The most active mud-slinging committee in the Republican primary for East Hillsborough's vacant state House District 58 seat has reported to state officials that it didn't raise or spend any money before Sept. 30 — even though it sent out at least four mailers attacking Yvonne Fry before that date, according to voters who received them.
That means the committee, called Hillsborough County Conservatism Counts, is still keeping its funding sources secret, at least until its next reporting date in November.
Its negative campaign likely helped Lawrence McClure defeat Fry in the primary. McClure has denied any knowledge of the committee or its backing, but his campaign manager, Anthony Pedicini, hasn't.
The head of the committee, called Hillsborough County Conservatism Counts, is Ash Mason of Tampa, who's also state Christian Coalition chairman. He didn't respond to phone, text and email questions this week asking how the committee could have sent out mailers without paying for the design, printing and postage.
If a committee did send out mailers without reporting expenses, said elections law expert Mark Herron, "I don't see any way it can be legal. Once you incur an expense or authorize a piece to go out, that's when you're supposed to report it. The question is whether anybody does anything about it."
Under Florida law, falsely reporting campaign expenses is a misdemeanor.
Fry ran closer to McClure in early and absentee voting — some of which occurred before the negative campaign got underway — than on Election Day.
Fry did some negative mailers through her committee, which reported its funding sources, but much less than Mason's committee.
Pedicini has close ties to legislators in the Republican leadership, and McClure got substantial contributions to his campaign from committees and allies of some of those legislators.
Two commissioners feel pressure tactics
Two Hillsborough County commissioners got a taste of the for-profit education industry's lobbying pressure over a proposed rezoning for a K-8 charter school in a shopping center on Ehrlich Road at West Village Drive.
A Hollywood real estate developer that specializes in building charters, MG3 Developer Group, proposed the rezoning.
Nearby residents and the commissioners worried that parents picking up and dropping off the proposed 1,050 students in the already-congested intersection, along with traffic at other businesses in the shopping center, would create a nightmare.
Two former Miami Republican lawmakers who once backed legislation to benefit charters and now work in the industry pushed the proposal — former state Rep. Ralph Arza, now with the Florida Charter School Alliance, and Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, lawyer for MG3.
The campaign included mailers from the alliance and telephone canvassing suggesting that Hagan and Crist don't support school choice — not true, both commissioners said — and urging people to call them.
Arza also paid a lobbying visit to Crist, saying on the lobbyist registry the subject was "charter schools." Commissioners aren't allowed to discuss rezonings with lobbyists.
"It was nothing but intimidation," Crist said. "He was throwing his weight around Miami-style, saying I'd be voted out of office."
Crist said he has helped found charter schools and sponsored charter school legislation as a state senator.
Hagan said he strongly favors school choice and has spoken at several charter school openings. But he also has driven often around the Ehrlich site and seen its traffic problems, concluding that the developer's traffic plan had "significant deficiencies."
The commissioners unanimously denied the rezoning Tuesday on a motion by Hagan, seconded by Crist. Both are running for re-election.
Neither Arza nor MG3 representatives could be reached for comment.
Lee pulls in $253,250 in September
Cranking up his campaign for state chief financial officer, state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa raised $253,250 in his independent committee, The Conservative, during the month of September.
That gives Lee a total of just over $2 million.
Lee told reporters late in August he intends to seek the office despite likely opposition from Gov. Rick Scott. Scott appointed former state House member Jimmy Patronis to the post in June and has helped Patronis raise money.
Patronis hasn't said whether he intends to run to hold the post, but it seems likely he will. He's raised $222,750 for his two-month-old Treasure Florida committee.
Lee has not yet filed for the office.
Contact William March at [email protected]