TALLAHASSEE — A reporter for POLITICO Florida claims to have caught Graham Fountain, a local politician turned State Attorney’s Office bigwig, in a series of little white lies.
Fountain, State Attorney Ginger Bowden Madden’s executive director, says the reporter was skulking about the state Capitol cafeteria when he caught pieces of a conversation he wasn’t entitled to be tuning in to, and that he didn’t hear all he says he heard.
The resulting story, penned by reporter Matt Dixon, “isn’t news,” according to Fountain.
“They turned it around to make it sound like something it wasn’t,” he said.
But at least one man intimately familiar with the inner workings of Tallahassee said after reading Dixon’s piece that he wants it known there is no place for dishonesty in the office of the chief prosecutor for Florida’s First Judicial Circuit.
Ray Sansom, whose term as state House speaker was cut drastically short by a criminal charge that was later tossed out, views himself as “the victim of a reckless, politically motivated State Attorney” (Leon County’s Willie Meggs) — and can hold up a high stakes acquittal to prove it.
“I believe that anyone working in an office that has the power to prosecute citizens and public officials must be a person who will relentlessly stick to the facts,” Sansom said in response to the article. “Embellishing is a dangerous practice when you have been given great influence such as a top administrator in the office of our prosecutor.”
The article at the core of the controversy confirms that on March 10, a POLITICO reporter overheard a conversation Fountain was having in the Capitol cafeteria with a group that included Sen. Doug Broxson, a Gulf Breeze resident and chair of the important Education Appropriations Subcommittee.
It states that Fountain boasted to Broxson that he’d received a call on Christmas morning from the chief of staff of Gov. Ron DeSantis, and that he had been offered an appointment to the board of trustees for Northwest Florida State College, a position Fountain said he hadn’t even applied for.
The article points out that Fountain wasn’t called on Christmas, that he had indeed applied for the trustees’ position in November and the call telling him he’d gotten the job wouldn’t have come from DeSantis Chief of Staff Shane Strum.
“Fountain’s embellishment shows the lengths a politico in Florida will go to be seen as a big player,” Dixon wrote.
The Northwest Florida Daily News, along with media outlets across the state, received an email announcing Fountain’s NWFSC appointment on the afternoon of Dec. 23. The governor’s office confirmed no calls were made to political appointees on Christmas.
Fountain on Tuesday said that what the reporter heard him say was that he’d received word of his appointment “Christmas Eve morning, I thought it was,” as opposed to Christmas Day, and that he’d told Broxson, who “didn’t know I’d been appointed to the board of trustees” that he’d been contacted by the governor’s office and asked about the job prior to filling out an application in November.
I’m not going to tell everybody the whole story over a cup of coffee,” he said.
Fountain said he believes the POLITICO reporter probably perked up when he heard the name “Gaetz” mentioned during the conversation over coffee. Fountain has ties to both former state Senate President Don Gaetz and current U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, Don’s son.
He said he’d mentioned Don Gaetz’s name to Broxson in reference to Gaetz missing out on being appointed president of the University of West Florida in Pensacola. He told Broxson he believed Gaetz’s job chances had been torpedoed by the behind-the-scenes efforts of former Gov. Rick Scott.
“They (POLITICO) called and asked did Don or Matt have anything to do with my appointment. They’re trying to make it sound like cronyism. All I said was ‘I didn’t apply, they called and recruited me’ … maybe he doesn’t like it that the governor’s appointment office goes out and recruits people,” Fountain said. “Anyone calling me dishonest does not know me and is off base. That reporter was off base with his assumptions.”