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ink leads McCollum in fundraising, but travel controversy continues

TALLAHASSEE — State Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is the top fundraiser in the governor's race, but her financial report released Friday suggests she's in damage control mode over her use of state airplanes.

The report shows that her campaign recently made an unusual $17,000 payment to her own agency for 20 airplane trips to different cities where she had state business — and campaign events.

"We did this in an abundance of caution," said Sink's chief spokeswoman, Kyra Jennings, adding that the CFO is going "above and beyond the requirements of the law."

Sink, a Democrat with $1.3 million in contributions since she announced she was running, instantly came under fire from her Republican rival, Attorney General Bill McCollum, who has raised slightly more than $1 million since his campaign began in May.

Sink clearly appeared to violate state statutes that require officials to use state aircraft only for official business, said Shannon Gravitte, a McCollum spokeswoman.

"No amount of reimbursing can excuse illegal use of a state plane," she said.

Among the trips: a May 11 flight from Tampa to Orlando, where Sink attended four state events followed by a "personal event'' from 5-6:30 p.m., according to her calendar. On Feb. 16, Sink flew from Tallahassee to Destin to speak to a sheriff's conference and had "personal events'' from 10 a.m. until noon.

Sink's chief of staff, Jim Cassady, ordered the campaign to reimburse the state June 25, a day after a report by the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald detailed how Sink and McCollum used the state plane to get easy access to their Central Florida homes.

The newspapers also reported that state auditors had concluded that Sink spent $27,200 and McCollum spent $12,600 to travel between the capital and their homes. It provoked ethics complaints against each of them from partisan political activists.

McCollum lives in Longwood near Orlando, and Sink lives in Thonotosassa.

Unlike Sink, McCollum has not used the state plane since he has announced his candidacy. Two days before, Sink announced she was running for governor, scuttling her bid to seek a second term as CFO.

Many of the contributors to her CFO campaign allowed their money to be rolled over into her race for governor. A few dozen donors — many Republicans — didn't. She returned their contributions of about $19,000.

McCollum, in contrast, didn't have a re-election account. He opened his campaign account for governor May 15 and had 43 days to complete his fundraising.

Because she transferred so much cash from her CFO race, Sink has $2.1 million on hand —double the amount McCollum has, according to the financial reports.

Cassady completed an internal review into her airplane use that was ordered by his boss on Friday and concluded that Sink never violated any state laws or policies in allowing family members to hitch rides on state airplanes or, in one case, to fly from Miami to Fort Lauderdale to catch a commercial flight to a vacation condo in the Bahamas.

But two weeks ago, Cassady flagged a potential problem with her travel and campaigning, noting that she used the state plane 11 times and commercial aircraft nine times.

"While CFO Sink engaged in activities for state business using state aircraft," he wrote in the June 25 memo, "she also included some activities to further her candidacy."

In announcing her campaign fundraising totals, Sink made no mention of the airplane controversy.

"I am overwhelmed by the continued outpouring of support from everyday Floridians who are ready for a new and different kind of leader," Sink said in a statement. "Floridians are coming together to send a clear message that they are tired of politics as usual in Tallahassee."

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at [email protected]

ink leads McCollum in fundraising, but travel controversy continues 07/10/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 10, 2009 10:20pm]
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