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Hillsborough School Board candidate Mitch Thrower leaves Planning Commission

His opponent, Jessica Vaughn, has publicly criticized him for accepting development industry contributions.
Mitch Thrower is running for a seat on the Hillsborough County School Board.
Mitch Thrower is running for a seat on the Hillsborough County School Board. [ Courtesy of Mitch Thrower ]
Published Jul. 11, 2020

School Board candidate Mitch Thrower, who’s also chairman of the Hillsborough County Planning Commission, said he’s resigning from the commission to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest over contributions to his school board campaign, many of which have come from the real estate development industry.

Thrower said he’s acting in “an abundance of caution,” and not because of criticism from school board race opponent Jessica Vaughn.

Jessica Vaughn is running for a seat on the Hillsborough County School Board
Jessica Vaughn is running for a seat on the Hillsborough County School Board [ Courtesy of the Jessica Vaughn campaign ]

Vaughn has publicly criticized Thrower for accepting industry contributions while serving on the Commission, which makes recommendations to the county commissioners on development projects.

The School Board also makes recommendations on development.

Related: RELATED: In Hillsborough, 19 are in the running for four School Board seats

A Times analysis of contribution records shows Thrower has received at least $13,000 from development industry individuals and companies out of a total $44,975 raised. Vaughn says the amount is higher counting consultants and lobbyists, some $21,000.

Thrower said he doesn’t know an exact figure but has “received broad support for my campaign from numerous individuals and businesses.”

He said he wasn’t familiar with Vaughn’s accusations — “I’m focused on my own campaign and not paying attention to my opponents.”

But last month, following Vaughn’s online criticism, Thrower asked for and got a statement from Planning Commission attorney Tracy Robin saying Thrower’s school board campaign posed “no ethical or legal voting conflicts” with Planning Commission duties.

Vaughn has been endorsed by county commissioners Pat Kemp and Mariella Smith, who advocate increased impact fees and controls on growth to deal with congestion and costs of growth. The industry is fighting back with support for candidates it considers business-friendly.

Thrower said he had planned to resign from the planning commission if elected to the school board and is doing so now “to make sure there was not any appearance of impropriety.”

He resigned in a June 26 letter to Commission Chairman Les Miller.

Thrower and Vaughn are running for the School Board seat in District 3, north-central Hillsborough, along with four other candidates.

Lopsided D20 fundraising battle

Fundraising in the state Senate District 20 race to replace Tom Lee is going about the way you’d expect if you follow Florida state politics.

Republican state Rep. Danny Burgess of Zephyrhills, backed by GOP Senate leaders, pulled in $116,576 in less than a month after filing June 1.

Danny Burgess and Kathy Lewis were the only two candidates to qualify for the special election for state Sen. Tom Lee's seat.
Danny Burgess and Kathy Lewis were the only two candidates to qualify for the special election for state Sen. Tom Lee's seat. [ Tampa Bay Times ]

The vast majority of that, $96,000, came in legal maximum $1,000 contributions, including more than 50 from political committees representing trade associations, lobbyists, legislative leaders themselves and special interests who benefit from legislation.

Related: RELATED: For the Tom Lee seat: It’s Danny Burgess vs. Kathy Lewis

Meanwhile, his opponent, Democrat Kathy Lewis, raised $11,939 in the same period in 63 contributions, including about $3,000 of her own money.

Franklin hits Spano ad spending

In the congressional District 15 Republican primary, Scott Franklin is criticizing incumbent Rep. Ross Spano for spending taxpayer money on online advertising Franklin says is aimed at boosting Spano’s campaign.

But Spano responds that his spending is in line with House rules on mass communication with constituents and aims in part at providing reliable information about federal coronavirus relief programs.

Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin (left) has filed to challenge U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, in a Republican primary.
Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin (left) has filed to challenge U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, in a Republican primary. [ City of Lakeland/Courtesy of Ross Spano ]

Based on Facebook data reports, Franklin’s campaign says Spano has spent $110,000 on Facebook ads, with most of it — $87,000 — coming since Franklin filed to oppose Spano in the primary.

The amount is substantially greater than that spent by neighboring Congress members including Reps. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, according to Facebook data gathered by the Franklin campaign.

But a Spano spokesman says all the spending was approved by the House Franking Commission, a bipartisan committee that regulates use of members’ office funds for communication with constituents.

House members are currently in a franking “blackout period” of 90 days before an election in which the member’s name will be on the ballot, such as the Aug. 18 primary. But the Franking Commission has approved a waiver for crisis communications including the virus, said Spano spokesman Daniel Bucheli.

“Everything we put on Facebook has to receive an advisory opinion” on legality from the commission, he said. “Communicating with constituents is one of the congressman’s top priorities. We make no apologies for keeping our constituents informed” about federal programs dealing with the pandemic

One taxpayer-funded Spano ad on Google was taken down because it violated Google’s advertising policies, according to Google’s transparency data.

The data doesn’t explain why, and Spano’s office didn’t respond to a question about the ad.

Contact William March at wemarch@gmail.com.

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