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State Senate candidate Tom Lee disgusted by opponent's possible link to attack ads

BRANDON — With the arrival of a second attack flier in a week aimed at state Senate candidate Tom Lee, his opponent continued to fend off accusations Friday of involvement with the group responsible.

"I'm moving forward," Rachel Burgin said. "The story was wrong to begin with. It is not factually accurate."

Despite being appalled at the possibility of Burgin's connection to the fliers, Lee said voters won't see a smear campaign from him.

Burgin is accused of directing donations to the American People Committee. The group was responsible for a flier mailed earlier this week that linked Lee with Hillsborough County property appraiser Rob Turner, the focus of a porn scandal.

A second flier received by voters Thursday in east Hillsborough's District 24 called Lee a "puppet" to political party bosses. It asked voters to tell Lee to "stop being a tool of the Tallahassee insiders."

A look at the committee reveals that a recent $10,000 contribution by lobbyist David Ramba may be what helped fund the mailers.

When asked about the donation, Ramba told the Miami Herald that Burgin told him where to direct the money, pointing to Jack Cory, a lobbyist connected to the American People Committee. Ramba said he was unaware of how the money would be used.

Burgin, who is a state representative in Riverview, denied accusations that she had any part in the attack. She told the Herald she identified three people to whom Ramba could choose to send his contribution. She said she knew nothing about the American People Committee.

Still, Lee sees a connection.

"When you hire a hit man, you're responsible for what happens next," he said Friday.

Lee, a former Senate president, said he has no plans to make any attacks of his own.

"When you have a record that you're proud of, you run on it," Lee said. "When you don't have a record you're proud of, the only real option is to run someone else down."

Burgin said she knew nothing about the fliers or their content. The story has been twisted, she said.

"People in Tallahassee have already chosen who they want to be senator," Burgin said. Already, she says, they've managed to embroil her in a controversy not of her making.

She plans to continue with her grass roots campaign, citing success in raising money through small donations.

One of Lee's leading supporters is Republican Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville, who is in line to become Senate president in November.

"With friends like those Rachel Burgin has, she doesn't need any enemies," Gaetz said. "I believe Rachel Burgin is a nice person. I think her handlers in Tallahassee — particularly her Democratic lobbyist handlers — have really messed up her campaign."

Lobbyists Cory and Keyna Cory, who gained prominence when Democrats were dominant in the Legislature in the 1980s and early 1990s, formed the American People Committee. Because the committee is not an electioneering organization but a CCE, or Committee of Continuous Existence, the Corys could face legal trouble for violating Florida election law with the mailers.

Lenny Curry, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, publicly denounced the attack ads earlier this week.

"When the gutter politics reaches such a level that the state chairman of the party issues a public rebuke against one of the campaigns, it's gone too far," Gaetz said.

Lee has racked up support from many top Republicans in the state, including Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and former House Speaker Allan Bense.

Burgin has garnered support from several House Republicans, but the bulk of her support is local, she said.

"We knocked on 500 doors today," Burgin said. "So (those in Tallahassee) can play games all they want, but I'm talking to voters and getting votes while they are trying to tie me to something that's not mine."

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2442.

State Senate candidate Tom Lee disgusted by opponent's possible link to attack ads 07/20/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 21, 2012 12:28am]

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