Election complaint filed against Elliott Stern
An election complaint has been filed against Elliott Stern, a candidate in District 1 for the Pinellas County School Board, and Florida First, a Bradenton-based electioneering committee.
The complaint, submitted by Jasmina Forcan of Clearwater, says that Stern's treasurer and sister-in-law, Jean Giles Wittner, donated $20,000 to Florida First in June. Florida First put out a political flier about Stern that Forcan believes crosses the line into "expressly advocating" for a candidate.
Candidates in Florida can't receive more than $500 from each donor in a primary and a general election. But electioneering groups can raise and spend as much as they want, so long as they don't advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate. In this case, a flier mailed by Florida First about Stern has a small picture in the corner of one page with a campaign sign visible. It also includes his campaign website, www.estern2012.com. The main text of the flier says "Call Elliott Stern and thank him for his bold school-to-work plan."
Forcan declined comment about her complaint. Stern said Thursday that he didn't have any involvement with the Florida First material.
"Candidates are not supposed to have anything to do with PACS and I don't," he said.
In an email, Wittner said her contribution was made "without any promise or commitment or strings attached from them that any of those dollars would be spent in behalf of Elliott Stern. I do not know all of the regulations of PAC contributions, although I’ve been giving to PACs for many years, but I do know that once the check is transmitted, control is lost by the contributor. I have been assured that my contribution to Florida First is valid and legal."
Also noted in the complaint is that Stern receives some income from Wittner Companies. He said the company, which is owned by his treasurer, is a real estate and development company. It owns two buildings and some land, he said. He has done some consulting work for them.
Complaints to the Florida Elections Commission in Tallahassee are confidential until an investigation has been completed. Here's more information about how complaints are handled. (The person making the complaint isn't bound by confidentiality, by the way, so they can make the complaint public.)
Stern is running in District 1 against Jim Jackson, a retired college professor, incumbent Janet Clark, and Shelly Ladd-Gilbert, a business owner.