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Sheriff's example may deflate fundraising issue

Pasco Sheriff Bob White just deflated a campaign issue for supporters of state Rep. Heather Fiorentino.

Fiorentino kicked off her campaign for school superintendent six days ago with the sheriff among the prominent Republican pols in attendance.

Though both Fiorentino and her fellow Republican, Chuck Rushe, are first-time candidates for superintendent, Fiorentino is running as the voice of the teacher against the big bad administration, of which Rushe is the chief financial officer.

One of the common themes whispered early in the campaign by Fiorentino's camp is how much money Rushe raised from school principals and administrators. (To my knowledge, Fiorentino hasn't raised this issue personally, but she's not privy to the unsigned letters and off-the-record telephone calls that come to this office.)

Rushe's campaign took in a little more than $43,000 through Oct. 1, and 173 of the 211 individual contributors identified themselves as educators. That's not counting retired educators, their families, the School Board attorney or the family of former School Board member Dorothy Mitchell.

Supposedly this is a bad thing. It's indicative of the machine of superintendent John Long pushing his preferred successor.

Notice we said supposedly.

White didn't think it was a good idea for an incumbent to tap his employees for campaign contributions when he challenged Sheriff Lee Cannon three years ago.

Now White is seeking re-election and suddenly he is of the mind that maybe it's not such a bad idea after all.

As Times staff writer Steve Thompson detailed Friday, six members of White's command staff and people who share their addresses gave White's campaign $500 apiece, for a total $5,500, nearly a quarter of the money raised between his campaign kickoff in mid August and the end of the quarterly filing period on Sept. 30.

"In some ways they're running just like the sheriff," White told Thompson. "Because if I'm not here, they're not here. Those folks serve at (the sheriff's) pleasure. I think it's their right to support their administration."

True enough. White terminated most of Cannon's command staff his first day in office. One of those who resigned, instead of waiting for the ax, was former Maj. Darlene Greene, who is considering challenging White next year.

White, we must point out, also said he would remove politics from the Sheriff's Office. Unfortunately, nobody ever pinned down the sheriff's definition of politics.

Last year, White was dismissive of allegations of impropriety in allowing deputies to wear their uniforms in television commercials for Charlie Crist's 2002 campaign for attorney general even though the department's own standard operating procedures state that deputies "will not engage in political activities while on duty or in agency uniforms."

Oops.

It's similar this time around. White said he never intended his no-contribution policy to extend to his top brass. He meant it only for the rank and file.

Oh.

Blame us scribes. We should have been more definitive in figuring out exactly what White meant by "not a good idea."

Regardless, here's guessing that Fiorentino's hard-core Republican supporters won't be so quick to criticize Rushe for accepting contributions from school district employees if their highly regarded sheriff is doing likewise.

And, it's not like White doesn't have elsewhere to turn. His campaign finance report showed a benefactor significantly larger than his personnel files. Lynn D. Stewart, his family and their business interests bundled $9,000 to White's re-election effort through 18 individual $500 contributions.

Stewart, a co-founder of the Hooters restaurant chain, also contributed to previous campaigns of then-Sheriff Lee Cannon, Commissioner Steve Simon and David "Hap" Clark Jr. who ran for tax collector in 2000 and then challenged Simon two years later.

Giving $1,000 to Clark and $3,500 to Simon in the same contest is called hedging your bets. Stewart, by the way, cares about more than just politics. He is a significant contributor to the Angelus Home in Hudson.

"They are believers in good government," said Simon, "They never asked for anything."

Nobody said anything to the contrary.

But shouldn't good-government advocates respect the spirit of campaign finance laws?

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