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Buddy Johnson faces ethics complaint

TAMPA — A Clearwater man has filed an ethics complaint against former Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson, charging him with double-dipping and using federal tax money to boost his political fortunes.

David Plyer is a retired electrical engineer who in December filed another complaint against former state House Speaker Ray Sansom. He filed the Johnson complaint last week.

The Florida Commission on Ethics notified Plyer and Johnson on Thursday that it was processing the complaint.

Plyer says in the complaint that Johnson double-billed taxpayers and steered federal grant money into his re-election campaign.

Plyer based the complaint on St. Petersburg Times articles that ran last month. A Jan. 24 story reported that Johnson sought mileage reimbursements, paid for with taxpayer dollars, for at least 1,400 miles that he was not eligible for because he was out of town at the time.

A Jan. 23 story reported that Johnson outspent other counties on voter education paid for by grant money, featuring his own name and image in advertising about the new paper ballot voting system at a time when he was actively running against Busansky. This has raised questions about whether the election office's efforts blurred the lines between public service and politicking.

The complaint means more scrutiny for Johnson, who was appointed supervisor in 2003 by then-Gov. Jeb Bush. Johnson won the office outright in an election the next year, but lost re-election in November to Phyllis Busansky.

Secretary of State Kurt Browning has said he would investigate if an upcoming audit reveals Johnson misspent federal get-out-the-vote money.

On Wednesday, county commissioners voted unanimously to seek a law enforcement investigation of Johnson after an audit concluded that he violated Florida law by overspending his office budget by nearly $1 million last year — which is on top of the $2.2 million owed to the company that provides computer equipment to the county.

Johnson said on Thursday that he sought a job from this company, a move Busansky called a unacceptable.

In the complaint, Plyer cites a Florida Statute, Section 112.313 that "no public officer … shall corruptly use or attempt to use his or her official position or any property or resource which may be within his or her trust."

If the Ethics Commission finds a violation, it can recommend a fine. Johnson declined to comment.

Times staff writer Jessica Vander Velde contributed to this story. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at mvansickler@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3402.

Buddy Johnson faces ethics complaint 02/06/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 6, 2009 11:44pm]
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