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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Senator Siplin agrees to $3,000 fine for elections violations

State Sen. Gary Siplin has agreed to a $3,000 fine stemming from violations during his 2008 re-election campaign, the News Service of Florida reported today. The Florida Elections Commission is expected to finalize the settlement in August. Siplin is accused of leaving out information on campaign-finance reports and accepting an illegal campaign contribution from a phosphate-industry group.

It has been a rough week for the Orlando Democrat, known for breaking with his party on crucial votes and currying favor with Republicans for pet projects.

The Florida Times-Union published a report Sunday accusing Siplin and fellow Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, of using a shadow program at Florida A&M University to pass through funds to non-profits the senators are affiliated with. Senate leaders said they were aware of the program, but the matter still raised questions about the two senators' ability to influence the budget process.

The elections complaint against Siplin says he violated the law by failing to list the names and addresses of poll workers who were paid using campaign funds and that he received two $500 contributions from Florida Phosphate CCE before the primary, violating the $500 limit.

Siplin is barred from running for re-election because of term limits. His wife, Victoria, is currently campaigning for his Senate seat.

Here is the News Service's full report:

By JIM SAUNDERS
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Elections Commission in August likely will consider a settlement that would lead to Sen. Gary Siplin paying a $3,000 fine because of missing information on campaign-finance reports and an excessive contribution from a phosphate-industry group.

The case, which stems from Siplin's 2008 re-election campaign, had been scheduled to go before an administrative law judge June 7. But attorneys filed a document this week requesting that the case be sent back to the elections commission because a settlement had been reached.

Siplin's finance reports did not fully detail the names and addresses of poll workers who received payments from his campaign, the settlement says. Such information is required by law.

"Respondent (Siplin) delegated these responsibilities to campaign staff, and he believed that all reports included all information required by law,'' the settlement says. "However, respondent acknowledges that he is ultimately responsible for all information contained in his campaign reports."

The Orlando Democrat also received two $500 contributions before the 2008 primary election from Florida Phosphate CCE, a political committee funded by a wide range of businesses involved in the phosphate industry. Under state law, Siplin could only receive $500 from the group before the primary.

Siplin asked last year that the case go before an administrative law judge after the elections commission found probable cause that he had committed violations. Siplin's attorney, Mark Herron, said the decision to settle the case instead of going through an administrative hearing would save legal fees.

Herron, who has represented numerous politicians in ethics and elections-law cases, described the violations as "bookkeeping errors."

"These are basically reporting violations that we're talking about here,'' Herron said.

Siplin, an attorney who was elected to the Senate in 2002 after serving two years in the House, has faced a string of legal and ethical questions in recent years. The Florida Times-Union, for example, reported last weekend that Siplin and Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, have used Florida A&M University to funnel millions of tax dollars to two non-profit organizations with close ties to the lawmakers.

Siplin will be forced to leave office this fall because of term limits, but his wife, Victoria, is running to try to succeed him. Both Siplins had been scheduled for depositions May 18 in the elections-commission case, but those depositions were not held. Siplin agreed to the settlement May 4, according to a copy provided by Herron.

In finding probable cause last year, the elections commission said Siplin's reports included three expenditures, totaling $13,000, to Bank of America that were listed as being for "money orders for poll workers." But it said the information did not include the full names and addresses of the poll workers.

A commission staff recommendation said Siplin's campaign treasurer indicated poll workers were paid with money orders because the Florida Democratic Party did not pay them and the campaign did not have enough checks.

[Last modified: Friday, May 25, 2012 3:27pm]

    

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