Give Henry Wilson Jr. kudos for candor and accountability. Unfortunately, hold him responsible for poor research and sloppiness.
That is the impression the public is left with after Wilson's clumsy foray into political mud-slinging this campaign season. Wilson, the Republican nominee for Pasco County Commission District 4, filed an ethics complaint against incumbent Michael Cox over the Democrat's prodigious fundraising.
Wilson acknowledged he cut and pasted data from Cox's campaign filings and transferred it to another spreadsheet without verifying his work against the original information on the Pasco Supervisor of Elections website. The transcription error led Wilson and others he conferred with to believe the spreadsheet showed Cox accepting illegal campaign contributions. Official records show Cox did not.
The incumbent accepted $500 contributions from multiple sources, including his mother, during the primary campaign and again after the start of the general election campaign following the Aug. 24 primary. That is perfectly legal. Wilson mistakenly believed the donations came during the same period, which would exceed the maximum limits allowed by state law. He sent his concerns to the Florida Elections Commission. And taking a tired page from the local political playbook, the Republican camp leaked it to reporters, hoping to grab a late-in-the campaign headline about Wilson's opponent facing ethics charges. The ruse faltered, however, when journalists refuted the claim by cross-checking Wilson's spreadsheet with the information on the elections supervisor's website.
To Wilson's credit, he did not make excuses, blame a subordinate, or maintain the official records might be in error — reasons we've heard before from other public officials caught doing something questionable. After talking with reporters, Wilson telephoned Cox to apologize, issued a statement the following morning repeating his mea culpa and told the Elections Commission to quit wasting its time.
His statement to Cox read in part, "You have my sincerest apology for submitting what I now know is inaccurate information.
"This was not a malicious attack on you or your campaign. It is not my nature to say false things about anyone for any reason. All of your contributions have been submitted legally and all contributions are legitimate. Please accept this public apology.''
Wilson's remorse is genuine and his willingness to accept responsibility for his own mistakes is a positive attribute. Regrettably, the episode also showed Wilson did not have a strong grasp of the facts before acting and that is not a favorable characteristic for someone seeking to hold elected office.