Who is mailing out fliers promoting Pinellas County School Board candidate Carol Cook? Not she.
No one knows who is mailing out fliers on Carol Cook's behalf -- or why. Not even the Pinellas County School Board District 5 candidate herself.
Large mailers promoting Cook, though very vague (They don't mention which race she's in.), non-specific to Pinellas (Who isn't for improving school safety?) and dated (There's a picture on the flier of the School Board with former board member Robin Wikle, who resigned in 2014.) wound up in mailboxes throughout Clearwater and Largo the day before the Aug. 30 primary election. But a closer look shows the fliers were neither approved nor paid for by Cook, but by a political action committee from Jupiter called Citizens First.
"I looked at it and said, 'Woah, look at this, I haven’t seen this before," said Cook, who says she's not affiliated with or had ever heard of Citizens First. "I didn’t give it any thought at all. It was someone supporting me, it will help with my election. It was 'Oh my goodness, look at this.' I had a million things on my mind.”
Kathy Dolbow, an accountant from Lake Worth who is listed as the chairperson of Citizens First, which formed in July, did not respond to specific questions about why her committee sent out fliers supporting Cook.
"Citizens First believes in defending the individual rights and freedoms guaranteed to all Americans by the United States Constitution," she wrote.
Citizens First has received thousands of dollars in contributions from conservative groups, as well as more than $26,000 from charter school companies related to Charter Schools USA, Academica and S.M.A.R.T. Management -- none of which manage any schools in Pinellas.
"It is surprising because I have not been, 'Yay, charter schools!'" Cook said. "We need more oversight. We need to make sure they’re treating public schools and traditional schools... in a like manner."
Cook personally received a $970 donation in July from Quality Charter School Solutions, a company connected to Ralph Arza, a former Florida lawmaker-turned charter school consultant.
"He’s not asking anything of me," Cook said. "It’s just that we’ve known each other for a while and he knows that i’m in a race for School Board."
What's more interesting is Citizens' First expenditures. The committee has given $325,000 to another political action committee in neighboring Viera called "Stop Career Politicians." Cook is seeking her fifth term on the School Board.
"It all depends on what their definition of career politicians are," Cook said. "I do not consider myself a career politician...If it was for that I’d be doing something that paid more.”
Cook said she would try to find out who -- or what cause -- is behind Citizens First, especially given their "contradictory stance."
"It would be interesting at this point to find that out," she said.