Andrew Gillum and the Long Shadow of the Florida Governor’s Race

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The private sector was not appealing for someone in political office since age 23. But Mr. Gillum needed the money and exposure, so he took paid speaking engagements and the CNN gig. The deeper into the presidential primary, the more he appeared from debate halls and New York and Washington studios.

“As a Black man in politics, we don’t have the luxury to sit on the sidelines,” said Bakari Sellers, a CNN commentator and former South Carolina state legislator. “Because too many people depend on you. Not just personally, but when you lose that race, you feel like you let people down who stood in front of you.”

Mr. Gillum’s organization, Forward Florida, pledged to register or reactivate one million voters by the 2020 presidential election. It began with nearly $3 million in the bank that Mr. Gillum’s campaign had not spent ahead of Election Day, in part because the airwaves were saturated.

But the unspent cash bothered John Morgan, an Orlando lawyer and influential Democratic donor whose firm had contributed $250,000. Mr. Morgan texted Mr. Gillum last year, urging him to use the leftover funds to pay off felons’ fines so thousands of them could become eligible to vote. Mr. Morgan then went after Mr. Gillum on Twitter: “Give it to charity not yourself.”

Shortly after, The Tampa Bay Times revealed that Forward Florida — along with Mr. Gillum’s campaign, one of his former employers, a wealthy Gillum donor and others — had been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in March 2019 for a number of records dating back to 2015. Mr. Gillum was not subpoenaed, and no charges have been filed.

It was not the first time Mr. Gillum had come within the gaze of federal investigators. As Tallahassee mayor in 2016, he took a boat ride to the Statue of Liberty with a lobbyist who paid for the trip and with two developers who were actually undercover F.B.I. agents investigating possible City Hall corruption. The incident clouded his 2018 campaign, and Mr. Gillum, who was never criminally charged, paid a $5,000 state ethics fine last year for accepting the lobbyist’s gift.

By July 2019, Forward Florida had transferred its work to a newly created sister organization, Forward Florida Action. Unlike the political committee, the new organization’s nonprofit status allowed it to keep financial records secret. Mr. Morgan called it a “slush fund.”

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