Paige Kreegel calls opponent to say Super PAC attack is coming, raising questions
“Yeah, Curt,” the voice message began, “Paige Kreegel.”
Kreegel was calling Curt Clawson. They are GOP opponents in the special election for Florida's 19th Congressional District.
“If you don’t already know, I just read or heard that the PAC people are going to spend so much negative on her and so much negative on you. It’s not something I wanted, and not something I can prevent. Anyway, that's the way it is.”
The message was left Friday. On Sunday a Super PAC began a negative TV ad against Clawson and another GOP candidate, Lizbeth Benacquisto, branding them “liberal.”
How did Kreegel know?
Though the Values are Vital PAC is pro-Kreegel, he is barred by law from coordinating with the group.
The questions surrounding his ties to the group add to a larger story of the murky walls between campaigns and a growing number of outside groups. Values are Vital is run by Anthony Farhat, a Kreegel friend who was involved in his 2012 campaign *. It is one of two Super PACs are playing in the race, the other apparently backing Benacquisto.
“I have not broken the law,” Kreegel said in an interview Saturday with the Tampa Bay Times. He said he learned about the negative ad through the FEC report that was filed on Friday. The report, which is public record, shows the committee also paid for mailers.
But two former campaign staffers say Kreegel discussed setting up an outside attack group in the 2012 race, which was won by now fomrer Rep. Trey Radel.
The aides say Kreegel’s refused to go negative on Radel in the GOP primary, just as he has done in this race. “But he wanted to do it through a third party. He wanted to set up a Super PAC to hit Radel,” said Matt Dobler, who managed the 2012 campaign.
“He several times tried to get me to set up an independent expenditure group,” said Jason Roe, who was a 2012 consultant. “I told him repeatedly that it would be illegal. That didn’t seem to phase him.”
Roe said the process got as far as Kreegel bringing in a young filmmaker. Dobler said Farhat was consulted. But the plan -- if there was one -- was never executed.
“You can discuss anything. The only thing you can’t discuss is the violent overthrow of the U.S. government," Kreegel said Saturday. "Everything else can be discussed. You can sit and discuss murder but if you don’t take any action, you’re cool.”
Reporter: But I’m asking if you discussed an outside group?
Kreegel: "I didn’t. They discussed every bizarre idea."
But you didn’t?
Kreegel, a doctor and former state legislator, noted that Roe is part of a lawsuit that says Kreegel failed to pay consultants more than $50,000 from the losing 2012 campaign. Kreegel also provided a profanity-laced email from Roe in which Roe says the race was being lost to Radel “because you have REFUSED my advice on going negative on Radel and then you bitch because he's competitive with you.” One idea was to go after Radel for his support for the Dream Act, which would provide legal status to children of illegal immigrants. “That polled off the charts,” Dobler said.
“He did not want to go negative,” Roe said on Saturday. “He wanted it to come from another source.”
The Values are Vital ad that began airing in the Fort Myers area on Sunday states that Benacquisto was once a Democrat and that Clawson made a political donation to a Democrat.
Kreegel called his former aides “clowns,” and suggested they had a grudge. As for his phone call Friday to Clawson, he said, “I think Curt’s a decent guy and I hate to see this crap go on."
* This blog has been updated to reflect that Farhat said his title in the 2012 campaign was not finance director. He was a unpaid finance chairman.