The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Bill Helmich: The man behind the Farrakhan flier?

27

August

A new shadowy campaign figure has emerged in the bareknuckle brawl that is Jacksonville's Republican senate race: Bill Helmich.

Two trusted sources say the lobbyist/consultant/direct-mail guru was the one responsible for establishing a 527 called the "Conservative Voters Coalition," which produced a flier warning Republican voters about the threat of Democrats intimidating them at the polls. The flier depicts President Obama, Louis Farrakhan (mistaken by some as Jeremiah Wright), Black Panthers and ACORN protesters. It warns Republicans to request absentee ballots to avoid problems on Election Day, Sept. 15, when absolutely no protesters are anticipated to be anywhere near the polls.

Helmich didn't want to comment, but acknowledged (after we ambushed him) that he knew the woman who's the front for the group, Erin Di Cesare, a former FSU student who has no other known political background. She didn't return a Herald/Times call to her personal cell phone.

"Yeah, I know her," Helmich said. "But I'm not commenting on whether she's a client. I don't comment about clients. I don't comment on who's not a client."

Helmich knew of her through a mutual acquaintance, according to sources. Though Di Cesare's a registered Democrat, it appears she's a mole of sorts. "She's a Republican," the acquaintance said. The lawyer who set up the Coalition, David Ramba, said he couldn't comment on who was really behind Di Cesare.

At first blush, the flier would seem to attack Jacksonville City Councilman Art Graham, the only black man in the four-way Republican race. But that doesn't make sense. Polls show he's running fourth and he's therefore no threat worth spending money on. (Another oddity: the flier pulls a punch by blocking out the words "Allah" on the podium where Farrakahn stands).

LouisAnyway, businessman Dan Quiggle's likely in the lead in the polls, former House Speaker and (now former) lobbyist John Thrasher is second and former Rep. Stan Jordan is third.

Jordan's and Thrasher's camps vehemently deny involvement. But the conventional wisdom is that their supporters would gain the most from the flier. Here's the logic: An experienced, well-funded Tallahassee hand would have the campaign know-how to use absentee ballot requests to saturate likely voters with direct mail. Another wrinkle: the Coalition once appeared linked (via the same text-message alert number in an ad) to Thrasher-bashing Stop Tax Waste, another shadow group. But who knows? It's all so shadowy. -- Marc Caputo

ConsVoteCoal_FRONT

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 3:15pm]

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