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Death of Hillsborough GOP member from COVID-19 causes financial problems for party

The local Republican Party told federal election regulators it can no longer access its campaign finance software
Only Gregg Prentice knew how to operate software that tracked donations to the Hillsborough County GOP and supplied data for the organization’s monthly finance reports, the party told regulators. [ Shutterstock ]
Updated Sep 17

The Hillsborough County Republican Party alerted federal election regulators Tuesday that it may file its monthly campaign finance reports late because a key member of the organization died Saturday from COVID-19.

Prior to his death, Gregg Prentice developed and maintained software that electronically tracked donations to the Hillsborough County GOP and supplied data for the organization’s monthly finance reports. None of the other officers knew how to operate Prentice’s software, the party told the the Federal Elections Commission.

“We will be struggling to get all of this entered in the proper format by our deadline on September20, but we will try to do so with our best effort,” the party wrote.

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A call and text message to county party chairman Jim Waurishuk were not returned.

Prentice was a software developer, according to his LinkedIn page, and had been active with the local party for many years.

Former party chairman Art Wood described Prentice as a “bulldog.”

“He’s just the kind of guy you want on your team for any kind of cause,” Wood told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday. “You couldn’t make him back down. If he believed in something, he’d get in your face.”

For the better part of a decade, the cause Prentice took up was Florida’s election systems. Armed with analysis gleaned from self-sorted voter databases, he often levied severe accusations at local election supervisors, especially in Democratic counties. That work at times drew the attention of national conservative organizations and Republican lawmakers, who periodically consulted Prentice when writing voting laws, Wood said.

In 2017, Prentice was called on to testify by American Civil Rights Union, a conservative Virginia-based group, in its lawsuit against Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes over her maintenance of the county’s voter list, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

He recently served as the head of the organization’s “election integrity” committee, leading the local Republican effort to question election results in various counties. The Hillsborough County GOP has called for a review of the 2020 election in Florida — a state former President Donald Trump won by more than 3 percentage points — similar to the partisan recount unfolding in Arizona.

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Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday told Pasco County Republicans that Florida “ran the most efficient, transparent election in the entire country.”

The party Prentice devoted many hours to had actively mobilized local residents lately against coronavirus mitigation measures, such as masks in schools. On Aug. 27, the party featured Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a leading skeptic of coronavirus vaccines, at its annual fundraiser. Pictures posted on the party’s Facebook page showed attendees celebrated at a maskless, indoor affair.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing masks indoors in areas of high transmission to maximize protection against the Delta variant.

In November, Prentice and Waurishuk appeared on a podcast during which the host referred to the country’s public health crisis as the “plandemic,” a term made famous by a conspiratorial, debunked film about the origins of the novel coronaivrus. The host said the virus was designed to “crush small businesses and consolidate power in the multinational corporations.”

Prentice’s death has touched off a fervor on Facebook among friends who responded by sharing fast-spreading conspiracies about the record pace of coronavirus deaths in Florida.

Jason Kimball, who called Prentice a “mentor” on Facebook, wrote that Prentice had recently experienced “brain fog” and had difficulty breathing. After recording low oxygen levels, he went to Tampa General Hospital where doctors placed him on a ventilator, Kimball wrote. Prentice died the next day.

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Kimball went on to suggest that Tampa General was “not a safe place to go,” repeating a pervasive myth that the life-saving treatment at hospitals was the cause of many recent coronavirus deaths. Two days after Prentice’s death, Kimball called for an investigation into Tampa General during the public comment period of the Tampa City Council meeting and accused the hospital of “intubating people illegally.”

The remarks from Kimball earned a strong rebuke from members of the Tampa City Council who swiftly defended the hospital as a world-class medical institution. John Dingfelder called Kimball’s comments “very dangerous.” Charlie Miranda and Orlando Gudes both said they received outstanding treatment at Tampa General Hospital when they contracted the virus.

“I can tell you those folks over there, they work hard,” Gudes said. “When you have to go to the hospital with COVID, you’re pretty sick.”

Data shared by doctors, hospitals and DeSantis has repeatedly affirmed that the vast majority of deaths in hospitals can be attributed to unvaccinated patients. Public health officials have blamed the highly transmissible nature of the Delta variant for the summer wave of cases and hospitalizations.

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Attempts to reach Kimball through Facebook were unsuccessful.

The Hillsborough County Republican Party alerted federal election regulators Tuesday that it may file its monthly campaign finance reports late because a key member of the organization died Saturday from COVID-19.

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