Democrats file complaint over robocalls using Crist's GOP campaign clips

Published August 24 2014

Those recent robocalls to Democratic voters featuring the voice and the conservative views of former Republican Charlie Crist have prompted Democrats to file a formal complaint with the Florida Elections Commission. Their target is Republican Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon.

Lee engineered what he said were about 2 million robocalls to voters, using the same calls Crist used in his successful 2006 Republican campaign for governor, in which he called himself a pro-life, Ronald Reagan Republican who opposed same-sex marriage and supported public display of the Ten Commandments — views now starkly at odds with Crist the Democrat. Lee is running the campaign through a political committee called the Conservative for which he raised about $240,000 this year from interests including Disney, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida. There's also a website featuring all of Crist's audio clips at

The Conservative is headed by Stafford Jones, a Republican activist from Gainesville and a behind-the-scenes player in state politics.

The complaint was filed by Allison Tant, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party. It cites a state law that, "No telephone call shall state or imply that the caller represents any person or organization unless the person or organization so represented has given specific approval in writing to make such representation."

Schale's friendly walks

Did our eyes deceive us, or was that Democratic consultant Steve Schale pounding the pavement in Pinellas County last weekend on behalf of Republican state House candidate Chris Latvala? Schale would seem an unlikely volunteer for a Republican, being one of the brightest lights in Florida Democratic political circles, having helped Barack Obama win Florida twice and now helping Crist try to unseat Gov. Rick Scott. House District 67, at least on paper, should be one of the more competitive districts in Florida, one in which some credible Democrats are running.

"Lord. Chris is a friend. That's all it is," Schale responded when asked if he was wearing his senior Crist adviser hat, his idealist, bipartisan advocate hat while knocking on doors for Latvala, or his lobbyist hat. It sure can't hurt Schale's clients — Disney, phosphate, marijuana growers, to name a few — for Schale to get on the good side of the front-runner for that seat or that front-runner's father, Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala, who could become Senate president.

"I'm walking for Karen Castor this weekend. Both were friends before I put on any Crist or lobbying jerseys. And yes, there is an element of trying to do my very small part to reduce the partisan temperature," Schale said. "I remain an idealist, even after nearly 20 years in the business."

Tweet of the week

"Finally, a Fl Republican legislator taking on Duke Energy. Will other GOP legislators and candidates follow?"

That's Pasco tax collector and former Republican state Rep. Mike Fasano, responding to a Times report on Sen. Latvala, R-Clearwater, calling out Duke for charging customers more simply because the company extended its billing cycle.

Gauging enthusiasm

Once the primary day votes are counted Tuesday night, a sure topic of debate among political junkies will be whether Crist sufficiently crushed underdog Democratic rival Nan Rich to tamp down questions about Democratic enthusiasm for Crist.

"We expect Crist to win his primary with over 81 percent of the vote," Gov. Scott's deputy campaign manager, Tim Saler, wrote in a memo attempting to set expectations absurdly high for Crist.

More Saler: "Judging by history, if Democrats have any enthusiasm at all on their side in 2014, they should be able to bring in several hundred thousand more primary votes compared to Republicans. The last time a Republican governor ran for re-election (2002), Democrats had 40 percent more votes in their primary than did Republicans. This is the baseline performance for Democrats in the 2014 primary. If Democrats fall short of that metric, it would be a dangerous sign for their base enthusiasm entering the general election, and we are watching that metric closely."

It's true that Democrats have two statewide contests (Crist vs. Rich and George Sheldon vs. Perry Thurston for attorney general), and Scott faces two no-name GOP challengers, but these campaigns have been so sleepy few people have paid any attention. That's a far cry from 2002, when Democrats had a spirited and extremely close primary for governor in which Bill McBride narrowly defeated former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno for the right to face Jeb Bush.