The Phoenix Flyer

Gov. DeSantis taps right-wing think tank execs & campaign donor for state gov’t efficiency panel

By: - August 27, 2019 4:42 pm

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Gov. Ron DeSantis has packed a new Florida Government Efficiency Task Force with conservative movement leaders and Republican campaign donors.

The new panel is charged with proposing improvements to government operations and suggesting ways to save money every four years.

DeSantis’ picks include Sal Nuzzo, connected to the James Madison Institute, a right-wing think tank that promotes limited government; Tarren Bragdon, CEO of a controversial group called the Foundation for Government Accountability, which – among other things – advocates for restrictions on welfare benefits; and Keith Wold, a developer-attorney who contributed to DeSantis’ campaign.

DeSantis also tapped Jonathan Satter, secretary of the Florida Department of Management Services; and Ed Moore, president of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida.

The governor’s office announced the appointments in a press release without comment. DeSantis gets to appoint five members of the task force, as do House Speaker Jose Oliva and Senate President Bill Galvano. Galvano’s office hasn’t indicated when he might make his picks; an Oliva spokesman expected action soon.

The task force was authorized by citizen initiative and first met in 2007, according to Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, the nonpartisan fiscal watchdog organization.

“Its purpose is not to eviscerate government, but to make it more innovative, more enterprising, and more cost-effective,” he said.

Past task forces have deliberated for as long as a year.

DeSantis’ appointments are timely, Calabro said, given the prospects for a recession and the never-ending pressures to meet state needs while keeping taxes low. “I think there’s going to be a real demand for cost control,” he said.

Nuzzo is vice president for policy and director of the Center for Economic Prosperity at the James Madison Institute, which advocates “limited government, personal responsibility and economic freedom.” That has included support for “tort reform,” including limits on consumers’ right to sue businesses, and suspicion of the labor movement.

For example, the center that Nuzzo directs praised the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling in Janus v. American Council of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which forbade public sector unions from collecting agency fees from nonmembers, even though they benefit from contracts the union negotiates, on free-speech ground.

Nuzzo recently praised Fort Lauderdale for declining to join other cities in litigation over climate change. In 2016, the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times published an audio recording in which Nuzzo told an energy industry group that a utilities-backed proposed constitutional amendment on solar energy was a piece of political “jiu-jitsu” intended to confuse voters about a competing amendment sponsored by the solar industry.

Nuzzo called it “an incredibly savvy maneuver” that “would completely negate anything they [pro-solar interests] would try to do either legislatively or constitutionally down the road,” the newspapers reported.

Bragdon is CEO of the Foundation for Government Accountability, a think tank he founded in 2011 seeking “to free individuals from the trap of government dependence and to let them experience the power of work.” That appears to mean restricting access to welfare programs.

Bragdon served on the DeSantis transition committee dealing with health and wellness. Before moving to Florida, he was a member of the Maine Legislature and an adviser to GOP Gov. Paul LePage. He also served as chief executive of the right-wing Maine Heritage Policy Center. Former Attorney General Pam Bondi cited Bragdon’s work in defending a legal challenge to Florida’s attempt to subject welfare recipients to drug testing. In 2013, the state lost that federal lawsuit. Bragdon’s organization has been criticized for cherry-picking data.

Wold is an attorney and investor who was a top donor to DeSantis’ gubernatorial campaign – between them, he and his mother, Elaine, kicked in $500,000. They gave a like amount to political action committees backing President Trump. Wold served on the DeSantis transition advisory committee on the environment, natural resources and agriculture.

Satter is DeSantis’ secretary of the Department of Management Services. His background is in development. He founded the WGCompass real estate firm and ran it until Avision Young acquired it in 2013, then served as U.S. managing director of that company.

Moore is president of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida – although he reportedly plans to step down effective on Sept. 1 – and executive director of the Higher Education Facilities Finance Authority. Previously, he was staff director for the Florida House policy committee and worked on select committees on medical liability insurance, workers’ compensation, and public security.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.