Former Tallahassee mayor and Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum is the target of a federal investigation as other issues regarding the denial of voting rights and the possible theft of an election in the Sunshine State receive scant attention.
Gillum, who lost by a close race against Ron DeSantis last year, is the target of an investigation, and his campaign was issued a federal grand jury subpoena, as the Tampa Bay Times reported. Although little has been reported, the subpoena issued in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee demanded information regarding Gillum’s campaign and political committee; investor and philanthropist Donald Sussman, one of his big donors who gave $1.5 million to the Gillum campaign, and two charities with which Gillum is affiliated — Schott Foundation for Public Education, a nonprofit racial and economic justice organization, and Opportunity to Learn Action Fund. The subpoena, which requested documents dating back to 2015, requested delivery of the information by May 7.
During his campaign for governor, Gillum insisted he was not an FBI target and that he ran an “open and honest campaign.” Barry Richard, Gillum’s attorney, said the campaign is complying with the subpoena, but believes this latest effort is another political hit job in an attempt to discredit his client.
“He ran a very positive race, and obviously a lot of people in this state thought a great deal of him and nationally,” said Richard. “And almost the entire time since he’s had to defend himself from investigations that were started because of people who want to undermine him.” Richard also said the subpoena could be related to an investigation into a misreporting or misuse of campaign funds. The subpoena is reportedly unrelated to an FBI investigation into corruption in Tallahassee. In April, Gillum reached a plea agreement in which he paid a $5,000 fine for allegedly accepting gifts — including a ticket to the Broadway show “Hamilton” — from an undercover FBI agent.
As Gillum is apparently being investigated for the 2018 campaign in which he did not prevail, his opponent, Gov. DeSantis, recently promised to sign a bill making it more difficult for people with a felony record from voting. Coming on the heels of the November 2018 victory of Amendment 4 — in which 65 percent of Floridians voted to restore voting rights to ex-felons except for those convicted of murder or a sex crime — Republicans in the state legislature passed SB 7066, a measure requiring the formerly incarcerated to pay fines, fees, restitution and all financial obligations before their voting rights are restored. Critics note the law is an obstacle to prevent tens of thousands people from voting, and amounts to a poll tax. This in a state with a long history of racist, Jim Crow-style voter suppression measures such as strict voter ID requirements, and voter suppression tactics in the most recent 2018 election.
Nevertheless, DeSantis insisted the state Legislature’s newly enumerated restrictions would be carrying out the people’s intent, saying the new bill will implement the Amendment 4 voters passed “as it’s written.” DeSantis has not yet signed SB 7066.
During the gubernatorial campaign, DeSantis was known for racism and Islamophobia, including defending the Three-Fifths Compromise that counted Black people as three-fifths of a person in the Constitution for the purposes of Congressional representation. DeSantis falsely claimed the measure helped anti-slavery states, when in reality it helped the slaveholding states by giving them additional representation in Congress as they denied rights to their enslaved population. DeSantis also compared Black Lives Matter to ISIS, and urged Florida voters not to “monkey this up” by electing his opponent Gillum.
DeSantis also announced in May that he had met with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, and that Russian hackers had successfully infiltrated the voting systems of two Florida counties in the 2016 election. The Florida governor refused to disclose which counties, based on a nondisclosure agreement he says he had signed with the FBI, and claimed the “intrusion” did not involve a manipulation of voter data and did not impact voting results. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida had previously said that Russians had hacked into a Florida election system and were “in a position” to alter voter data.
While the details of his investigation are unknown, the focus on Gillum serves as a reminder of the history of the relationship between the federal government and the Black community. The FBI has a long history of targeting Black leaders and the Civil Rights and Black Power movement through its COINTELPRO program, which was intended to prevent the rise of a Black messiah. That federal infiltration and disruption of Black America has been upgraded in recent times to include surveillance of Black Lives Matter and a crackdown on so-called “Black Identity Extremists,” although such a designation and concept were manufactured by the FBI.
In addition, the federal government has a track record of investigating and disproportionately targeting Black elected officials for alleged wrongdoing. Some examples include former U.S. Reps. Chaka Fattah, Jesse Jackson Jr. and Bill Jefferson, and former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick was handed a 28-year sentence for tax evasion, mail fraud, racketeering, extortion and other financial crimes he committed while in office.
Meanwhile, a number of government officials in the Trump administration have not faced prosecution for their corruption and violations of the law, such Attorney General William Barr, who has failed to comply with a Congressional subpoena and a court order. Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke resigned in light of numerous investigations into his misconduct while in office. Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, among other things, spent over $168,000 on air travel in one year, and rented a townhouse room from an energy industry lobbyist for $50 a night. Short-lived former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price violated federal travel requirements and wasted $341,000 on private jets, while Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has failed to divest millions of dollars in investments to resolve conflicts of interest, including ownership in Chinese and Russian firms, and reportedly “could rank among the biggest grifters in American history.” Most of all, Donald Trump has been named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the criminal case of his former attorney Michael Cohen, who is serving a three-year sentence for tax evasion, lying to Congress and breaking campaign finance laws.
Meanwhile, if Gillum engaged in wrongdoing, that case should be adjudicated. However, the subpoena comes as more serious issues are arising in Florida, as the state chooses to enact a poll tax on the formerly incarcerated and violate their voting rights, and the 2016 Florida election results are cast in doubt. Yet, the spotlight is on the nearly triumphant campaign of a Black former elected official with national aspirations — a reminder that the government always seems to go after Black politicians harder than white ones.