TAMPA — Should employees contribute to their boss' campaign — especially if the boss is running for supervisor of elections?
Candidate Rich Glorioso says no. His opponent Craig Latimer says it's fine.
They are competing for the job held by outgoing Hillsborough County elections supervisor Earl Lennard, who has an opinion, too.
"I have no reason to question the integrity of these employees," Lennard said in a letter Friday, "and further, let me assure you that the Supervisor of Elections office will absolutely conduct a free and fair election."
Lennard's response was sent to Glorioso, a Republican state representative who had raised the issue last week. Glorioso had written Lennard to question $7,550 in contributions from 12 elections employees or family members that went to Latimer, a Democrat who currently serves as Lennard's chief of staff.
"I'm not accusing anyone of anything," Glorioso said Friday. "There's a perception there that needs to be brought out."
That perception, he said, is that Latimer could have influenced them to donate or that the employees are currying favor in case he wins.
Glorioso said he would have rejected the contributions.
"I will not allow any employees to work on my campaign,'' he said. "I will not allow any employees to contribute to my campaign. I will not allow any vendors to contribute to my campaign."
The employees' contributions to Latimer range between $100 and $1,000. The $1,000 checks came from Christiana and Bruce Lanier, Andrew and Barbara Alexandre, Lyle Roberts and Margaret "Peg" Reese.
"The numbers are big," Glorioso said. "We're not talking about someone contributing $100. We're talking $1,000. That's a hefty contribution."
A request to the elections office to learn the specific staff positions of the donors was not returned Friday. Tim Bobanic was among Latimer's donors working in the elections office. He gave $500.
"As someone who works in the elections office I'm not going to give a comment one way or the other," he said.
Latimer said he had nothing to do with the contributions.
"I'm disappointed that Rich would even say something like that," he said. "I've received over 600 contributions in my campaign. I've certainly never solicited any contributions from any employees in here."
The Florida Election Code and county policy prohibits officers or employees from using their official authority to coerce or influence votes, Lennard said, and they can't push or urge people to give, either. But employees do have the right to contribute and participate — as long as they're off duty, Lennard said.
They cannot use county property to campaign.
Lennard said his employees were advised of the guidelines in memos sent to them in July 2011 and again in June and Oct. 10.
And it's the canvassing board and not employees, Lennard said, who are responsible for overseeing the election, processing ballots and tabulating results.
"The voters can absolutely feel confident that my staff and I are fully attuned to this election," he said.
Glorioso said he did not believe election results in his race could be in jeopardy because of the contributors inside the elections office.
"I think Earl Lennard is going to do his best to make sure this election is run right," he said.
But he said some safeguards should be considered in the future.
If elected, he said, he would try to put an additional barrier between the elections office and politicking by changing the office's election cycle to off-presidential years so that the supervisor of elections and staff can focus on running an election.
Justin George can be reached at email@example.com, (813) 226-3368 or Twitter @justingeorge.