The Powerbrokers: How FPL secretly took over a Florida news site and used it to bash critics
The Capitolist portrayed itself as an independent outlet, but it was bankrolled and controlled by FPL execs to push for rate hikes and legislative favors and slam any opponent, a Miami Herald investigation found. To help keep the deal secret, a political consulting firm employed the intermediaries between the FPL executives and the Capitolist.
His name is Tim Fitzpatrick and he was the “shadow editor” of the Capitolist. The Capitolist is a Tallahassee-based website secretly run by Florida Power & Light, which uses it to attack FPL critics, advocate for legislation favorable to the utility and boost businesses, including those that pay for sponsorships.
The Capitolist hid its connection to FPL through a string of shell companies and an Alabama-based consultant called Matrix, but the relationship was revealed this past week by the Miami Herald.
Prior to publication, the Herald sought a comment from Fitzpatrick, a former FPL vice president who also previously worked for Pacific Gas & Electric Co. in California. In his role overseeing the Capitolist, he previews all content and can veto or order up stories for editor Brian Burgess to act on. Fitzpatrick did not respond to the Herald.
But he did respond when texted for comment by Justin Dennis, editor of Mahoning Matters, a digital news site that serves the Youngstown, Ohio, area and is owned by the Herald’s parent company, McClatchy. They are both former staffers at the Youngstown Vindicator. Fitzpatrick’s responses are summarized here.
On being the Capitolist’s ‘shadow editor’
Fitzpatrick told Mahoning Matters he gave Burgess ongoing advice on how to “professionalize” the site’s content. He said the Miami Herald sensationalized his involvement and used the report as an example of the Herald’s perceived bias against the utility company and himself, as a former employee.
The former journalist described the Capitolist’s content as “straightforward” and said he stands behind its presentation.
“Brian [Burgess] has about a dozen business sponsors and advertisers who support his site because of the incredibly strong anti-business bias of the print media in Florida,” Fitzpatrick wrote. “If you are a business in Florida, good luck getting your story told fairly by the major print media. Brian gives them a fair shot at telling their story.”
He declined to say whether he was still involved with the website, citing confidentiality agreements related to his consulting work.
“Any suggestion that [the work] was inappropriate in any way is flat wrong, regardless of what the Miami Herald says,” Fitzpatrick said.
On the Capitolist’s sponsors
When asked by Mahoning Matters if the site’s operators purposely misled readers about who actually runs the Capitolist, Fitzpatrick did not directly answer. Instead, he said the outlet has described itself as a pro-business website. He pointed to its mid-year report card published Saturday, July 23, which discloses support from 15 advertisers and sponsors in 2021, and 11 so far this year. That article doesn’t name those backers.
“Note that the editor and publisher of the site, Brian Burgess, made it clear to the Miami Herald that he stands behind the accuracy of all stories he has published,” Fitzpatrick wrote.
On his compensation for work at the Capitolist
Fitzpatrick declined to address how he was compensated for his work.
SUN Marketing & Advertising, the company through which money is funneled to pay his salary, was incorporated in December 2019, according to Delaware corporation filings.
On the coverage of FPL by the Capitolist, which doesn’t reveal FPL’s role
Fitzpatrick said the Capitolist published more than 500 stories on business and politics in the first half of this year, but estimated only a handful of them covered something related to FPL.
This story was originally published July 29, 2022 1:09 PM.