In Florida House District 45 race, flier recycles old tactic

Back in 2007, a political group called the Committee to Protect Florida hammered a state Senate candidate named Richard Corcoran.

In its arsenal was a mailer that accused Corcoran of making false allegations about an opponent in a previous race. The mailer showed an image of a flashing police beacon along with a warning: "BEWARE! Richard Corcoran is back in the area looking to buy a seat in the Senate."

Corcoran dropped out of the race, citing the negative campaign. Now, as he runs for the state House District 45 seat, the Committee to Protect Florida has returned — and paid for a familiar flier that just hit mailboxes in Pasco and Pinellas counties.

The flashing police beacon is back. So is the same shadowy font, even some of the same wording.

But the target this time around? Not Corcoran, but his opponents.

"BEWARE! Fabian Calvo and Kathryn Starkey are making false campaign claims and trying to reinvent themselves as lifelong conservatives to win a seat in the State House."

The piece says Calvo and Starkey are "waging desperate and negative attacks against Richard Corcoran based on distortions and lies."

The Committee to Protect Florida, a political organization labeled a 527 under the federal tax code, is led by veteran Republican political operative Roger "Rocky" Pennington of Southern Campaign Resources.

Back in 2007, Pennington worked for Charlie Dean, one of Corcoran's Republican primary opponents for the state Senate seat.

But in the topsy-turvy world of politics, Pennington is now a paid consultant on the Corcoran campaign.

Corcoran, a former chief of staff to Marco Rubio, is running against Starkey and Calvo in next month's Republican primary for the House 45 seat, which represents parts of Pasco and Pinellas counties. That primary is closed due to a write-in candidate.

It's unclear why Pennington decided to recycle the political ad format given that his new client was his old target. He did not return a phone message left Friday.

Corcoran said he didn't have a problem with the recycled political ad but was quick to say he didn't pay for it and that he didn't approve its design before it hit the streets.

He said he hired Pennington, knowing from his own experience the kind of work that he'd do.

"Anyone who knows Rocky knows he's not afraid to stand up for what he believes," he said.

About the allegations

Corcoran said the 2007 ad about him that Pennington's group put together was misleading and inaccurate, but he chalked that up to politics: "That's Rocky being Rocky," he said.

He said that the new mailer, however, is trying to set the record straight on allegations his opponents have made about him in printed materials and in conversations with voters.

Those allegations — marked with a "FALSE!" stamp on the mailer — say Corcoran is a career bureaucrat, raised taxes, misspent donor money and got fired by Marco Rubio.

"Fabian Calvo and Kathryn Starkey have had the truth catch up with them," Corcoran said.

Calvo acknowledged Friday that he has indeed accused Corcoran of raising taxes, being a "career bureaucrat" and misspending donor money on himself.

"Unfortunately for him," said Calvo, "those are all footnoted."

Corcoran has never held elected office, so how could he have raised taxes?

Calvo has put out a flier of his own, blaming Corcoran for his role on the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, accusing him of gutting a tax-cutting plan.

The commission tried to put a tax-cut plan on the 2008 ballot and got slapped by the Florida Supreme Court. The panel considered a more lenient version but finally gave up.

Calvo's flier also accuses Corcoran, who was issued a GOP credit card after he took a job as the point man for House races in late 2004, of misspending money on personal expenses. Corcoran has said he reimbursed the party the times he used the card for a haircut and a canceled family trip to Spain. (Calvo's flier also incorrectly labels two other credit card expenditures as Corcoran's personal expenses.)

Starkey said Friday that she hasn't said anything negative about Corcoran on the campaign trail.

"I was amazed because I've done no negative advertising," she said. "I'm just focused on all the positive things I've done in the community."

Corcoran said it's gotten back to him that Starkey has told people that Rubio fired him as chief of staff.

Corcoran said he resigned as Rubio's top aide so that he could run for the state Senate seat. Rubio has endorsed Corcoran in the House 45 race.

"I have no idea about Richard's employment situation. Someone told me they thought he was (fired), but I didn't pay any attention to it," Starkey said. Asked if she had repeated it, she said, "No, not that I can recall."

Starkey said, however, she wasn't surprised to see the mailer.

"I have heard this is what he does in his campaigns," she said. "I've been told to expect an onslaught of negative campaigning."

Fasano connection

State Sen. Mike Fasano, the New Port Richey Republican who counts Corcoran as a close friend, said the mailer was necessary because "in this particular race there's information going (out) about Richard Corcoran that is not truthful."

Pennington's Committee to Protect Florida can thank Fasano for an influx of cash last month: Fasano's Floridians for Principled Government gave $50,000 to the group.

Fasano said he had no idea whether some of that money went to finance the new mailer in the House 45 race. "We certainly encourage them to spend it on conservative candidates," he said.

No doubt the race will start making more tough turns as the primary approaches. On Friday morning, Calvo sent out an e-mail calling the mailer "sleazy" politics.

By Friday afternoon, Fasano called to say his mother and an acquaintance had just gotten automated calls from the Calvo campaign. The message attacked Corcoran.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

In Florida House District 45 race, flier recycles old tactic 07/03/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 5, 2010 10:51pm]

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