Federal subpoena demands records on Andrew Gillum and his campaign for governor
Andrew Gillum is a focal point of a recently issued federal grand jury subpoena that demands information on the former Democratic candidate for governor, his campaign, his political committee, a wealthy donor, a charity he worked for and a former employer.
The subpoena, obtained by the Tampa Bay Times and previously unreported, could reflect a new level of federal inquiry into Gillum, the former mayor of Tallahassee who narrowly lost to Republican Ron DeSantis last year.
Throughout his campaign last year, Gillum insisted he was not a target of a sprawling FBI investigation of Tallahassee City Hall, which has taken at least three years and resulted in three arrests. Last year, he told the Tallahassee Democrat: “Twenty-plus subpoenas have been issued and not one of them has anything to do with me.”
But the recent one does. Previously, the investigation had centered on corruption inside Tallahassee government, including during Gillum’s time as mayor. The newer subpoena is more focused on Gillum’s 2018 campaign and people and organizations with clear ties to him, but with less obvious connections to Tallahassee City Hall.
Gillum, now a CNN contributor, declined to answer specific questions about the subpoena or say whether a subpoena was issued to him. In a statement to the Times, Gillum said: “We stand ready to assist any future review of our work, because I am confident we always did the right thing and complied fully with the law.”
“We ran an open and honest campaign. A campaign powered by thousands of volunteers and supporters. A campaign that captured imaginations and earned over four million votes,” Gillum said. “When you run a campaign that puts the power in the hands of the people, and fights for change, it inevitably invites close scrutiny, regardless of the facts.”
As a policy, the U.S. Attorney’s Office does not confirm or deny the existence of a matter before a grand jury, or whether a subpoena has been issued, the agency’s press office said.
If someone is named in a subpoena, it does not mean an individual or entity is under investigation. Rather, subpoenas are a tool for prosecutors to gather information that they could later present as evidence to a grand jury.
Issued in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee, the subpoena demands “documents, electronically stored information, or objects” dating back to January 2015 about Gillum, his 2018 gubernatorial campaign and his political committee, Forward Florida. It requests documents be turned over at either a Tallahassee courthouse or to the FBI by May 7.
The subpoena also demands information on:
- John H. Jackson, the president and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit. Gillum was listed as a board member on the nonprofit’s website until March 2017. Also on the subpoena is a related organization: Opportunity to Learn Action Fund. Gillum was president of that nonprofit as recently as 2017, according to its tax documents.
- Donald Sussman, an investor and philanthropist who donated $1.5 million to Gillum’s bid for governor. Harris Parnell, a donor adviser who has worked for Sussman, also is named.
- Sharon Lettman-Hicks, a long-time friend and adviser to Gillum who is currently the CEO of the National Black Justice Commission, a black LGBTQ advocacy group. She served with Gillum on the board of the Schott Foundation. Her public relations firm, P&P Communications, is also listed in the subpoena.
Little has been reported about Gillum’s work for the Schott Foundation for Public Education. It is a well-regarded charity that focuses on racial and economic justice through education equality, especially in the Northeast. It has about $10 million in assets and it has distributed millions of dollars in grants to education organizations around the country.
Gillum, who campaigned on a platform of raising teacher pay and investing $1 billion in public schools, didn’t draw attention to the years he served on the board of an education charity. He declined to say what years he served but he is listed on the Schott Foundation’s tax records as a board member from as early as 2013 to 2017.
Jackson, its president, is the former national director of education and chief policy officer for the NAACP and has served as the Schott Foundation’s leader since 2007. Jackson posted a glowing congratulatory letter about Gillum on the foundation’s website after the Democratic primary.
“I’ve known Andrew Gillum for close to two decades, as a friend, staunch advocate for an opportunity to learn for all students and ultimately as a colleague as a member of the Schott Foundation Board of Directors,” Jackson wrote. “All of us at Schott are proud of what our colleague and friend has accomplished, and can’t wait to see what Andrew Gillum, Florida voters and the growing movement for public education in Florida achieve next.”
When asked about the subpoena, Jackson declined to comment through his lawyer, Ron Meyer of Tallahassee.
Opportunity to Learn Action Fund is a separate, much smaller entity controlled by the Schott Foundation. Gillum was the president from as early as 2014 until at least 2017, according to publicly available tax documents, when the organization reported expenses ranging from $50,000 to $125,000. Gillum did not take a salary.
Unlike the Schott Foundation and other traditional charities, Opportunity to Learn is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, meaning up to 50 percent of its expenses can go toward political purposes. Its mission, according to tax documents, is “promoting improvement in America’s public education systems and advocating for educational policy reforms.”