Sunday, December 17, 2017
Politics

DeWitt: So, finance reform is in your court, Schenck

Which version do you believe?

Which one of Rep. Rob Schenck's different statements about his cousin's duties do you think is true?

Answer that and you answer this: Did Schenck, a Spring Hill Republican, commit a civil violation of Florida election law?

In case you've forgotten last week's column on committees of continuous existence, or CCEs, Schenck controlled one called Conservatives for a Better Tomorrow — at least he did until January, when he took his name off it.

The second-largest recipient of Better Tomorrow funds was Schenck's cousin, Mike Schenck, and last month Mary Ellen Klas, of the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau, asked Rob Schenck about these payments.

He said the explanation was "very transparent," and by his close-mouthed standards it seemed to be just that:

"The (Republican Party of Florida) hires a grass roots sort of campaign guy for me every election, so I said, 'Okay, my cousin is going to school, would like to get some experience. I trust him anyway (to) knock on doors, that kind of thing.' For the first couple of months, I just paid him at a cheaper rate out of the CCE than the party paid," Rob Schenck said.

Sure enough, according to the state Division of Elections, the CCE paid Mike Schenck more than $12,000 early in the campaign — $10,850 of it for consulting — and the Republican Party later paid him $13,000.

So, other than the matter-of-fact description of raw nepotism, this explanation seems reasonable enough. It checked out. It is believable.

Which means Schenck's got an issue with election law.

One of the few firm rules covering CCEs is that their campaign donations are subject to the standard $500 cap.

Obviously, Mike Schenck's work was worth a lot more than that. And spending money to "put boots on the ground to work on a campaign" is the same as donating to it, said Tallahassee elections lawyer Mark Herron. "You can't go over $500."

The state Division of Elections and Elections Commission both confirmed this.

Which probably explains the emailed response I received (after a long delay) from Rob Schenck when I asked for more details about his cousin's work.

"I misspoke," he said. His cousin's "responsibilities in that capacity were limited to managing the CCE's resources."

I'm not sure what this means. I do know the committee paid somebody else for keeping the books, and that if there was other resource managing to do, Cousin Mike would have had to do a pile of it to earn his $12,000.

Yes, I said in last week's column that I didn't see that Schenck had broken any rules. Really, I just didn't have it nailed down. So, I guess you could say I misspoke, because now I do think he broke a rule.

Not that I expect him to be fined. The same rules are rigged so heavily in the lawmaker's favor, he probably won't even be investigated.

But it does show how sick the system is, how cynical House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, was to choose Schenck to introduce the campaign finance reform bill, HB 569, and how likely it is that this bill, recently signed into law, will turn out to be meaningless.

Last week I called it a joke. But I think I misspoke.

Because, really, it's not funny at all.

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