzpatrick talk about the different corporate actors they could “squeeze” for revenue, including the sugar industry, private prisons, Disney, and healthcare companies.

When making the pitch to these corporate actors, Burgess talks about the need to have them understand that this pay-to-play fake media outlet will be a “better use of PR dollars” than their actual public relations firms but complains this is tricky because of the notion that media should be “objective” and that pay to play is “icky” to big corporations.

In a section that now seems prophetic, Burgess mentions that HCA Healthcare likes to see attacks against their competition if they aren’t linked back to the company. Burgess notes that if the Capitolist starts “taking shots,” people will wonder “who paid for that hit published by the Capitolist.”

That’s exactly what was exposed recently with the recent revelation that FPL was paying them to smear critics and journalists.

Also worth noting is another disgusting part in which Burgess mentions the Mosaic company as a possible sponsor while dismissing their pollution of our water supply through the mining of phosphorous and dumping of fertilizers and other chemicals into the ecosystem.

Story continues below:

The next series of emails is crucial for understanding how the publishing business of The Capitolist functioned. Inside there are editorial pitches, sources of funding, and revenue projections.

Even advertising leads and target industries are listed in the messages

It’s a true inside look at the way that Republican operatives use manipulation of the news information space to disseminate corporate propaganda.

Story continues below:

Below is where the sales pitch starts getting interesting. Under a section called “Revenue Sources,” Burgess details his plan to receive “Sponsorships and Advertising Packages” from “Florida’s business community, public relations firms, and lobbying groups” who would serve as the “primary source” for advertising dollars. That doesn’t seem like it would create much of an incentive to hold these powerful entities accountable.

Even more revealing, Burgess states that trade groups and individual businesses who would be the bulk of their sponsors would “have already demonstrated a willingness to support media outlets that are perceived as free-market friendly.”

Story continues below:

Here is a larger revenue projection breakdown of how they planned to squeeze money out of various business groups and lobbying entities.

These people had absolutely zero desire to do journalism or hold the powerful accountable.

They wanted to be a secret public relations firm for corporations while lying to the public and masquerading as a real news outlet.

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Story continues below:

This is the corrupt nature of our pay-to-play political system, brought to you by corrupt individuals who have nothing but contempt for democracy and view the political process as nothing more than an ATM machine.

They are willing to do anything and sell out anyone for dollars.

Thomas Kennedy is an elected Democratic National Committee member representing Florida. Twitter: @tomaskenn.

Grant Stern edited this story.

Thomas Kennedy

is a reported opinion columnist and roving correspondent. He's an elected member of the Democratic National Committee from Florida and a Director of Sunshine Agenda Inc. a government transparency nonprofit organization.

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