US rep. offers to change position on medical marijuana if donor retracts criticism of her. Donor refuses, forwards emails to reporters.
Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s office offered to change her position on medical marijuana if a major Florida donor recanted his withering criticism of her, according to emails obtained by POLITICO.
The proposal to Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan was straightforward: retract critical statements he made to a reporter in return for Wasserman Schultz publicly backing his cannabis initiative that she had trashed just months earlier. Morgan declined the offer with a sharp email reply sent to a go-between, who described the congresswoman as being in a “tizzy.”
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“No,” Morgan responded. “She is a bully. I beat bullies up for a living.”
Wasserman Schultz declined to comment.
Morgan said he forwarded the email chain to POLITICO on Thursday to show how “thin-skinned” and transactional Wasserman Schultz’s political team is, he said in a brief phone conversation.
The bad blood between Morgan and Wasserman Schultz — which stems from her critical comments over the medical-marijuana initiative he bankrolled last year, and which failed narrowly — boiled over again this week when Democrats started buzzing about her interest in running for Senate if Republican Marco Rubio decides to leave the seat for a presidential bid.
Morgan and three medical-marijuana advocacy organizations blasted the South Florida representative for her criticisms of his 2014 initiative. It fell 2.4 percentage points shy of the needed 60 percent voter-approval threshold for a Florida constitutional amendment.
“Almost 58 percent of Florida voters supported medical marijuana and I’d be surprised if that many support her,” said Bill Piper, national affairs director with the Washington-based Drug Policy Alliance.
“That should be a lesson for Debbie Wasserman Schultz,” he said. “Florida voters like this policy more than her. And we’ll make sure people know her position.”
Still, Wasserman Schultz is a nationally known figure, a good fundraiser and would be an early favorite to win a Democratic primary, political observers say.
The most likely Democrat to run for Rubio’s seat, Rep. Patrick Murphy, has a centrist voting record that could leave him vulnerable in a primary but strong in a general election. The more liberal Wasserman Schultz has the opposite problem. And, unlike Murphy, she has had bad relations with numerous Democratic insiders.
Morgan plans to get the proposed marijuana amendment on the ballot again in 2016, making it a top campaign issue in the presidential election in Florida, the nation’s most-populous swing state.
The clash with Morgan began in June when Wasserman Schultz issued a rare public statement criticizing the medical-marijuana initiative he helped draft, and to which he committed $4 million of his own money to pass.
Echoing Republican talking points, Wasserman Schultz suggested the proposal could lead to a variant of OxyContin-distributing “pill mills.” Wasserman Schultz has previously expressed concerns, as a parent, about marijuana decriminalization because she doesn’t want to make it easier for kids to get the drug.
At the time, Morgan blasted Wasserman Schultz, calling her “despised…an irritant…irrelevant.”
Wasserman Schultz responded by having her staff call around to drum up statements of support from other Democrats, including then-Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist, who works at Morgan’s law firm, knowledgeable sources say. The Wasserman Schultz effort culminated in a tense speaker-phone call with Crist’s campaign staffers, who were interrupted during a TV commercial shoot.
The congresswoman’s more recent dispute with Morgan unfolded Wednesday afternoon. POLITICO sent an email at 3:50 p.m. to Wasserman Schultz’s office seeking comment on criticisms from Morgan and other medical marijuana advocates. Three minutes later, an adviser replied that she had no comment.
In the meantime, Wasserman Schultz’s office sprung into action. Her team reached out to the campaign manager for the medical marijuana initiative — Ben Pollara, a top Democratic fundraiser and consultant in Miami — and offered him a deal.