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Sink had electioneering committee set up while speaking of it as vague possibility

TALLAHASSEE — Earlier this month, Alex Sink was asked whether she would establish a controversial political committee to raised unlimited campaign cash.

"If my campaign decides to set up a 527 (committee), then the contributions will be fully transparent," she replied.

But her answer was less than transparent.

Two days earlier, state records show, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate signed a form to solicit contributions and manage a political electioneering committee called Hold Them Accountable Inc.

Did she misspeak? Forget? Or try to evade scrutiny?

The campaign won't answer questions about Sink's statement, nor disclose details about the role the committee will play in the governor's race.

"The campaign has followed the rules," said Sink spokeswoman Kyra Jennings on Thursday.

Sink's campaign attorney, Ron Meyer of Tallahassee, established the committee Aug. 16, two days after getting the first check, a $500 donation from Sink's finance chairman Richard Swann. A longtime Sink family friend, Liana Fox of Temple Terrace, is listed as the chairwoman.

The issue became political fodder when former independent gubernatorial candidate Bud Chiles endorsed Sink on Sept. 2.

Sink said she never discussed the issue with Chiles before the announcement, even though Chiles vilified the largely unregulated committees in his campaign.

Sink "tried to hide the existence of her 527 from the press and Bud Chiles," said Joe Kildea, a spokesman for her Republican rival, Rick Scott.

While the organizations are commonly called "527s," after a section of the federal tax code, candidates register such organizations with the state, referred to in Florida law as electioneering communication organizations.

Scott created a similar committee in June called Let's Get to Work. It paid for more than $10 million in television advertisements in the nasty battle with primary opponent Bill McCollum.

Scott's money — $12.6 million in total — came from an assortment of special interests but largely from his wife, Ann.

Sink's campaign wouldn't say whether she or her husband would put their own money into the committee. But the organization could be a vehicle allowing Sink to raise millions in contributions from the special interests she criticizes for influencing Tallahassee lawmaking.

"We're going to have the right resources to compete and win this election," Jennings said.

A separate pot of campaign cash is available to Sink — taxpayer money available through the public financing system. Her campaign is still weighing whether to accept the millions because it could become a political liability.

Sink could have received even more assistance after Scott broke the $24.9 million campaign spending limit. But Scott's campaign is asking a federal judge in Tallahassee to permanently block Sink from getting a dollar-for-dollar match on spending above the cap.

Scott is likely to prevail because a federal appellate court issued a temporary order in July to keep McCollum from getting the extra cash, saying it violated Scott's free speech rights.

Sink's campaign said it wouldn't challenge a permanent injunction against the so-called millionaires amendment.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Sink had electioneering committee set up while speaking of it as vague possibility 09/09/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 10, 2010 7:11am]
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