TALLAHASSEE — A Democratic candidate for attorney general is facing questions about whether his campaign skirted election laws to pay staffers.
A former fundraiser for Dave Aronberg received payments from the campaign and a little-known federal political committee called Citizens for Effective Government, according to campaign finance records.
Ryan Hampton, a South Florida-based money man, made more than $10,000 from Aronberg's campaign and $1,000 from the federal committee.
The committee — dubbed a 527 under IRS code — was closely tied to Aronberg, a state senator from Greenacres, before it closed shop in April amid questions.
Aronberg's chief consultant, Screven Watson, is listed as the founder, according to federal IRS documents. And Aronberg helped raise money for the committee, which paid three of his campaign staffers.
Florida law puts a bright line between federal 527 groups and a candidate's campaign. "Can (federal 527) money flow over to the campaigns? No," said Mark Herron, an election law expert.
The law prohibits these federal committees from making contributions in excess of $500 to a candidate. A staff salary is considered an in-kind contribution.
Hampton, the fundraiser, said he had done some work for the committee, but the $1,000 he got from it was for his work on Aronberg's election effort.
"It was my understanding the check was coming … for my work that was done with the Aronberg campaign," he said in an interview.
Watson, Aronberg's consultant, disputed Hampton, saying his statement was "just not accurate" and noted that Hampton once worked for Aronberg's 2010 primary opponent.
Two more Aronberg campaign staffers, Joe Perry and Lydia Brooks, also received money from both the campaign and the federal committee.
Watson, who works with political firm VancoreJones in Tallahassee, said he organized Citizens for Effective Government — which received big checks from special interests — to influence state legislative races, such as polling, independent advertising and other political activity.
The money Aronberg's staffers received from the 527 committee was payment for work they did for the committee, not for the campaign, he said.
Likewise, Aronberg said the federal group is not related to his campaign.
"There is no direct pipeline to the group. I didn't specifically raise money for the group," Aronberg said, though he acknowledged sending donors to the committee.
Perry, who raised money for the campaign and the committee, said that Aronberg helped get "a few checks" for the committee, which raised more than $230,000 and spent about $137,000.
Aaronberg faces a tight Democratic primary contest against state Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, who wasn't available for comment.
"This is really for Dave Aronberg to explain and it merits an explanation," said Gelber's campaign manager, Christian Ulvert.
John Frank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.