A vicious attack flier. Secret money. A lawmaker indirectly steering cash from one lobbyist to another. Oh, and a dose of porn and infidelity.
Tampa's Tom Lee-Rachel Burgin Republican state Senate race is as Tallahassee as it gets.
It blew up this week when a group called the American People Committee sent a potentially unlawful attack flier bashing Lee, a former Senate president, by linking him to Hillsborough County's porn-vexed Property Appraiser Rob Turner.
Florida Senate Republican leaders hit the roof. They began contacting the lobbyists and special interests who helped fund the committee behind the flier.
One name was at the top of the list: Uber-moneyman and lobbyist David Ramba, who penned a $10,000 check to American People July 5. Ramba said he told future Senate President Andy Gardiner that he knew almost nothing about how the money was going to be used.
Ramba's explanation: He was told to cough up the money by Burgin, a state House member from Riverview. The check was cut on behalf of another committee, Save Our Internet Access, which represents Internet cafes.
"She told me where to direct the money," Ramba said. "She asked for support and, since she has been supportive of our issues, we were happy to do it."
But Burgin said Ramba's explanation is "not quite accurate … It's inaccurate."
She acknowledged that Ramba approached her and wanted to contribute, but she said she didn't really direct where money went and she never discussed amounts. She said she gave Ramba three names, because he asked: Guy Spearman, Ron Book and Jack Cory, all lobbyists.
Ramba said he asked Burgin if she needed "hard" money (i.e., hard-to-raise individual contributions subject to a $500 limit) or "soft" money — that is, easy-to-raise limitless contributions for a Committee of Continuous Existence (CCE) or an Electioneering Communication Organization (ECO).
"Soft is easier than hard," Ramba said. "I asked where she wanted the money, and she gave me a name."
Who was that?
"Jack," said Ramba, referring to Cory, a lobbyist who helped establish The American People Committee and has a personal beef with Lee. Lee stoked the ire of the Tallahassee lobby corps for implementing a lobbyist gift-ban and for requiring them to disclose some of their fees when he was Senate president.
Ramba said he didn't know where the money he was contributing was specifically going. He said, essentially, that he was just helping out lawmakers who have been good to his clients — a time-honored political tradition. Cory took the cash and deposited it in American People's account, which then sent out mailers that essentially made Lee look like a cad and a lout. It was condemned this week by the Republican Party of Florida.
Besides the political fallout, Cory faces some potential, though minor, legal problems. The flier is an electioneering communication. It needs to be paid for by an ECO. But American People is registered as a CCE, which isn't supposed to fund political causes.
Burgin, meanwhile, faces potential questions about what she knew and whether she skirted a law that requires lawmakers to register with the state before soliciting contributions on behalf of a political committee.
Burgin said she didn't know about the committee or its goings on.
"I didn't know of any particular committee," she said. "I gave him a list of people and they handled it."
Ramba, who has experience with establishing committees, said Burgin is probably in the clear because she didn't solicit on behalf of American People. She solicited it on behalf of Cory, who was bundling her funds.