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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

First came severance and donations, now Sam Rashid writing letters that could help Josh Burgin

28

July

Hillsborough County Commission hopeful Josh Burgin may not need many campaign contributors. He's got Sam Rashid.

First, Rashid gave Burgin $30,000 in severance when Burgin left his employment as technology manager at Holtec USA and promptly announced his candidacy. Burgin plunked much of the money into his upstart campaign.

Then Rashid contributed another $2,500 directly to Burgin's campaign, with a personal contribution and through his businesses, making him one of the most generous contributors to Burgin's campaign so far.

Now Rashid has mailed a letter to frequent Republican voters that, while not touting Burgin's candidacy, blasts his primary opponent, incumbent Mark Sharpe. 

The flier specifically hits Sharpe for his support of a proposed 1-cent sales tax to pay for a new rail system, expanded bus service and road building -- the main focus of Burgin's campaign. In the flier, Rashid proudly wears the label of special interest -- his special interest being that of small business owners who he says will be harmed by the tax.

Burgin says he knew nothing of the flier before it arrived in his own mailbox, though he welcomes the message.

"Sam and I share the same values on this tax question," Burgin said. "People want to paint us as being in the same corner. Anyone who wants to join us in that corner is welcome to."

There doesn't appear to be anything wrong with the fliers at first blush. State law generally requires people or groups campaigning on behalf of a candidate for office to disclose themselves and how much they are spending to sway voters minds. But state and federal law gives people strong First Amendment protections to weigh in on issues without the same disclosure requirements, so long as they don't link their argument with a direct appeal to vote for or against the issue or candidate for office.

There is no appeal in Rashid's letter to vote for Burgin or against Sharpe.

Burgin has taken pains to say that Rashid, a longtime activist in political circles who regularly contributes to conservative campaigns, did not put him up to run against Sharpe. He decided on his own and informed Rashid afterward, he said.

At least one conservative blogger, Republican Chris Ingram, is taking Burgin to task, depicting him as "Sam's Boy" in a recent post on IrreverentView.com. Ingram says he is supporting Sharpe, has contributed to his campaign but is not directly assisting him.

"He is, in effect, his puppeteer and Josh is his boy," Ingram said in an interview. "I don't think anyone likes the perception that one individual is the mastermind or money man behind your campaign."

Rashid estimated he mailed out about 15,000 of the fliers at a cost of between $8,000 and $9,000. He said he's simply exercising his right to free speech, and is fortunate enough to have the money to do the mailer, saying he plans to do more.

He said he believes part of the attack on him for actively engaging in political campaigns is racially motivated. He noted that Ingram referred to him in an earlier blog post by his birth name, Samad, in an effort to draw attention to his Pakistani heritage and discredit his message. See his response to that post here.

He said he can't control how people react to his support of Burgin or his opposition to the sales tax, which is on the November ballot.

"My name is going to be associated to this campaign whether I want it to or not," Rashid said. "If I'm going to be attached to the race, I may as well make my intentions as clear as can be and let people make up their minds any way they want."

Bill Varian, Times staff writer

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[Last modified: Thursday, September 16, 2010 3:41pm]

    

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