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State: No violations by official's campaign

(ran West edition)

Fire Commissioner Vivian Diane Campbell broke no laws when she accepted in-kind contributions when she had no campaign account during last year's election season, the state Division of Elections said.

The decision came last month in a letter to Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark. Clark had asked the elections division to rule whether Campbell broke the law when she accepted in-kind donations worth about $370 during her run for the Lealman Fire Commission.

The question involved a new state law that said candidates do not have to open a campaign account if they do not collect contributions and if their only expense is the filing fee.

After seeking advice from state officials, Campbell decided not to open an account. She did not accept money but took signs and other campaign paraphernalia. She also submitted a campaign treasurer's report, which triggered Clark's inquiry.

The state said the law does not bar a candidate from opening an account later in the campaign. But if a candidate accepts only in-kind contributions, the candidate does not have to open a campaign account.

"I realize that this scenario was not what I discussed with Michael Greenman of your office," wrote Phyllis Hampton, chief of the bureau of elections records in the elections division.

Hampton said she changed her mind about the intent of the law after discussing the issue with two other folks in the elections division. She apologized for not letting Clark's office know earlier of the change in her opinion.

Campbell said she felt the letter vindicated her, but the result did not surprise her.

"I verified everything I did before I did it," Campbell said. "I felt very confident that what I was doing was okay. I'm glad it's over."

The confusion worried fellow Fire Commission member John Frank, who said he was concerned voters would not have the opportunity to see where candidates' money was coming from if campaign reports were not filed.

Frank said the commission might want to pass rules that required Lealman fire candidates to file campaign reports even if the state did not require them.

Other commissioners did not like the idea.

Campbell said people who want to find out about candidates' contributions could go to Clark's Web site to check the records.

"All you have to do is click a button," Campbell said.

Commission chairwoman Becky Harriman and commission member Linda Campbell, who is no relation to Vivian Diane Campbell, said the county and state are the proper people to oversee elections.

"That's not our problem," Linda Campbell said.