Jul 25, 2014
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State Investigating Citizens For A Better Sarasota

Florida Elections Commissions says Citizens For A Better Sarasota might have skirted PAC laws.

State Investigating Citizens For A Better Sarasota

The group behind a petition-driven charter referendum to give the city a strong city manager is finding itself under more scrutiny. 

This time it's the Florida Elections Commission, which notified Citizens For A Better Sarasota on Sept. 28 that the group and Chairman Donald F. McDonald possibly violated multiple state election fund-raising statutes. 

In the letter, obtained by Patch from the Elections Commission, the violations include: 

  • Falsely reporting or deliberately failed to report information
  • Failure to timely report political committee statement of organization
  • Failure to file regular reports of all donations, contributions and expenses for the PAC and on campaign reports 

The group had maintained it is not a Political Action Committee despite having that printed on petitions and other materials, but instead that it's an electioneering communications organization that enables it to do advertising buys. But since 2009, that distinction was lost when it failed to file paperwork to state what the committee does and to acknowledge its existence to the state, county and city.

That group was financially supported by Commissioner Terry Turner, who has since donated $500 to a which is chaired by former Mayor Dick Clapp. That group also supports the strong City Manager amendment.

Citizens For A Better Sarasota was to have responded to the allegations by Oct. 18, but Elections Commission investigations cases remain confidential until the issue is resolved. 

An Aug. 13 letter by Tallahassee attorney Lynn C. Hearn (available in PDF with this story) responded to inquiries from both the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent and the Sarasota City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini about the discrepancies. 

In it, Hearn argues that because the activities are for a municipal election, this is allowable under state law, and the disclaimer printed on the petition was a printer's error and the group will not engage in PAC-related activities. 

The contents of Hearn's letter to Nadalini will help serve as a response to the state's inquiry, and that a conclusion to this matter could end in court, The Herald-Tribune reported. 

The petition itself appears to be unpopular at least according to one unscientific survey from HuBSarasota. In the survey, which included questions about voting in the elections and which commissioners would you vote for, 73 percent said they would not support the amendment. That question was from a sample of 270 respondants who said they lived in city limits.

Related Coverage:

  • Elected Mayor Charter Amendment Won't Make November Ballot
  • Proposed Charter Amendment Puts $500k At Risk
  • Commission Strikes Down Proposed Elected Mayor Referendum
  • Commission Advances Pension Language Correction
  • Former Mayor Clapp Starts PAC To Support Strong Manager System

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