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Michelle Patty: I didn't misuse voter education money for Buddy Johnson

Michelle Patty, hired to educate black voters, says she praised Buddy Johnson and panned his opponent, but says that was her right. 

SKIP O\u2019ROURKE | Times (2005)

Michelle Patty, hired to educate black voters, says she praised Buddy Johnson and panned his opponent, but says that was her right. 

TAMPA — Community activist Michelle B. Patty said Friday she has been interviewed by the FBI about elections office spending under former supervisor Buddy Johnson.

Patty, who was paid $16,000 in taxpayer money by the elections office to assist in voter education in the black community, said she has hired an attorney and turned over documents to investigators. She declined to name the lawyer and insists she has done nothing wrong.

"The only thing I may have done incorrectly was not get paid enough money because we physically worked our butts off," she said. "But I would do it again because I was very proud of the turnout in the African-American community."

Johnson's office spent more than $2.3 million in federal grant money for voter education, but almost everything purchased prominently featured Johnson's name or image at a time when he was running for re-election.

Federal law specifies that the money available through the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) can't be used for campaigns.

Johnson used some of the HAVA money to pay Patty.

The St. Petersburg Times has previously reported that Patty and Jarvis Al-Amin, who was hired as a consultant by Johnson's political campaign, paid $100 each to 12 people to stump for Johnson on Election Day at polling places, according to campaign worker Towanda Speights.

Patty said she did pay Speights $100, but the money didn't come from the elections office.

It came from a third party she declined to name who didn't like Phyllis Busansky, a Democrat who defeated Johnson, a Republican, in the November election.

"There's quite a few people in this community that were very upset that Phyllis Busansky ran on a Democratic ticket but would not publicly endorse Barack Obama," Patty said.

She said the person who supplied the money also is working with the FBI and ultimately will be identified.

"We have nothing to hide," Patty said.

If that individual's name does not appear on Johnson's campaign finance reports, that would be a violation of Florida campaign law by Johnson.

Meanwhile, WTMP this week canceled a Sunday morning show Patty hosted on the station. Patty said she lost her program after repeatedly speaking on-air about newspaper reports detailing her work for Johnson's office.

"On that show I was able to defend myself against the articles that were in the paper," she said. "That didn't go over well with management."

WTMP station manager Jim Kozlowski would not comment for this story.

Patty is calling for a boycott of the station and has scheduled a protest in front of WTMP, located on N Howard Avenue, for this morning

Patty said she paid $300 a week for the 45-minute program that she used to promote her medical referral business and activities in the black community, such as a gospel play and the Middleton High School band.

"I pay for that show and they run a disclaimer front and back and I have not violated any FCC rules," she said. "I don't know why I can't respond to what's been written about me."

The FBI launched an investigation of Johnson's office in February after an audit by Ernst and Young showed Johnson had illegally overspent his budget by $940,000.

Federal agents obtained papers from the auditors as well as Schifino Lee, an advertising agency paid about $640,000 by Johnson to help with voter education efforts.

Agents also interviewed Herold Lord, a Johnson staffer who helped coordinate the African-American voter outreach program.

Patty said she never used taxpayer money to campaign for Johnson. But she said she did praise him for hiring a black woman as his chief of staff and creating an African-American advisory committee. Patty said she also publicly criticized Busansky for not endorsing Obama for president.

"What I did on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday when I was not working for the supervisor of elections was my God-given right as a human being," she said.

Patty said she did not have a written contract with Johnson that specified her duties.

"But I had common sense," she said.

Patty said that also was the case when she organized public events in the African-American community for Johnson's office. Patty said she never invited any candidates to those events.

She said she did, though, have Johnson, who at the time was the county elections chief, appear to answer questions about the voting process.

"He was the head man in charge," she said. "You still have a job to perform even if you are a candidate."

Staff writer Jeff Testerman contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Michelle Patty: I didn't misuse voter education money for Buddy Johnson 05/08/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 8, 2009 11:18pm]
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