Gillum trial: Campaign manager doesn’t remember PR firm

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The former campaign manager for the Florida Democrat who nearly beat Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2018 testified Tuesday that he didn’t recall whether a public relations company accused of illegally funneling campaign funds to the candidate was working as a vendor for the campaign.

Federal prosecutors called Brandon Davis, who served as campaign manager for former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum when he ran for governor, to testify about the campaign’s get-out-the-vote efforts, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

Prosecutors have alleged that $60,000 of the campaign’s get-out-the-vote money went to P&P Communications before ultimately going to Gillum, who they said used it for expenses unrelated to the campaign. Davis testified he didn’t recall P&P working for the campaign but also said he wouldn’t have necessarily been aware of it.

Under cross-examination, Davis said the campaign raised about $56 million. He said that after the primary, the campaign didn’t have the luxury of time to build a perfect operation because it had to move so quickly to staff up and raise money.

Vince Evans, who served as Gillum’s political director for north Florida and helped oversee get-out-the-vote efforts, testified Tuesday that he didn’t know what specific role P&P played but said the company was used to pay get-out-the-vote workers.

The trial against Gillum began last Monday and was scheduled to run for three weeks. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has spent the past week questioning FBI agents and campaign donors to present its case that Gillum pocketed illegal campaign contributions because he was having a hard time paying for his lifestyle after quitting his job to run for governor.

Gillum had a large mortgage, was making payments on two expensive cars and was paying private school tuition for his children when he quit his $120,000-a-year job at People for the American Way to run for the Democratic nomination for governor, prosecutors said.

Gillum surprised many by winning the 2018 Democratic nomination with far less money than other candidates in the race. In the general election, he energized the party’s base and nearly beat DeSantis. A recount was required before DeSantis was declared winner.

One of the men Gillum’s team reached out to for campaign donations was an undercover FBI agent posing as a developer exploring projects in Florida’s capital, prosecutors said, adding that Gillum used his brother Marcus as a go-between to arrange illegal contributions.

Gillum funneled those donations and others through P&P, which put him on the payroll even though he wasn’t actually working for the six-figure salary, investigators said.

Defense attorney Margot Moss said during opening statements last week that Gillum’s position at P&P was legitimate. Owner and co-defendant Sharon Lettman-Hicks knew Gillum, who gave a prominent speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, was a rising political star and wanted him to help drive business to the firm, Moss said. She added that Marcus Gillum acted on his own in soliciting donations for Gillum’s campaign for governor because he wanted to impress his older brother.

Andrew Gillum is also charged with lying to the FBI about a trip to New York, where undercover FBI agents met him, his brother and lobbyist friend Adam Corey, who earlier introduced Gillum to the agents. The FBI paid for hotel rooms, theater tickets to “Hamilton,” meals and a boat tour around New York Harbor.

The agent who paid for the New York entertainment testified that Gillum wasn’t the original target of the investigation. Rather, the agency was investigating developer J.T. Burnette and started looking at Gillum as they began to unpeel corruption that involved Burnette and then-City Commissioner Scott Maddox, another former Tallahassee mayor who ran for governor more than a decade earlier.

Last year, Maddox pleaded guilty to corruption charges, and a jury convicted Burnette of bribery, extortion and other charges.

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