Doug Kaplan’s actions in SCREC election stink to high heaven

When I said recently I’d be sharing my take on Doug Kaplan‘s reaction to last week’s Seminole County Republican Executive Committee meeting, a number of people contacted me with legitimate concerns about him.

…they also shared other important information.

Kaplan is the braintrust behind Gravis Marketing, which has received national attention for the accuracy of its public opinion polls. So much so, in fact, that Kaplan was able to partner with Breitbart News to create the Breitbart / Gravis Poll Series. Breitbart News sullied its reputation among serious-minded conservatives after becoming a de facto Donald Trump advocacy site during the GOP primary, but the website still draws serious national traffic.

Gravis is also a political consultant outfit with local elected officials and candidates as clients. In addition, it was announced last month that “a group lead by Doug Kaplan” purchased the Orlando Political Observer, a local blog founded by Frank Torres — it’s not entirely clear who all the players are in the “group.”

When I first learned of the purchase, I expressed concerns about whether a clear line would be maintained between Kaplan’s consulting interests and OPO, but said at the time I’d try to keep an open mind. To the dismay of his many friends, I’ve criticized Torrres in the past for his “friendly” approach to covering local politics, which included agreeable reporting on the activities of hard-left activists and community organizers in Central Florida.

Torres doesn’t stray too far away from sunshine and lollipops in his reporting, regardless of how controversial the subject, but I did not see him shaping the content to fit a financial agenda.

But, boy, are the red lights going off now.

I engaged Kaplan on Facebook over the weekend after he posted a video of Torres being asked to leave the SCREC meeting held last week. As I’ve learned, there were more than 200 people at the meeting, with only 86 eligible to participate in the leadership election set to take place.

There were so many folks on hand because SCREC, a private organization, was also celebrating Christmas that night.

A motion was made from the floor by a SCREC member for an executive session to protect the integrity of the vote — as I understand, the Seminole County GOP has had problems in the past. The motion was voted on by eligible members and passed 52-30 with a handful of abstentions. As a result, only those eligible to vote could remain in the room while the voting took place. There is no denying that the optics of asking a throng of people to leave is as bad as it gets, but that is what happened next.

Through it all, an RPOF parliamentarian was on hand and explained what an executive session is and how common the process is — Kaplan clearly stated to me on FB that he was not aware of this, although he would later delete the entire post. In fact, it seems Kaplan has done a lot of scrubbing since the weekend.

But not having all the information — Kaplan did not attend the meeting — didn’t stop him from hyperventilating over events that night, going so far as to charges leadership with acting like “fascists” and call for a boycott of SCREC unless they capitulate to his demands.

The demand being that newly elected SCREC chairwoman Katherine Townsend give him the names of the members who voted for the executive session. The owner of the Orlando Political Observer promised to “print” these names for all to see.

In fact, he was so bold as to create a Facebook event touting his threat:

kaplan

Kaplan would have you believe his concern is that his reporter, Frank Torres, was asked to leave the meeting, but I’ve since learned some very relevant information that suggests he likely had other motivations.

Not only has there been a blurring of the lines between his political consulting interests and his responsibilities as the owner of political news website, that line appears to have been all but obliterated.

High level sources tell me that Doug Kaplan had a dog in the SCREC leadership race — incumbent chairman Jeff Bauer. That’s right, Kaplan was endeavoring to assist Bauer with winning the election and had received thousands of dollars from SCREC for other services, according to my sources.

As owner of OPO, Kaplan did a video profile on Bauer as part of a “50 of 50” interview series of local political leaders — which fortuitously aired three days* before last week’s election — yet Kaplan DID NOT disclose his conflicting financial interests up front, which is inexcusable and borders on downright deception. 

*Correction: I mistook the date of the OCREC election, Dec. 8, with the date of the SCREC election, which was a week later on Dec. 15th, with puts the video being posted on Facebook 10 days out, not 3 days. The interview may have taken place earlier than when it was posted. I apologize for the error.

Kaplan also contacted me to note that he mentioned his ties at the 1:50-minute mark of the video. I intentionally included the video for readers to watch and in no way was trying to hide this from anyone. My contention is clear that a disclaimer exposing the conflict of interest should have been made in the very beginning, which did not happen.

Comically, Kaplan can be seen asking the man he was allegedly assisting if he is running for re-election!

Adding to the already murky waters, OPO did a feature post on Bauer, based on the earlier interview, one week* before the election. Again with no disclaimer.

Let me be clear that while I’m not seeking this fight, as a longstanding critic of media bias, I cannot stand idle and ignore the stench here just because the players involved are right of center.

The conflict of interest here should trouble every resident and political leader in Central Florida. Equally troubling is Kaplan’s threat to “print” the names of the SCREC members who voted to protect the integrity of their election. This is pure intimidation and equates to weaponizing OPO with the intent to use the website to harm those who stand in the way of Kaplan’s financial interests — and make no mistake about it, with Bauer losing this election, Kaplan likely lost a lucrative source of income.

My past experience tells me little will come from my effort here, other than adding another name to the long list of adversaries with a distaste for the truth, and that local elected officials will remain quiet. I learned early on in this business the lure of fame and attention, which the media can deliver, is a draw few are willing to discard.

I was perhaps the only one in this town with the courage to call a spade a spade when it became clear that Jacob Engels’ websites, the East Orlando Post and the Seminole County Post, exist in large part to serve as attack vehicles to fit Engel’s moneyed interests, yet to this day noted political figures embrace him and call him a “friend.” Then again, you don’t need much of an imagination to realize that individuals like Engels serve a useful purpose for those with a ruthless, win at all cost mentality.

Hell, I even had a source tell me that some week-kneed local politicians have admitted that it’s easier to keep these bottom dwellers on their side than to have to endure their attacks. Doug Guetzloe ring a bell?

Be that as it may, if Central Florida leaders sits quietly by, afraid to speak out as Doug Kaplan builds his corrupt media empire, they can anticipate having yet another ring to kiss on their way to the top.

…or Kaplan can understand that, if he is going to position himself as a part of the media, he has a responsibility to be honest and straightforward with the folks. He may also want to gain a better understanding of the term “journalistic integrity.”

Either way, I will be there… telling the folks the way it is.

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