Buckhorn supporters helped bankroll committee that attacked Rose Ferlita
TAMPA — As he ran for mayor, Bob Buckhorn vowed to run a positive, upbeat campaign and not attack his opponents.
As for his supporters, not so much.
New campaign finance reports filed with the state Division of Elections show that during the Tampa mayor's race, two Buckhorn supporters helped bankroll a committee that mailed voters an anonymous attack ad targeting Rose Ferlita.
Tampa criminal defense lawyer Barry Cohen, a friend of Buckhorn's, was one of those supporters. The other was Tampa lawyer Richard Salem.
Cohen contributed $500 to Buckhorn's campaign and another $1,250 to Tampa-based Less Government Now, according to campaign finance reports.
Less Government Now is what's known in political circles as an electioneering communications committee or a 527 group.
The Saturday before the March 1 primary, it mailed a flier to Tampa voters summarizing local newspaper criticisms of Ferlita.
Neither Cohen nor Buckhorn returned calls for comment, and Cohen declined to discuss the contribution when reached on his cell phone.
But a campaign spokeswoman said Buckhorn had "absolutely no involvement" in Less Government Now. Nor did Buckhorn know about Cohen's contribution to the committee until weeks later, she said.
"You know Barry," campaign spokeswoman Beth Leytham said. "Barry does what Barry wants."
Less Government Now also received $250 from the Salem Co.
Buckhorn's campaign finance reports show a $500 donation from an unidentified contributor with the same post office box as the Salem Co.
"The Salem Co. often makes political contributions in support of the democratic process," Salem said in a written statement. "In February we made a small contribution to the group Less Government Now. We trust that the campaign activities undertaken by this organization were legitimate and have no knowledge of any negative campaign activities pursued by this group, and certainly would not condone them if discovered otherwise."
Cohen and Salem are not Buckhorn's only connections to Less Government Now.
Jonathan Brill, a Democratic political consultant who worked for Buckhorn's campaign, also has worked for Less Government Now.
During the mayor's campaign, Brill said his work for Less Government Now had nothing to do with the mayor's race, but was solely related to the 2010 elections.
Still murky is whether Less Government Now was also involved with an attack flier that stirred up controversy without ever being mailed to any voters.
The flier, which carried a return address for Less Government Now, questioned Ferlita's family values because she's single. It did not have a valid postage permit, but instead was e-mailed around in electronic form. It's not clear that its distribution ever went beyond a political blogger, a Ferlita campaign consultant and three or four reporters.
Less Government Now's treasurer, Tracy Cintron, said the group "had absolutely nothing to do" with the flier. Brill likewise said he had nothing to do with it.
And Buckhorn has said his campaign had nothing to do with it. He wondered aloud whether it was conjured as a "Trojan horse" to stir up outrage against him.