PORT RICHEY — In last fall's whirlwind campaign leading to the special election for west Pasco's state House 36 seat, a mistake appeared on campaign ads for Democratic candidate Amanda Murphy.
The word "for" was left off door hangers, yard signs and other ads, so that they read "Amanda Murphy State Representative House District 36."
The omission triggered complaints by a Republican committeeman and a Democratic voter to elections watchdog the Florida Elections Commission.
Last month, the commission ruled that Murphy violated the state's election law pertaining to political ads. She was ordered to pay $200 and to review the law. The order called the infractions "a minor violation."
The complaints were filed by longtime Republican committeeman Bill Bunting and by Thomas D. Morrell, Jr., a registered Democrat who described himself as "more of an independent."
They argued the ads were presumptuous and that voters might get the wrong impression that Murphy, a financial adviser running to replace Mike Fasano, was the incumbent, which could sway how they voted. Murphy ran against Republican Bill Gunter, a Presbyterian minister.
"It was kind of misleading," Morrell said. "It almost seemed a little cocky. I don't know if it was a misstep on the part of her team, but for an average voter it was kind of confusing."
Bunting, who contacted the commission after getting a call about a Murphy door hanger ad, said he isn't so sure the violation was simply a lapse of judgment in the heat of a campaign.
"I look at it differently. She's a very well-educated lady and she slipped this one through," he said. "She should have known better."
Murphy, a first-time candidate, said her campaign staff was rushing to complete the elections material when the mistake happened. While she had approved the ads' initial designs, she never reviewed the final mock-ups.
"I do say everything that happened on the campaign I am responsible for," Murphy said. "Unfortunately, with the short time frame, I didn't have the time to read all of the material. It was such a quick race and I had to depend on other people. I assumed they knew the exact wording. The disclaimer had it (right)."
Murphy said she isn't sure how many of the errant door hangers and other ads were distributed, but guessed that about 1,200 went out, including 200 signs.
Brian Goff, Murphy's legislative assistant, said that the word "for" was pasted onto the remaining yard signs, which totaled about 800, after the mistake was discovered.
Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.