ST. PETERSBURG — Out of an otherwise typical transit debate Thursday night came a bit of news: the pro-transit campaign Yes for Greenlight is suddenly embracing financial transparency.
Started last month, the private campaign that's supporting a transit tax referendum this November began collecting donations using a 501c4, a designation that allowed it to raise funds while hiding the identity of its donors.
It was an unusual step for what's essentially a group of local boosters for a local ballot issue and a departure from the way the pro-transit Hillsborough group went about its fundraising back in 2010. The move immediately drew criticism, both from opponents of the proposed tax increase, a group called No Tax for Tracks, and from supporters who thought it made their side look like it had something to hide.
Asked about the tax-exempt designation at a debate in St. Petersburg among transit supporters and one opponent — it was four against one — Don Ewing of the Yes for Greenlight campaign said the group is walking away from its 501c4.
"We are going to be completely transparent," he told the audience. "Every donor that makes a donation to us will be on the Supervisor of Elections site."
Over on the county elections website, the political committee already has been set up, effective Friday. Called "Friends of GreenLight," it was registered by the Tampa Bay Partnership, which is spearheading the group's fundraising efforts, just as it did for the Moving Hillsborough Forward campaign.
No fundraising records are online yet, but with this new committee, the group will have to meet the same reporting deadlines as other political committees.