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Panel says ex-Hillsborough Commissioner Brian Blair likely broke campaign finance law

TAMPA — The Florida Elections Commission has found probable cause that former Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair violated state law in his unsuccessful re-election bid last fall.

An investigator for the commission says Blair twice accepted more than the $500 state limit from individual donors during his primary bid. The investigator wrote that the review also turned up evidence of other excessive donations, but they weren't investigated because they weren't mentioned in the complaint against Blair filed by community activist George Niemann.

During a meeting last month, the results of which are now public, the Elections Commission voted 4-1 to find probable cause that Blair violated campaign finance law. Blair is accused of accepting two checks totaling $600 from the engineering firm Mai, Couch & Associates, as well as two $500 checks from maritime shipping company A.R. Savage & Son.

Accepting the checks, Blair said, was an honest mistake that wasn't caught by campaign management software or his treasurer, former county Commissioner Joe Chillura. He said the excess money was returned to the donors as soon as he learned about it, which was after the complaint was filed.

"When you raise $250,000, there's bound to be a mistake," Blair said Wednesday. "It's amazing that such a minor oversight, which was remedied, has garnered so much attention."

He faces a fine of up to $1,000 for each violation.

Blair, a Republican, won his primary but was defeated in the general election by Democrat Kevin Beckner.

Panel says ex-Hillsborough Commissioner Brian Blair likely broke campaign finance law 03/25/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 25, 2009 9:09pm]
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