Thursday, November 23, 2017
Politics

Emails undermine Hillsborough elections chief on donations

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TAMPA — Craig Latimer denied asking co-workers for campaign donations last year when he was running to be Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections while serving as that office's chief of staff.

But documents from Latimer's campaign obtained this week by the Tampa Bay Times call that assertion into question.

In one, Latimer's campaign coordinator — also a manager in the office — encourages a half dozen campaign volunteers from the agency's top staff to donate the $500 maximum contribution. Latimer followed up that memo with an email encouraging the same employees to hit up 10 friends for campaign money.

"To date no one has supplied any names and addresses," Latimer, a Democrat, writes in the October 2011 email, the sentence underlined, the letters in bold. "It is important that we raise money to get our message out ... You are not going to offend your friends, just encourage them to donate to your future."

Latimer won the race by a comfortable margin.

Rich Glorioso, his Republican opponent who had raised questions about how much Latimer was raising from employees in the office, chuckled when he heard the wording of the email.

He had suggested during the campaign that Latimer had solicited employees and that they were currying favor with him.

"What that email says is, your well-being depends on you supporting me," Glorioso said. "And that's wrong."

Latimer, 60, a former Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office major, said Wednesday that there was no blanket request for donations from office employees. He said the requests were made of employees who early in the campaign had volunteered to take part.

They had discussed a grass-roots strategy of reaching out to friends for support. His email was simply meant to underscore that approach, he said.

"Some of them gave, some of them didn't," Latimer said of the direct donations. "There were no expectations placed on any of them."

When questioned by the Times about the donations in October, before the election, Latimer said he hadn't solicited employees at all. He said he was disappointed in Glorioso for suggesting on the stump that he had.

"I've certainly never solicited any contributions from any employees in here," Latimer said then.

A Sept. 25, 2011, memo from Peg Reese, his current chief of staff and campaign coordinator, did. The note, which was a campaign update, listed several action items and was directed to six high-level elections office employees identified as the "campaign core team members."

"If you have not made the maximum contribution yet ($500 per individual), please consider making a contribution before the end of Q1 so we can achieve our goal," it read in bold. "You can donate monthly to reach the maximum."

Latimer piggybacked off the update with his request for friends' names, sent to the same employees.

"Several of you have made generous contributions to the campaign and that has been much appreciated," he wrote. "Now you can help more."

Along with Reese, the core campaign group included two other people Latimer's website lists as part of his key staff: Lyle Roberts, director of operations, and Andrew Alexandre, director of financial operations.

The others listed were employees Gary Alexander, Tim Bobanic, Christina Lanier and Travis Abercrombie.

Of the seven, six would give.

Together, they and their family members would donate $7,800 of the $125,800 Latimer ultimately raised during the campaign.

Latimer came on as the office's chief of staff in 2009 with the election of the Phyllis Busansky. Her successor, Earl Lennard, retained him in that role before announcing his retirement, clearing the way for Latimer to run.

Reese said the team worked after business hours to promote their boss because they believed in the job he has done.

"People were welcome to participate," she said. "There was no expectation or requirement that they do so."

Roberts said that depiction matches his recollection of how Reese framed any discussion of campaign contributions. Like her, he said he supported Latimer because he thought he was the best candidate.

Abercrombie, until recently the office spokesman, was the only one listed on the core campaign group who did not contribute to his boss' campaign. He was recently demoted from the post to a lower-paying job involving education, recruitment and training.

"As a spokesperson for the elections office, it was my responsibility to remain neutral and nonpartisan when dealing with the candidates and committees and any of their representatives," he said. "So it was important to me to remain completely neutral through the entire elections process."

He declined further comment.

Attempts to reach the other campaign team members were unsuccessful.

In fielding questions about the intra-office donations for the original Times story, Lennard, the former elections supervisor, underscored that state law allows public employees to participate in and donate to election campaigns. That's true so long as their campaigning is done on their own time, off government property and is not coerced, he said.

"I don't think I coerced anybody or forced them or pressured them," Latimer said. "They had free will as to whether they wanted to give a contribution or not."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

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