TAMPA — Earlier this month, developer Stephen Dibbs sought permission from Hillsborough County commissioners to build more homes than are currently allowed on land he owns near the Suncoast Parkway.
Midway through the meeting, commission Chairman Ken Hagan weathered a blistering critique from Kelly Cornelius, a Lithia resident who opposed the Dibbs plan. She told Hagan he had a conflict of interest, citing a 2007 St. Petersburg Times story that reported Dibbs had served on the host committee for one of his fundraisers.
Commissioners, including Hagan, eventually voted against Dibbs' proposal. But before casting his vote, Hagan told Cornelius that the article was wrong.
"Unfortunately you cannot believe everything you read in the papers and on the blogs," Hagan said. "Mr. Dibbs has never held a fundraiser for me."
The 2007 Times article didn't say Dibbs held a fundraiser, but that he was on a host committee raising money for one of his events.
And Dibbs' name was certainly among the 29 that a flier listed as being on the "host committee" for an Oct. 11, 2007, event for Hagan at the Emerald Greens Golf & Country Club in Carrollwood.
If someone is on a fundraiser's host committee, does that mean they're helping to hold the actual fundraiser?
"It would seem so," said fellow Republican Commissioner Mark Sharpe. "If a name appears on a host committee for my fundraisers, then that means they helped organize it."
Yet when contacted by PolitiFact, Hagan said Dibbs had nothing to do with this 2007 fundraiser.
"Less than zero," is how Hagan puts it.
So why did his name appear on the flier?
Hagan called it political convention to have names that have nothing to do with a fundraiser listed on a "host committee."
"It is not uncommon for area community people to lend their name to a host committee, but ultimately not attend the event or contribute," he said.
Two political strategists, April Schiff, a Republican consultant, and Mitch Kates, a Democratic consultant, said it would be unusual for host committee members to be that disconnected from the event.
"Typically, in a fundraiser, your host committee is the host," said Schiff, whose previous clients include Sen. Mel Martinez, Hillsborough Tax Collector Doug Belden, and County Commissioner Rose Ferlita. "They invite their friends, they insist on paying for the fundraiser."
"Often times, to be on the host committee, you have to contribute a set amount," said Kates, who has worked on campaigns for commissioner Kevin Beckner and Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern. "For most host committees, what you do is call your friends and ask them to attend or contribute."
Hagan said he didn't approve Dibbs to be on his host committee. Dibbs didn't return phone calls.
"Ask Hung Mai," Hagan said. Mai is a planning commissioner and an engineer who has frequently worked for Dibbs. He was in charge of the event.
Mai said he doesn't recall who put the host committee together, but he said its members probably played a role in the event.
"They publicize it," he said.
Hagan was combative when asked questions about Dibbs, pointing out several times that the developer has contributed to his campaigns only once: $100 and in 2004.
Yet Dibbs was joined on the host committee by at least six people who have worked for him. Hagan said he didn't know those people had worked for Dibbs, and that most of them worked for so many other developers that they shouldn't be linked to Dibbs.
Even if true, those explanations don't deal directly with the statement Hagan is contesting, which says, "Mr. Dibbs has never held a fundraiser for me."
Webster's New World Dictionary defines the word hold, in this context, to mean "to call together or preside over" as in, "to hold a meeting."
Though it seems unlikely Dibbs had nothing to do with the fundraiser, technically speaking, he did not "call together or preside over" the fundraiser.
For that reason, we find Hagan's claim to be half true.
"Mr. Dibbs has never held a fundraiser for me."
Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan, left, on April 2, 2009.
Stephen Dibbs and six associates were on a host committee for a 2007 fundraiser for Hagan. While Hagan said Dibbs "did not contribute, attend or play any role with organizing this event," politicos say that would be unusual for host committee members.