U.S. Rep. David Jolly will hobnob with some of his most controversial constituents later this month.
Jolly, an Indian Shores Republican who recently launched a bid for U.S. Senate, is listed as a "guest of honor" at the Church of Scientology's Aug. 29 concert celebrating the city of Clearwater's centennial.
According to a press release, the semi-formal event titled "Clearwater: A Century in Music" will feature appearances by actress Anne Archer, Grammy-award winning jazz artist Chick Corea and impressionist Jim Meskimen. It starts with a 7 p.m. reception at the Fort Harrison Hotel, one of Scientology's signature properties in a downtown area that the church has transformed into its spiritual hub. At 8 p.m., Jolly will give "a special presentation to the City of Clearwater."
Showing up at Scientology soirees is potentially prickly for politicians who risk alienating voters who take a dim view of the embattled religious organization. Several media outlets including the Tampa Bay Times have provided extensive coverage of the church's controversial practices and allegations of abuse of parishioners.
The church was back in the headlines again earlier this year when HBO released Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. The documentary by writer-director Alex Gibney, as a Times story summarized it at the time of its release, "serves up Wright's sweeping take on how L. Ron Hubbard invented Scientology, the church's years-long battle with the IRS, its scandalous spying on government offices in the 1970s, its embrace of celebrity culture, its fantastical belief system, the rise of its current leader David Miscavige, his bold engineering of a game-changing settlement with the IRS, the church's aggressive fundraising, the top-level defections of recent years, and, finally, the resulting allegations of Miscavige's abuses, which in recent years have led many long-time parishioners to leave Scientology."
The church has called the allegations fiction concocted by bitter former members and criticized Gibney's film as inaccurate and bigoted.
Bay Buzz asked Jolly's office if the documentary or other coverage of the church gave the Congressman pause in accepting the invitation. We wondered if he'd seen the documentary and if he worries about backlash from conservative Christians. Here's the response from spokesman Preston Rudie:
"The City of Clearwater is celebrating its centennial and Congressman Jolly, who represents Clearwater, was asked and agreed to present Mayor George Cretekos with a proclamation recognizing the City's 100th anniversary."
Pressed on whether Jolly had seen "Going Clear," Rudie said he didn't know.
Next month, Jolly's wife Laura will model for the church's "Fashions With Flair" charity fundraiser. It's set for Sept. 19, also at the Fort Harrison Hotel. A press release says the fundraiser is in its 12th year of featuring "leading ladies of Tampa Bay on the runway." Among the other models slated to attend this year are state Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena; Hillsborough School Board member Susan Valdes and physician Linda McClintock, wife of former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco.
Bay Buzz also asked Rudie about that event.
"The Fashion with Flair event, as you know, is an annual fundraiser that has been in existence for more than a decade," Rudie said. " It benefits the Nourish to Flourish program, which was founded by 6th District Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender, Bob Dillinger, to help feed hungry and homeless children in Pinellas County. Laura Jolly agreed to join a host of community leaders and elected officials in helping to raise money for this worthwhile charity."
A church spokeswoman did not respond to an email Wednesday afternoon.
CORRECTION: This post has been edited to include the correct date of the "Fashions With Flair" fundraiser.