Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics

Sen. Jeff Brandes asks DOT to investigate spending by PSTA for Greenlight Pinellas

Brandes accuses the campaign of using taxpayer money for propaganda purposes.
Published Apr. 2, 2014

Sen. Jeff Brandes has asked the Florida Department of Transportation's inspector general to investigate how Pinellas County's mass transit agency is spending public money to inform voters about Greenlight Pinellas.

In a letter sent Tuesday to DOT Secretary Ananth Prasad, Brandes asked the agency to review how the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is spending about $800,000 to educate voters about the Nov. 4 referendum that seeks a one-cent sales tax increase to pay for new bus routes and a 24-mile light rail line between St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

Brandes accused the campaign of using taxpayer money for propaganda purposes, a violation of state law that he says should require the money to be returned.

"It's extremely concerning that taxpayer dollars could be spent for what I believe is to advocate for a tax increase," said Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who chairs the Senate's transportation committee. "I think PSTA may have crossed over a line. I want an investigation to see if that is the case or not."

PSTA board chairman and Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch dismissed the allegations, saying he is confident the Greenlight campaign adhered to all legal guidelines and was consistent with past informational campaigns.

PSTA spokesman Bob Lasher released a statement echoing that idea.

"PSTA has always, and continues to conduct its Greenlight Pinellas Educational outreach with full transparency and in full compliance with the law," he wrote. "We are proud of our efforts and are confident that any inquiries by the Department of Transportation will only confirm these facts."

He added that the agency and its board of directors have "an important obligation to inform the citizens as to what they will be asked to decide… ."

Lasher said the $800,000 has been spent on a variety of outreach efforts including websites, graphics and consultants.

Welch also noted that Brandes has been a longtime and outspoken opponent of light rail for the Tampa Bay area. On Tuesday, however, the senator insisted that his issue with the agency's campaign had nothing to do with his personal or policy views. Brandes said he just wants to know whether taxpayer money is being misused.

Barbara Haselden, founder of the group No Tax for Tracks, has raised the same concerns for months.

"I just am very appreciative of Sen. Brandes bringing this action," she said. "I don't think public funds belong on one side of a debate like this."

Earlier this year, her group proposed spending $15,000 to wrap five PSTA buses in ads against the referendum, but agency officials turned them down.

At the time, PSTA chief executive officer Brad Miller said the agency's advertising policy only allows for ads marketing products, services and the agency's own educational information. This last category includes the bright-green ads the agency has wrapped around a handful of its buses promoting the Greenlight website.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at mvansickler@tampabay.com. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at jcox@tampabay.com.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Protesters gathered outside the federal courthouse in Tallahassee on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019, while a federal judge heard arguments for an against the the Legislature's bill implementing Amendment 4. LAWRENCE MOWER  |  Lawrence Mower
    It’s unclear how state and county officials plan on complying with the judge’s order, however. The “poll tax” issued wasn’t addressed, either.
  2. The Florida Capitol. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times] SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The job entails being a part-time lobbyist, part-time expert on the Florida Sunshine Law.
  3. Florida K-12 Chancellor Jacob Oliva presents the state's second draft of academic standards revisions during an Oct. 17, 2017, session at Jefferson High School in Tampa. Gov. Ron DeSantis called for the effort in an executive order to remove the Common Core from Florida schools. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times staff
    ‘Our third draft will look different from our second,’ the chancellor explains.
  4. Igor Fruman, hugs Florida Governor elect Ron DeSantis, right, as Lev Parnas looks on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Orlando at the watch party for DeSantis. Fruman and Parnas were arrested last week on campaign finance violations. CHRIS URSO  |  Times
    Florida’s governor has shrugged off past donor controversies. This time, there were photos. Now it’s not going away.
  5. The sun sets over a slab which once served as a foundation for a home on Mexico Beach in May. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Area leaders fear lower population numbers will lead to reduced federal funding and political representation.
  6. Senador de Florida, Rick Scott.  Foto: AP
    “The FBI has failed to give me or these families an acceptable answer, but I’m not going to allow that,” Scott said, adding that the FBI didn’t share pertinent information on shootings at Pulse, the...
  7. Courtney Wild, 30, was a victim of serial sexual offender Jeffrey Epstein beginning at the age of 14. Epstein paid Wild, and many other underage girls, to give him massages, often having them undress and perform sexual acts. Epstein also used the girls as recruiters, paying them to bring him other underage girls. Courtesy of Royal Caribbean
    Courtney Wild’s relentless quest for justice has led to a bipartisan push for sweeping reforms.
  8. Scott Israel, former Broward County Sheriff speaks during a news conference on Sept. 25, in Davie. A Florida Senate official is recommending that the sheriff, suspended over his handling of shootings at a Parkland high school and the Fort Lauderdale airport, should be reinstated. BRYNN ANDERSON  |  AP
    Naples lawyer Dudley Goodlette was threatened shortly after he made his recommendation last month.
  9. Rep. Jamie Grant, R- Tampa and Senator Jeff Brandes, R- St. Petersburg listen to Amendment 4 debate in the Florida Senate on Thursday. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times] SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    “I think some of the points of the judge were well-made," Sen. Jeff Brandes said.
  10. Tiffany Carr — shown during a 2004 visit to a Hollywood nail salon, where she spoke on domestic violence — did not respond this past week to requests from the Miami Herald to address her $761,560 annual salary. She is head of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. [Bob Eighmie Miami Herald file photo]
    The Florida Department of Children and Families started a review of a domestic violence nonprofit’s finances last summer after it was reported that its CEO Tiffany Carr was paid $761,000. The state...
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement