When she was an assistant state attorney, Pam Bondi says she was approached by TV producers with an offer to star in her own reality show, and over the years, has turned down multiple job offers from cable news, too.
The 50-year-old Republican did, however, make national news on Monday by endorsing reality TV veteran Donald Trump for president ahead of her state's Tuesday primary: “Donald and I have been friends for many years,” she said at a rally in Tampa, where he called her “the most popular person in Florida, by far."
Predictably, the announcement renewed criticism that Bondi should have pursued charges against Trump University. The Miami Herald reported that the endorsement "dredged up a nearly three-year-old question from the last time Bondi and Trump made headlines together: Why didn’t the Florida attorney general’s office investigate fraud complaints against Trump University?"
Three years ago, the Herald said, "Bondi was preparing for a re-election bid and a for-profit college called Trump University had just been sued by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The lawsuit alleged that Trump University had “scammed” more than 5,000 people out of more than $40 million by falsely promising to teach them the tools to Trump’s real estate success. With media scrutiny mounting, the Donald J. Trump Foundation that September contributed $25,000 to And Justice for All, a political committee controlled by Bondi."
Still, when Florida Sen. Marco Rubio decided to give up his seat in the Senate to run for the White House, Bondi was considered a possible contender for the seat. Eventually, she decided to stay in her current job, making $128,000 a year.
“I turned down a lot of career opportunities because I love Tampa, I love Florida, and I loved being a prosecutor,” she said in an interview.
In 2011, she twisted lawmakers’ arms to pass restrictions on the sale of prescription drugs by so-called “pill mills.” She cracked down on human trafficking, and led an effort to get the state crime lab to process untested rape kits. She helped negotiate a settlement that netted Florida $3.25 billion in the BP Deepwater Horizon spill.
On the national stage, she's fought for a law banning same-sex marriage and against a ballot initiative that would have legalized medical marijuana. She also spearheaded the lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, and has joined other attorneys general in fighting against Obama administration efforts on energy and environment mandates, and immigration: “The attorneys general are the last line of defense from these lawless actions coming out of Washington,” she said.
She helped write guidelines for a controversial law backed by Gov. Rick Scott, a fellow Republican, that bans ex-felons from voting unless the governor and a clemency board reinstates them – only Kentucky and Iowa have similar standards. Bondi called “unfounded” critics’ charges that the law specifically targeted minorities.
Early in her tenure, critics accused her of going soft on the banks and businesses that precipitated the mortgage crisis in the state. She scoffs at such criticism, pointing to various bank settlements that Florida has signed on to that have provided homeowners with billions of dollars in relief.
The oldest of three, Bondi grew up in a Tampa suburb of Temple Terrace. Her father, who died in 2013, was a professor of education at the University of South Florida and a local mayor, and her mother taught kindergarten.
Bondi studied criminology at the University of Florida and got her law degree from Stetson University, but said she was not sold on a legal career until an internship at the state attorney's office convinced her it was the right path.
She spent 18 years in the State Attorney’s office in Tampa, handling several high-profile cases, including a 2000 trial of a 15-year old girl, Valessa Robinson, who was convicted of conspiring with her 19-year-old boyfriend to murder her mother. The Today Show interviewed her about the case -- her first national television appearance. She has since been a frequent guest on Fox, CNN and MSNBC.
In 2010, Bondi decided to make a run at attorney general, narrowly beating two primary opponents in the primary and cruising to election over Democrat Dan Gelber. She easily won re-election in 2014.
She terms out of her current job in 2019, but says “I would love to be attorney general for a third term. I really don’t know what I’m going to do next.”
Unless, perhaps, her one-time contributor and longtime friend wins the White House.