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Elections Commission investigates Tampa car dealer.

TAMPA — The Florida Elections Commission will investigate whether a Tampa car dealer violated campaign finance rules by reimbursing his employees for donations to a City Council race.

If the commission finds Jason Kuhn guilty, he could be required to pay fines of up to $1,000 per violation. It is likely to take months before the commission makes a determination.

The commission is acting in response to a complaint from a Tampa man who raised questions about Kuhn's fundraising for candidate Julie Brown in a 2007 race.

Kuhn said Thursday he had no comment on the matter.

Kuhn's employees at his Honda and Volkswagen dealership on Kennedy Boulevard told Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators that he asked them to donate to Brown's campaign for the Tampa City Council and later reimbursed them.

State law makes it a felony to give multiple campaign contributions through other people. Kuhn has said he wasn't aware of the law and gave the employees their money back after he learned the contributions might be illegal.

Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober decided in March not to file criminal charges, saying it did not appear Kuhn knowingly violated statutes. Prosecution requires a "willful" violation of the law, according to statutes.

Questions about the contributions emerged after a St. Petersburg Times analysis published in January 2007 revealed that Brown collected at least $20,000 from Kuhn, employees at his dealership and their relatives. Most gave the maximum allowable contribution of $500.

Incumbent John Dingfelder defeated Brown and a second challenger, Joseph Citro, in the March election.

Dingfelder supporter Richard Reavis filed a complaint against Kuhn with the Florida Elections Commission.

In a letter to Reavis dated May 27, Barbara M. Linthicum, executive director of the commission, says the complaint is "legally sufficient" and the commission would investigate.

After an investigation, the commission will schedule a hearing to determine whether there's probable cause that Kuhn broke the law. If probable cause is found, a second hearing will determine whether Kuhn is guilty and has to pay fines.

"I am so happy. Elated is probably a better word, that somebody is taking notice of this, other than the State Attorney's Office, who did nothing," Reavis said.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Elections Commission investigates Tampa car dealer. 05/29/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 4, 2008 4:34pm]
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