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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

If anyone still cares, elections commission clears Scott Wagman

8

December

Wagman mug ST. PETERSBURG -- The Florida Elections Commission has decided that former mayoral candidate Scott Wagman should not be charged with violating the state's election laws.

Wagman's actions were not "willful," according to the commission, which also called for the Legislature to take another look at whether those laws need to be updated to better account for online campaigning.

"That was exactly the reason why we challenged it," Wagman said. "Clearly we were not willfully violating any rules. The state of Florida, at this point, has very incomplete and vague rules.

"We thought we were in the right."

During the mayoral primary, Googling the name of a mayoral candidate would produce an online ad for Wagman.

Peter Schorsch, a local blogger and former campaign manager for former mayoral candidate Jamie Bennett, filed the complaint against Wagman in July. The complaint said Wagman's online advertisements should have had a disclaimer identifying them as paid political advertisements.

But Wagman countered that those ads don't have enough room for a disclaimer, but the campaign Web site they led to did have the disclaimer. Federal law does not require disclaimers, and that's the law Wagman said he followed because state law was too vague.

The commission agreed.

"Due to various technological advances and the increased use of electronic advertising in political campaigns," according to the FEC, "it is staff's opinion that the Legislature should address this issue prior to charging a candidate with a willful violation ..."

Schorsch said the commission opened the door "for anybody during the next election season to do whatever they want online. To me, the worst-case scenario is, what if Scott Wagman had been running negative ads? (That) is the next logical step. People are going to want to know who paid for them."

Wagman finished fourth in the September mayoral primary, with 15.2 percent of the vote. A real estate investor who had already put $170,000 of his own money into the race, he risked tens of thousands more in fines by fighting the election complaint.

To read the FEC's filing, click here.

Jamal Thalji, Times Staff Writer

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[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 12:20pm]

    

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