ORLANDO — Andrew Gillum on Friday told a packed room of Democratic activists and party faithful that he wouldn’t let a federal investigation distract him from registering Florida voters ahead of next year’s presidential election.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 100 at a gathering of Florida Democrats in Orlando, Gillum called the federal probe — which he labeled an inquiry — “unsettling.” He said he has “no clue” what federal authorities are looking into.
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He said he was proud of his 2018 run for governor, which he narrowly lost to Republican Ron DeSantis.
“We ran an open and honest campaign,” Gillum told reporters Friday after greeting Democrats at a Disney resort reception held as part of the party’s annual Leadership Blue meeting. “I stand by the work we did there.”
A federal grand jury in north Florida has subpoenaed information related to Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign, his political committee and associated non-profit groups. Last year, the former Tallahassee mayor had said he wasn’t the target of a corruption investigation by the FBI. The probe has resulted in indictments against a Tallahassee commissioner.
Gillum, considered a rising star in the party after losing to DeSantis, in March announced an ambitious plan to register up to 1 million voters as part of an effort to block President Donald Trump from retaking Florida, the nation’s largest battleground state, in 2020.
During Friday’s Leadership Blue reception in Orlando, Gillum stood on a platform to tell those assembled that he was willing to take “slings” and “arrows,” but that he and his supporters would not be distracted from their job to “flip Florida blue.”
The question, however, is whether the federal investigation could dampen donor enthusiasm. Gillum has said that in the last few weeks his group has raised $800,000, including $250,000 collected after news of the subpoena broke.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat and the state party’s de-facto leader, said she wasn’t concerned that Gillum’s legal woes would hinder the party’s ability to raise money or register voters.
“One person is not the party,” Fried told reporters Friday. “I think people are excited, energized to register as Democrats.
“When people come out to vote and the right issues are on the ballot, the right issues win,” she said.
Fried said she knew nothing specific about the federal investigation tied to Gillum or others in his political orbit.
South Florida Democratic consultant Christian Ulvert said that early 2020 momentum is enough to overtake any legal woes that Gillum, the face of the Democrat’s voter registration drive, might face.
“Anything related to that won’t slow the momentum,” Ulvert said. “It’s already started, and he is coordinating with the Florida Democratic Party, so we are in a good place.”
Gillum’s non-profit group, Forward Florida Action, has given $100,000 to the party so far to boost registration efforts. Cash will be doled out to the Florida Democratic Party and progressive south Florida organizations with voter-registration infrastructure.
“Well, he has a $4 million head start, doesn’t he?” said Ulvert, referencing money that Gillum raised during last year’s gubernatorial campaign but didn’t spend.
Gillum’s appearance at Leadership Blue came just hours after Florida’s ethics commission approved a settlement with the former Tallahassee mayor to resolve accusations related to trips Gillum took to New York City and Costa Rica.
Under the agreement, Gillum will pay a $5,000 fine and admit to one violation of state ethics laws for accepting a gift worth more than $100 from a lobbyist.