The low-profile campaign for Republican state committeeman turned negative this week when a new flier hit voters' mailboxes accusing the current officeholder, Bill Bunting, of "splintering our party" and having "a record of making trouble."
The mail piece includes an image of a GOP elephant that's been cracked in half. There are also clips from a handful of news stories with unflattering descriptions of Bunting. And the mailer accuses him of spending the county party's donations on "unneeded travel" and "lavish parties."
Bunting scoffed at the mailer, calling it "absurd" and saying it comes from a "shell committee."
"But this is going out to voters," he said. "They should have a right to know what the truth is."
Bunting said he's mostly steamed about an excerpt from an in-depth 2004 Times profile that mentioned a five-month stay at Rikers Island jail. He was a teenager at the time and had been arrested for petty larceny and indecent exposure.
The mailer "doesn't say it happened 52 years ago or 53 years ago," Bunting said. "That's half a century."
What about the "unneeded travel?" Bunting said he surmises that refers to hotels and gas for the GOP county chairman, committeeman and committeewoman to go to state party meetings in Orlando and Tallahassee. "It's standard operating procedures in all the counties," he said.
Bunting assumed the "lavish parties" refer to the county's annual Reagan Day fundraising dinners. He said the party has to pay for food and to rent space at Spartan Manor or Saddlebrook Resort. Money raised at those events, he said, pays for normal party operations and donations to candidates.
The flier also accuses Bunting of abusing private credit cards "just like disgraced former state Chairman Jim Greer." Bunting said that charge is ridiculous and said he was one of the first members of the state party to call for Greer's removal.
So, who's behind the mailer? A Tallahassee electioneering group called Voters Response.
That group's finance report shows two expenditures totaling $10,000 on July 11 for mailers and phones. That same day, the group received a $10,000 donation from another Tallahassee committee called Teachers United for Better Schools. Two days earlier, the teacher group received a $10,000 contribution from Floridians for Principled Government.
That group is associated with state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. He acknowledged that his committee donated to the teacher group, but said what they did with the donation "is their own business."
There's no love lost between the two. Bunting says Fasano betrayed Republicans when he supported former Gov. Charlie Crist's independent U.S. Senate bid in 2010. This year, the county party made three endorsements in primaries: state Rep. Richard Corcoran, a candidate for the Mosquito Control board; and party vice chairman Jim Mathieu, one of Fasano's opponents in the House District 36 race.
Fasano said he saw the anti-Bunting mailer when it arrived in his own mail on Friday. "I thought the flier was accurate," he said.
"I'm pleased that there are individuals who are stepping up to the plate to challenge the schoolyard bully," he said. "That's what Bill Bunting is. I'm pleased there are others that are willing to go challenge him."
Voters Response also paid for a separate flier supporting Bunting's opponent, former Pasco Commissioner Steve Simon. That piece says Simon is "getting the GOP on the right track," and includes a Fasano endorsement. The senator also recorded a robocall in support of Simon. That was also paid for by Voters Response.
Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.