In his bid for re-election, Pasco Sheriff Bob White has received a sizeable chunk of campaign money from a select group of citizens: his own honorary deputies.
Campaign records show that about half of White's 105 honorary deputies have donated a total of about $30,000 this election, accounting for a little more than 20 percent of the $136,000 he has raised so far. Many gave the maximum $500 individual contribution or donated through their businesses and with family members.
Honorary deputies have no arrest powers but are given a star badge and Sheriff's Office identification. White has said he chooses the deputies for their community service and ability to help out in a disaster, though none has been called into service since White created the program in 2003.
His spokesman said the program is not political.
"He does not deputize people on the amount of money they contributed," Kevin Doll said. "That's not the reason Sheriff White started the honorary deputy program."
This issue arose after White's election in 2004, when honorary deputies' donations accounted for a similar portion of his campaign war chest.
Then, he told the Times in an e-mail that the program doesn't cost taxpayers anything and the honorary deputies receive no benefit from tax dollars. The program is funded by outside contributions.
"They only get one-on-one recognition from me as Sheriff," White wrote. "They are free to give to anyone and be a part of any political affiliation they see fit."
Doll said those remarks hold true today.
"Generally people who are involved in their community give to a lot of different organizations and active politicians," Doll said.
Some decry program
On Monday, two of White's campaign opponents blasted the very existence of the program.
"Why does anyone other than a law enforcement officer need a badge and credentials from the Sheriff's Office?" asked Democrat Kim Bogart. "The implication is clear: The individual is a friend of the sheriff and should be given preferential treatment. There can be no other reason."
Robert Sullivan, who is challenging White in the Republican primary, called the program "an affront to every deputy that went through a police academy and puts their life on the line to carry a badge."
Doll said that's a misinterpretation.
"To try and paint this as something that's a stain upon active duty deputies, I think, is missing the point. No one is saying these are bona fide deputies with full law enforcement capabilities," Doll said. "And the sheriff makes that very plain to everybody he makes an honorary deputy.
"It's more like an honorary degree that universities give to people," he said, and added that such programs are common among law enforcement agencies.
Campaign records show that some of White's most generous contributors also carry the honorary deputy badge.
Hooters restaurant founder Lynn D. Stewart, along with his family members and businesses, gave White $2,000. Tom Dobies, owner of several funeral homes and chapels, bundled donations of some $3,000 through his businesses. Richard Bekesh, president of an architecture and engineering firm, gave $4,000 in bundled donations with his family members.
All are honorary deputies.
Wilton Simpson, who owns farming and construction businesses in east Pasco, became an honorary deputy about two years ago. In March, he donated $500 to the sheriff's campaign.
He said the two things are not connected.
"The sheriff has never asked me to give him money for anything. Obviously he's up for re-election, and he and I discussed me being part of his campaign for this go-around, and I agreed," Simpson said. "I think he's done a great job."
Scott McPherson, newly elected mayor of New Port Richey, also said in an e-mail Tuesday that the $1,200 in donations to White from himself, his wife and his law office were made independent of his designation as an honorary deputy.
He said he met White after helping organize a Rotary Club fundraiser that benefitted a Sheriff's Office charity. After that, McPherson wrote, White invited him to be an honorary deputy.
"To the best of my recollection, at that time, I had not donated a penny to his campaign. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that I was a registered Democrat (I have since become an Independent)," he wrote. "Additionally, there was NEVER even a remote mention of there being a condition of any kind attached to becoming an HD."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.