Jeb Bush hid $175,000 in campaign spending by buying television time through his media consultant, Gov. Lawton Chiles' campaign aides charged Monday.
Bush's consultant, National Media, bought at least $175,000 in television time that did not show up on his campaign finance report that covered that period, said Chiles' deputy campaign treasurer, Chuck Wolfe.
"We've proven $175,000, and we think it's closer to $250,000," Wolfe said.
An attorney for Chiles wrote to Secretary of the State Jim Smith on Monday demanding an investigation into what it said were repeated violations of the campaign finance law. Bush's campaign manager insists she has complied with the spirit and letter of the law.
National Media bought the air time Oct. 13, but the expense does not show up on Bush's campaign report for Oct. 8-14. Bush campaign manager Sally Harrell said she wrote a check to National Media on Oct. 17, when she received an invoice.
"That means that National Media fronted the check," said Jim Krog, a senior adviser to Chiles. "If you take this thing to its logical conclusion, they can buy a million dollars' worth of time the last week and pay an invoice Nov. 10. That is not only not in the spirit of the law, but it's illegal."
The two campaigns have repeatedly squabbled over this question and have never agreed on what's legal.
Harrell said she pays the bills when they're due and that paying National Media after it buys the time is perfectly legal.
"They didn't front us the money," she said. "They invoiced us as they have every other time." The check on Oct. 17 was for "several hundred thousand dollars," she said. "They can expect to have plenty of matching money after that report."
Chiles gets the matching money for Bush's expenditures because of the state's campaign finance law, pushed through in 1991 by Chiles. He agreed to limit his spending to $5-million and receives matching money for $250 donations from individuals. Bush refuses to take taxpayers' money and can spend as much as he wants. But every dollar he spends over $5-million _ a threshold he has already passed _ triggers a matching amount for Chiles.
Wolfe said the law clearly requires campaign expenses to be made from the candidates' campaign accounts and points to a 1986 elections division opinion that speaks directly to the question of advertising purchases.
"Based on the above statutory language, all advertising expenditures _ whether television, radio, newspaper, magazine _ must be made by the campaign treasurer or deputy treasurer on a check drawn on the account of the candidate," it said.
Campaign expense records and the sales of political advertising by television stations are public record under Florida law. The Chiles campaign compiled a list of 13 checks from National Media to television stations in six cities. That in itself is illegal, Wolfe says.
Harrell says it's legal. She says buying time through a media consultant is routine.
It's true that many campaigns do it that way. But some television stations require checks directly from the campaign, believing the law bars checks from a third party.
"The division's position has always been that expenditures are supposed to be paid by the campaign treasurer," said elections director Dot Joyce.
Earlier reports showed that National Media bought $890,000 worth of television time and that the Bush campaign had written checks that covered that amount.
Chiles' aides say their reason for publicizing the charges isn't that they need the matching state money; they say they've bought plenty of TV time and expect to be in good shape financially.
They're fighting what they call the Bush campaign's "pattern that continues of disregard for the law," said campaign spokeswoman Jo Miglino. "They operate not like real people; they operate like they're above the law."
The week National Media bought $175,000 worth of TV time, Bush reported spending $39,231. That included $37,786 for air time on three stations that won't accept checks from National Media. That leaves $1,445 in expenses for a week when the Bush campaign hosted former President George Bush and the former first lady. The Bush family held five fund-raisers in four cities over two days. The Bushes and traveling press flew on two charter jets from Orlando to Jacksonville to Fort Lauderdale. The campaign reported no travel or hotel expenses for that week.
Harrell said that's because of the way the billing cycles and payroll fall. The campaign pays salaries on the 1st and 15th, she said, and it pays travel expenses in lump sums through a travel agency.