TAMPA — The donation confused political novice Michael Weston. Placed through PayPal, it was for $1.
While Weston needed every dime for his Hillsborough County School Board campaign, he decided not to deposit it.
Terry Kemple, who was running for the same board seat, got $1 from the same source. He returned it.
The two contend it was a trick.
The $2 came from Robert Hornbeck, a Lutz retiree who calls himself incumbent Carol Kurdell's "unofficial campaign coordinator."
Both donations were placed within five days of the Aug. 14 primary, when candidates are prohibited from accepting money.
"He wanted me to accept it so they could file a campaign finance violation," said Weston, who finished third in the six-way primary.
Kemple, who came in second and now faces Kurdell in the Nov. 6 runoff, said he didn't put two and two together until he was perusing Kurdell's financial disclosure and saw reimbursements to Hornbeck.
This is what happened, Hornbeck explained: In reviewing the accounts for several new candidates, he suspected some were violating the five-day rule.
So he made the $1 donations to Weston and Kemple. "I was just testing the system," he said.
Ideally, he said, a candidate should disable online donations during the five-day period.
Hornbeck said he never intended to file an ethics complaint on Kurdell's behalf. "That's not the way she operates," he said. "That's not the way I operate."
Weston's campaign did send Hornbeck a sarcastic letter saying the candidate was grateful for his donation, which, if allowable, would have made all the difference in the world.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]