The chairman of the Pinellas Republican Party has filed a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission against County Commission candidate Pat Gerard, accusing her of running an illegal raffle for campaign signs.
Michael Guju, a Palm Harbor attorney, said he filed the complaint Sept. 9 after someone told him about the raffle. He declined to identify the person.
"It's so manifestly obvious that it violates the law, any competent candidate or their campaign should know better than to do that," Guju said.
Gerard's campaign sent an email to supporters on June 30, announcing a drawing for three pairs of equality-themed campaign signs.
"Since we can't give a pair to everyone, we're going to raffle them off," the email said. "You can enter by making a $10 donation to the campaign before our 4th of July deadline."
Seminole businessman Tom Rask complained to the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections, citing state law that forbids setting up, promoting, or conducting a lottery for money or anything of value. The supervisor's office told Rask to contact the elections commission, but he never did.
Gerard's campaign manager, Tom Alte, said they learned of Rask's claim and, to be safe, reached out to about 15 donors to offer a refund. Everyone refused the offer, but none of the donors got a sign, Alte said. The donors gave a total of about $250, he said.
"We don't think we did anything wrong here," Alte said. "He's essentially filing a complaint about a raffle that never happened."
Guju said simply offering to refund the money isn't enough.
"She should give the money back," he said. "That's really the only way to come clean on this."
The filing is the latest in an increasingly ugly campaign contest between Gerard, a Democrat who serves as mayor of Largo, and state Rep. Ed Hooper, a Clearwater Republican who beat County Commissioner Norm Roche in last month's primary for the District 2 seat.
Guju's complaint has no merit and is meant to distract voters from allegations Gerard has made about Hooper using his elected post to help clients of his consulting firm, Alte said.
"I think it's pretty clear (Guju)'s abusing the process to score political points," Alte said. "I think they're on the defensive and would rather talk about this than Ed's secret list."
Contact Tony Marrero at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.