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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Ron Saunders hit with 'double dip' ethics, elections and rules complaints



A self-described Tea Party activist, James K. Barnes, has filed two ethics complaints and a House rules complaint against House Democratic leader Ron Saunders of Key West. The complaints allege that Saunders bought gas with his campaign account's debit card, only to bill taxpayers for mileage through his district account as a state representative, and that he failed to comply with recordkeeping rules with the division of elections.

Saunders acknowledged that he made a mistake in 2007 because he used the campaign debit card while traveling to and from Tallahassee. He remedied the situation by reimbursing his campaign account from his private funds. Total refund: $717.56 on Oct. 29, 2008. Saunders said former House counsel Jeremiah Hawkes advised him to make the refund.

But the complaints also allege that Saunders claimed $80 per diem as a lawmaker on days that his campaign reports appeared to show he was campaigning.

“It must be determined if Representative Saunders, on this and other occasions, claimed per diem for days he was not traveling on State business, or whether he claimed reimbursement from the State for mileage and also sought reimbursement for the same expenses from his campaign funds," Barnes' complaint says.

Saunders said he'd have to look at the records and the complaints before commenting in depth. He  blamed Republicans for his predicament, saying it "this just so happens to come a day after (Republican Rep.) Dean Cannon holds a fundraiser for my opponent. What a coincidence."

Despite the wealth of issues raised, Barnes actually pulls his punches. For instance, he doesn't note that during one stretch where Saunders is supposed to be in Tallahassee from Sept. 27-29, 2007, he also claims a gas expense in Key Largo on Sept. 27, 2007. That's darn near impossible.

One complaint seems wrong: The accusation that Saunders unlawfully raised money after his opponent, Ernie Hernandez, withdrew on Sept. 15, 2008. Under statute, Saunders had 12 days to continue raising money, and he did continue to raise money for seven days afterward. But it does seem that Saunders' elections reports were sloppy, listing items like donations (such as to the Florida Democratic Party) when instead they were expenditures for what he now says were dinners, which should not be listed as donations.

Download Ethics_complaint1

Download Election_complaint2

Download House_complaint

-- Marc Caputo


[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 12:24pm]


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