Sembler's influence over local politicians Part 2.
Contributions to local officials by Sembler and his lobbyists

by Wes Fager (c) 2005

As of Dec. 5, 2005 Sembler had gotten through step 3 of the approval process (approval by the Pinellas Planning Council), but barely. Both seller (Essilor) and potential buyer (Sembler) have hired the same attorney to get them through the negotiations, Timothy Johnson, Jr., founder of Johnson, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel & Burns, (formerly Johnson, Blakely, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel) in Clearwater--the largest law firm in Pinellas County. Using blue blood attorney Tim Johnson is not a bad idea. He has a solid reputation for understanding the maze of government requirements in the approval process for land use and transportation issues. The politicians in Seminole trust and respect him--his uncle was the former "Mr. Seminole." And besides Sembler has effectively used Tim Johnson before--often.

Sembler has bought his way into national and state politics. [See Sembler family contributions, national/state.] The company is so into having good relations with politicians that it has a Vice President of Political and Community Affairs. But does Sembler political largess filter down to the lower levels of politics? Recently Carrie Johnson of The St. Petersburg Times wrote an article titled, Sembler family is flexing its political muscles in city. In her article she quotes Sembler Company CEO Craig Sher who says, "I would take offense to the notion that any politician is in the pocket of anyone. I don't believe a $500 contribution is going to influence anyone." In Florida $500 is the maximum an individual can contribute to the campaign of someone running for public office. We took exception to what Mr. Sher said in our article We take exception to Craig Sher's comment about buying politicians for $500. You should read it. Sembler has made so many $500 contributions via so many different entities that it will make your head spin. Our article responding to Craig Sher focuses primarily on candidates for state office. In this report we concentrate on candidates for municipal and county government offices. And we start with the ever lovely, Susan Latvala.

Pinellas County Commissioners

Susan Latvala

As of 2004 Sembler Company had built 140 Eckerd drug stores for his friend Jack Eckerd. Mel Sembler is Mr. Republican Party in Pinellas County and Jack Eckerd was the former chairman of the Florida Republican Legislative Campaign Committee. Jack Eckerd once ran unsuccessfully as the Republican candidate for governor against Bob Graham. W. J. "Jack" Latvala chaired the statewide Young Republicans organization while at Stetson University and later became the executive director of the state Republican Party in Tallahassee. In 1979 Jack Eckerd wanted more GOP candidates elected to the state legislature, so he hired Jack Latvala and moved him to Pinellas County. Latvala founded a very successful direct-mailing company that included many companies and elected officials like George Bush and Connie Mack as clients.

Follows are in-kind contributions to Mr. Latvala's 1996 campaign for state office made by the Republican Party of Florida:

  • $ 3,500 (08/21/1996)
  • $ 10,912 (09/26/1996)
  • $ 23,833 (10/31/1996)
  • $ 37,110 (10/31/1996).

Follows are contributions by Sembler entities to the Republican Party of Florida:

01/10/2005 25,000.00 SEMBLER BETTY
10/29/2002 10,000.00 SEMBLER BETTY
12/20/2002 5,000.00 SEMBLER BETTY
10/15/2002 15,000.00 SEMBLER BRENT
03/15/2002 20,000.00 SEMBLER BRENT
10/17/2002 10,000.00 SEMBLER BRENT
01/10/2005 25,000.00 SEMBLER BRENT
10/24/2000 3,000.00 SEMBLER BRENT
02/23/2004 5,000.00 SEMBLER BRENT
07/03/2003 15,000.00 SEMBLER BRENT
06/30/2004 500.00 CHE SEMBLER BRENT
07/07/2004 25,000.00 SEMBLER BRENT
10/12/2004 2,500.00 SEMBLER DEBBIE
08/31/2000 5,000.00 SEMBLER MEL
06/16/2000 250.00 SEMBLER MEL
01/10/2005 25,000.00 SEMBLER
09/30/1998 500.00 SEMBLER, BRENT
09/25/1998 500.00 SEMBLER, BRENT
10/20/1998 500.00 CHE SEMBLER, BRENT
03/31/1998 5,000.00 SEMBLER, MEL
10/20/1998 500.00 SEMBLER, MEL
09/25/1998 25,000.00 SEMBLER, MEL
10/14/1999 4,662.75 INK SEMBLER

Here are some individual contributions to Jack Latvala.

Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 11/02/1999 500.00 CHE SEMBLER, BETTY S.
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 02/28/1996 200.00 CHE SEMBLER, BRENT
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 12/18/1997 400.00 CHE SEMBLER, BRENT W.
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 11/12/1999 500.00 CHE SEMBLER, BRENT W.
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 11/20/1995 100.00 CHE ARMSTRONG, III E. D.
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 12/05/1997 500.00 CHE ARMSTRONG, III. E. D.
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 02/22/2000 200.00 CHE BOKOR, BRUCE H.
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 07/10/1995 500.00 CHE ECKERD CORPORATION
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 09/06/1996 500.00 CHE ECKERD CORPORATION
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 10/15/1996 500.00 CHE ECKERD CORPORATION
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 12/14/1999 500.00 CHE ECKERD CORPORATION
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 09/22/1995 500.00 CHE ECKERD, JACK
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 09/05/1996 500.00 CHE ECKERD, JACK
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 12/17/1997 500.00 CHE ECKERD, JACK
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 06/04/1999 500.00 CHE ECKERD, JACK
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 12/17/1997 500.00 CHE ECKERD, RUTH B.
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 06/04/1999 500.00 CHE ECKERD, RUTH B.
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 10/25/1999 100.00 CHE JOHNSON, TIMOTHY E.
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 11/12/1999 200.00 CHE JOHNSON, JR. TIMOTHY A.
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 10/19/1995 50.00 CHE LOEBENBERG, WALTER
Latvala, Jack (REP)(STS) 02/21/1996 100.00 CHE LOEBENBERG, WALTER

Here are some contributions to the campaign of Jack's wife Susan Latvala who is a Pinellas County commissioner:

Apr 08, 2002 Brent Sembler $300.00

APR 11, 2002 Battaglia, Ross, Dicus & Wein
PO Box 41100
St. Petersburg, FL 33743
Attorney B CHE $250.00

APR 15, 2002 Walter Loebenberg
7834 9th Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33707
Retired I CHE $250.00

Jun 18, 2002 Johnson, Blakely, Pope, Bokor, RUppel & Burns, PA
911 Chestnut Street
Clearwater, FL 33757
Attorney's B CHE $500.00

Jun 20, 2002 E. Armstrong
1614 Santa Barbara Drive
Dunedin, FL 34698
Attorney I CHE $500.00

Sep 19, 2005 Timothy Johnson
911 Chestnut Street
Clearwater, FL 33756
Attorney I CHE $500.00

Sep 20, 2005 Walter Loebenberg
7834 9th Ave. S
St. Petersburg, FL 33707
Retired I CHE $150.00

Sep 20, 2005 Betty Sembler
10324 Paradise Blvd
Treasure Island, FL 33706
Retired I CHE $500.00

Sep 30, 2005 Ed Armstrong
1614 Santa Barbara Drive
Dunedin, FL 34698
Attorney I CHE $500.00

Sep 30, 2005 Kwall, Showers & Coleman, P.A.
138 N. Ft. Harrison Avenue
Clearwater, FL 33755
Attorney B CHE $500.0

For 17 years Melvin and Betty Sembler operated Straight, Inc., a controversial juvenile drug rehabilitation program. Eventually all programs in the chain were closed down amidst state criminal and/or health investigations. In 1985 Mel and Betty changed the name and mission of Straight. Straight no longer treats kids for addictions. Its new name is Drug Free America Foundation. Commissioner Susan Latvala is on DFAF's Advisory Board along with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, Gov. Jeb Bush, Jeb's wife Columba, and Jeb's Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings.

Today Betty has a new drug program--Operation PAR. Susan Latvala is the executive director of Operation PAR.

John Morroni Chairman

Kenneth T. Welch Vice Chairman (D)

Calvin D. Harris Commissioner (D)

Robert B. Stewart Commissioner (R)

Ronnie E. Duncan Commissioner

Karen Williams Seel Commissioner (R)